News & Opinion

Bjorn adds Ryder royalty to Team Europe

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Europe’s Ryder Cup team was set Wednesday, and unlike the Americans’ anticlimactic selection of Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods a day earlier, European captain Thomas Bjorn had to stress over his four at-large picks.

The selection of Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson was a direct result of the eight who already had made the team for the Sept. 28-30 matches at Le Golf National near Paris. Bjorn faced a decision Sunday night when five of the eight qualifiers were rookies.

He knew that he needed experience, and a lot of it, for the Europeans to regain the Ryder Cup and keep the Americans from winning overseas for the first time in 25 years. So, it was no surprise when he picked the four who bring a Ryder Cup record of 41-24-15 and a total of 89 matches played.

“With the five rookies we have, experience will be a big thing, especially at home,” said Rory McIlroy, who said that Bjorn’s final pick essentially came down to Spaniards Garcia and Rafael Cabrera Bello. “Paul, Ian and Henrik, they were certain, and then it was just between sort of, I guess, Sergio, Rafa, maybe Matt Fitzpatrick, a couple of those guys,” McIlroy said Wednesday after his pro-am round here at the BMW Championship, which begins today at Aronimink Golf Club (tee times).

It’s hard to believe that even with these Ryder Cup rookies – Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Jon Rahm, Thorbjorn Olesen and Tyrrell Hatton, all with numerous professional victories – that experience would play such a vital role in team makeup. Yet their individual tournament titles won’t count for much later this month.

“The first Ryder Cup for me, so I don't know really what to expect,” said Noren, 36, of Sweden. “I watched a lot of them, but I think it's good to have the experience there. When you play majors and big events, you’ve got a big field, big crowds, but obviously it's something different with the Ryder Cup.”

Noren and the other rookies have not competed in the Ryder Cup cauldron, and that pressure will surpass anything that they have faced in golf.

That’s why the picks, which were disclosed Wednesday afternoon by Bjorn in London, were no surprise for their experience but perhaps a shocker regarding Garcia. The 38-year-old Spaniard was the wild card. After winning his first major championship last year at the Masters, he mostly has been on siesta.

Much of the discussion for the past month or so had focused on Garcia and countryman Rafael Cabrera Bello.

England’s Matt Wallace forced his name into the discussion last week in Denmark with his third victory of the European Tour season, but he still was a relatively unknown quantity.

“Matt Wallace became part of the conversation, and every credit to him,” said England’s Justin Rose, 38, who will be playing in his fifth Ryder Cup. “I just feel maybe he probably didn't have enough established relationships within a team. He's kind of new, new on the scene, so that would have been kind of an interesting introduction to the team, but I think he’s just got to keep doing what he's doing and there will be many Ryder Cups in his future.”

As a Ryder Cup rookie in 2016, Bello went 2-0-1, but he can’t match the experience of Garcia, who owns a 19-11-7 record in 37 matches over eight Ryder Cups.

“At the end, I think with Sergio's record in the Ryder Cup – and I think the intangibles, as well, the things people don't see what he does in the team room,” McIlroy said. “He's made my experiences at Ryder Cups better. He's been a great partner for me. He's been great in the team room. Obviously, his record speaks for itself, but it's stuff people don't see is basically what got him this wild-card pick.”

Italy’s Francesco Molinari, 35, the British Open champion who will be playing in his third Ryder Cup, echoed McIlroy’s comments.

“I remember my first one in Wales,” said Molinari, recalling Europe’s 14½-13½ victory in 2010. “Padraig Harrington was a massive part in speaking with us rookies, letting us know exactly what it was about and trying to get us ready for the first tee. Whatever you got told, you can't get ready, but you get an idea. It's an advantage to have someone on the team who has been there and has done it.”

Bjorn might question himself in hindsight if the Europeans don’t regain the cup after a six-point loss in 2016 at Hazeltine National and restore the dominance that has led to victory in eight of the past 11 matches. As he stood in front of the TV cameras, he seemed convinced that he made the right call.

Only time will tell.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli