Kokrak prevails against Texan in front of a partisan Spieth crowd at Colonial, but each makes strong case to play at Whistling Straits
Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.
Whom would you rather see on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, Jason Kokrak or Jordan Spieth?
Hawk’s take: Both, quite frankly, but this being an either/or proposition, I’ll take Spieth, one of America’s few bright spots against the Europeans in recent years. Kokrak has won twice in 2020-21. He hits it a mile and has made tremendous strides with his putting, although nobody holes more bombs or owns a sharper short game than the fair-haired Texan. Spieth’s lone victory this season doesn’t do justice to his overall body of work: six top-5s, a leap from 92nd to 23rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and from 179th to second in the FedEx Cup standings.
Spieth’s career revival is one of the year’s biggest stories. It’s his successful Ryder Cup history, however, that gives Spieth an edge over Kokrak – and almost everyone else outside the list of six automatic qualifiers. Among active Americans with more than one appearance in the biennial matches, Spieth holds a 7-5-2 record that is bettered only by Patrick Reed (7-3-2). Yes, the Yanks could use some fresh faces on the squad that hosts the Euros in September, but definitely not at the expense of guys who have gotten the job done in the past.
What shouldn’t be forgotten is that Spieth and Reed lost just one of seven matches as partners in 2014 and 2016. Skipper Jim Furyk broke up the pair in 2018, leading to immense speculation about a feud between the two stars, but Spieth won three of his four bouts with Justin Thomas. No matter what happens between now and the first tee at Whistling Straits, Spieth has done more than enough to make this U.S. team.
Leaving him behind would be a huge mistake.
Purk’s take: If the Ryder Cup were held today and a choice needed to be made between the two, it’s Jason Kokrak over Jordan Spieth every time. That doesn’t mean Spieth shouldn’t be on the team, because he’s a valuable asset. But Spieth is still a work in progress, and Kokrak has everything you’d look for in a Ryder Cup player.
He’s long (and pretty straight), averaging 307 yards off the tee. He hits a lot of wedges into par 4s, reaches most par 5s in two and is 16th on the PGA Tour in birdies per round. But the club in his bag that checks the biggest box for Kokrak is his putter. At the suggestion of his caddie, David Robinson – who is a fabulous putter himself – Kokrak lengthened his putter to 36 inches to better accommodate his 6-foot, 4-inch frame and went from 151st on Tour in strokes gained putting in 2019-20 to sixth this season. All of which has contributed to Kokrak’s two victories in 2020-21.
However, the one hole in his resume is Ryder Cup experience, but that could turn out to be a positive. Kokrak has no Ryder Cup scar tissue, and he’s demonstrated that he can handle the heat. He went the final 36 holes of the Charles Schwab Challenge paired with Spieth, a lifelong resident of nearby Dallas, and 98 percent of the crowd was boisterously vocal in Spieth’s camp. Kokrak didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday and won anyway.
Isn’t that whom you want on your team?
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