News & Opinion

It’s time to right a Ryder wrong

John Catlin at
Despite his 3 victories on the European Tour in the past 8 months, American John Catlin has accumulated 0 points to qualify for the Ryder Cup.

American John Catlin, who has won 3 times on European Tour in past 8 months, has earned 0 points toward making Ryder Cup team

The Ryder Cup is the most compelling event in professional golf.

To earn a spot on the American or European team for the biennial matches is one of the biggest career milestones for a professional golfer. After having covered my share of Ryder Cups, I know that every player talks about the experience in glowing terms.

That’s why it’s so dumbfounding that a three-time winner in the past eight months on a major professional tour has earned zero points toward making the trip to Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., in September.

I’m talking about American John Catlin.

If you don’t follow golf beyond America, you likely would not be familiar with Catlin, 30, who grew up in Sacramento and played college golf at New Mexico. After turning pro in 2013, Catlin played on developmental tours in Canada, Thailand and elsewhere in Asia before racking up three victories on the Asian Tour in 2018. That earned him a promotion to the European Tour, where he has won three times since September, running his victory total as a professional to 10.

Despite his three most recent triumphs on the European Tour – the 2020 Andalucia Masters, 2020 Irish Open and the recent Austrian Open – Catlin has not earned a single point toward making U.S. captain Steve Stricker’s Ryder Cup team.

“It’s not a perfect system,” Stricker said in one of the obvious understatements about Ryder Cup qualifying.

It’s a system that never has taken into consideration the fact that many Americans play, and win, outside of the PGA Tour.

Though the points system supposedly has been designed to determine the best players to include on the team, the ranking process ignores the fact that potential Ryder Cuppers are playing in Europe against strong fields that sometimes are comparable to those on the PGA Tour.

Consider the Saudi International, which featured world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, reigning U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau and many of the top 50 in the world, earlier this year. Johnson won, and Tony Finau finished second, but they and the 10 other American competitors received no Ryder Cup points.

Many Americans also compete in the Scottish Open as a warmup to the next week’s British Open and the BMW PGA Championship, with similar disadvantages for the Ryder Cup.

Catlin said in an interview with Morning Read earlier this week at the Tenerife Open that the Ryder Cup never was a goal for him. Rather, he wanted to play in his first major championship. He realized that goal, confirming that he was granted an exemption to play in next month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course in South Carolina.

“I never have followed the path that most Americans would have taken,” Catlin said. “You don’t want to limit guys that want to travel more.”

That’s merely one part of the discriminatory action of the Ryder Cup points system. The PGA Tour’s Presidents Cup qualifying uses a similarly antiquated system.

When the European Tour realized that its top players wanted to compete on the PGA Tour as well as their home tour, officials created a dual points system so that those players would not be penalized. Players such as Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose – many of the biggest names in the game – benefitted.

Is it a perfect system? No, but it does recognize that the best golfers in the world are not limiting their schedules to one tour, despite the overall appeal of the PGA Tour. 

“We do have six picks,” said Stricker, addressing Catlin’s situation. “That enables us to take care of that.”

Any Ryder Cup hopeful knows that he does not want to leave his fate in the hands of the captain, preferring to earn his way onto the 12-man team.

Stricker might not have known much about Catlin when he became Ryder Cup captain for the matches in his home state, but the globetrotting Californian has a shot at making the team, and for one key reason: He has won more times in recent months than any player near the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup points list.

“It doesn’t matter where you win; it’s hard to do,” said Stricker, a 12-time PGA Tour winner who won the recent Chubb Classic for his sixth victory on the Champions Tour. “The nerves are always there.”

So, Catlin will return to the U.S. next week, looking for exemptions in the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Charles Schwab Challenge and then play the U.S. Open sectional qualifier.

“Maybe what I’ve done will change the system,” Catlin said.  

We can only hope.

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