Johnson: Koepka ‘easy pick’ for Ryder Cup team

Sports

A LIV Golf League captain will represent the United States when it takes on Europe in next month’s Ryder Cup in Italy.

Five-time major champion Brooks Koepka was among U.S. team captain Zach Johnson‘s six captain’s picks announced Tuesday.

Koepka left the PGA Tour for the Saudi Arabian-financed LIV Golf League in June 2022. He won his third PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, in May.

Johnson’s other captain’s picks were Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Sam Burns.

Koepka returned from a career-threatening knee injury and tied for second at the Masters before collecting his third Wanamaker Trophy in May. He tied for 17th in the U.S. Open and 64th at The Open. He finished 29 points behind Xander Schauffele for the final automatic roster spot.

While LIV Golf League players have been suspended by the PGA Tour, they are still active PGA of America members because they paid their membership dues before June 30, 2022. The governing body said they will retain their membership through the end of June 2023 and then through a grace period that expires in June 2024, making them eligible to compete in the Ryder Cup.

European Ryder Cup veterans like Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter resigned from the DP World Tour and are ineligible to compete in the Ryder Cup.

Koepka’s inclusion doesn’t figure to be as scrutinized as much as Thomas’ after the two-time major champion struggled mightily during the PGA Tour season and finished 15th in Ryder Cup points. A two-time PGA Championship winner, Thomas finished 71st in the FedEx Cup points standings and missed the playoffs by one spot. He missed the cut in three of four majors and had three top-10 finishes in 20 starts.

Selecting Thomas is a big gamble for Johnson, who seemed to put more weight on team chemistry and Ryder Cup experience than recent form while making his captain’s picks. He chose Thomas over reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young, Keegan Bradley and Denny McCarthy, who finished higher than Thomas in Ryder Cup points. Lucas Glover, who was 16th in points, won twice on tour late in the season.

Thomas, 30, has been one of the Americans’ best performers in international match-play competitions. He has a 6-2-1 record in two previous Ryder Cup appearances and a 10-3-2 mark in three Presidents Cups, tallying 17.5 points for the U.S.

“Bottom line is this game is really hard,” Johnson said of Thomas at The Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in England in July. “There’s going to be peaks. There’s going to be some valleys. Let’s hope whatever sort of non-peak he’s in, it’s short.

“I know he’s got a great team. I love his coaches. I love how he works. He’s a worker. Guys with talent like that that work and aren’t afraid to put their work in the dirt, if you will, not to be cliche, typically find it. It’s just a matter of when, not if. He’s too darned good.”

Thomas admitted earlier this season that he was probably putting too much pressure on himself because he wanted to make the Ryder Cup team so badly. He ranked 144th on tour in strokes gained: putting (-.222) and 138th in driving accuracy (56.2%).

“I want to make the Ryder Cup more than anything,” Thomas said at The Open. “I’m probably honestly trying too hard to do it. It reminds me a lot of my first or second year on tour. I’ve tried so hard to make that team for the first time. I’m in a very similar position. I’ve been trying to make it easy on Zach and get in the top six, but I seem to not want to do that with my golf.”

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, U.S. Open winner Wyndham Clark, Open Championship winner Brian Harman, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa and Schauffele had previously qualified for the U.S. team on points.

The U.S. team might be underdogs when it takes on the Europe at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club outside Rome on Sept. 29-Oct. 1. FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton have already qualified for the European team. Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry and Justin Rose are also expected to make the squad, which will be finalized when captain Luke Donald makes his six captain’s picks on Sept. 4.

The U.S. hasn’t won a Ryder Cup away from American soil since a 15-13 victory at The Belfry in Warwickshire, England, in 1993.

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