Steve Stricker’s Ryder Cup strategy relies on youth, chemistry

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The picks are in, and they’re difficult to argue, even if “Captain America’’ is out.

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker’s strategy, as he announced along with his six captain’s picks on Wednesday, was clear: He went with rookies over experience.

That surprisingly meant Patrick Reed, nicknamed “Captain America’’ for his 7-3-2 Ryder Cup record, will not be a part of the matches, which will be played against Europe on Sept. 24-26 at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wis.

Four of the six players Stricker named Wednesday will be playing in their first Ryder Cup. Two of the six who qualified on points also are first-timers, making six of the 12-man team rookies.

Stricker chose Daniel Berger, Harris English, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth. They will join the six players who qualified on points: Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Brooks Koepka.

Morikawa, Cantlay, Berger, English, Schauffele and Scheffler are rookies.

Stricker wouldn’t come out and say it, but his greatest task with this group will be finding the proper chemistry to combat the Europeans, who have won nine of the past 12 matches and seemingly never have to work on chemistry, while the Americans are always searching to find it.

That’s a big reason why Stricker opted for youth over the experience of Reed, who was 11th on the points list, and veteran Webb Simpson, who was 13th.

Stricker’s message was clear: The game has gotten younger and it’s time for new blood.

So, new blood it is. The average age on this team is 28, with eight of the 12 players in their 30s and no one in his 40s.

Whether that turns out to be winning formula will be decided on the Whistling Straits course, hard by Lake Michigan.

Will Stricker be able to develop the right chemistry?

DeChambeau is a lightning rod and a difficult player to pair with anyone. Koepka is guilty of publicly poking DeChambeau to the point of an eruption of fan abuse that has gotten so out of control the PGA Tour recently had an institute a special rule to stop heckling of DeChambeau.

Cantlay didn’t even look DeChambeau in the eyes when they shook hands after an epic playoff between the two at the BMW Championship two weeks ago.

Stricker’s choice of all these first-timers came not only because they’re in terrific form, but because they’re young, hungry and enthusiastic — elements the captain hopes will override any awkward tensions in the team room.

His addition of Phil Mickelson as a vice captain, who’ll keeps things light and fun, was brilliant.

Collin Morikawa plays his shot from the third tee during the third round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 04, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Collin Morikawa is just one of several Ryder Cup rookies on the US squad.
Getty Images

“What these young guys bring is they bring an excitement level that’s unmatched,’’ Stricker said. “They’re eager, they’re willing to learn. They come here with eyes wide open and a ‘put-me-in-coach’ kind of attitude.’’

The most surprising omission from the team was Reed, who has played in the past three Ryder Cups and has been a thorn in the side of the Europeans. Stricker said Reed was his first phone call and called it a “very, very difficult call,’’ adding, “He took it like a true champion.’’

The decision to leave him off the team was prompted by the fact that Reed recently was hospitalized in Houston with double pneumonia. He played in last week’s Tour Championship, but didn’t contend.

The Stricker pick that has potential to be scrutinized most is Scheffler, who never has won a PGA Tour event and has never played in a team event as a pro.

Stricker said he leaned on his vice captains for the analytics of all the players’ games and they unearthed this compelling statistic: Since 2008, the year Stricker made his Ryder Cup debut as a player, U.S. Ryder Cup rookies are 40-29-17.

The last time a U.S. team had six rookies was in 2008, when it defeated Europe at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky. Surely a good omen Stricker is chasing.

Stricker expects to have all 12 players convene this weekend at Whistling Straits for some practice rounds to familiarize themselves with the course and take pressure off Ryder Cup-week preparation.

“My message from Day 1 has been to try to out-prepare the European team,’’ Stricker said.

The goal is to put an end to the European domination. This may be a young U.S. team, but it has several players who were on the 2018 team that was waxed by Europe at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France.

“We were standing on the green watching them celebrate in 2018 and I remember that vividly and at that time I made it a goal to try and make this team so I can kind of return the favor,’’ Finau said.

“It’s a very defeating feeling,’’ Spieth said. “I remember walking off that green thinking, ‘Let’s not go through this again.’ ’’ 

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