U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson defends picks for Rome: ‘It became pretty obvious what makes us whole’

Not all six of Zach Johnson’s captain’s picks for the 2023 Ryder Cup were as obvious as the next. PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, U.S. team stalwart Jordan Spieth, two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and a resurgent Rickie Fowler were assumed given their respective campaigns, but votes of confidence in Justin Thomas and Sam Burns have raised some eyebrows now that the initial dust has settled.

“You’re trying to compile a number of different elements to try to formulate those picks, this year those six guys,” Johnson told SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio. “Those six guys that complement the six that earn their way. Collectively, we’re a team. We’re one. And so, yeah, that process has a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of counsel, a lot of discussion and we can get into the weeds of it if you want. But, I mean, there’s a number of elements involved. 

“I think you said ‘difficult’ or ‘hard.’ Yeah, I guess that’d be one term. At the same time, when it came down to it and you start going through that filtering, you go through that process, it became pretty obvious as to who we should have go with us. It became pretty obvious what makes us whole.”

Two things are clear in Johnson’s picks: He was not necessarily looking for the most in-form players or the hottest, rather who he believes are the correct players. Additionally, the six automatic qualifiers’ opinions were heard in the selection process of the back half of the squad. 

“We’re looking at team room, camaraderie, chemistry, guys that want to be around each other,” said Johnson. “In my mind, lack of drama. I do not like drama. I walk away from it at all costs. Certainly, there’s times where you can’t avoid it, I get that. But let’s try to control what we can control. So, chemistry and camaraderie are huge. And versatility.”

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler will likely reconnect with long-time friend Burns at some stage of the team competition. It had previously been reported that Scheffler’s friendship with Burns was a factor under Johnson’s consideration. The two played together at the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow Club where they garnered a record of 0-3-0 together. 

To Burns’ credit, he is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour over the last two seasons with the latest coming at the 2023 WGC-Match Play where he defeated Scheffler in the semifinals.

The selection of Thomas is the one on which Johnson will stake his captaincy. A player who has the upside to be a catalyst on a winning Ryder Cup team, Thomas has been a shell of his former self since capturing the 2022 PGA Championship. The 15-time PGA Tour winner was an omission from the 2023 FedEx Cup Playoffs and finished his season missing five of his last nine cuts while failing to break 80 in rounds at both the U.S. Open and The Open. 

During this same time, other potential picks like Lucas Glover, Keegan Bradley and Cameron Young flashed their upside with wins and runs at major championships.

“[Form] is part of it, but I wouldn’t say it was the overwhelming factor by any means” said Johnson. “As Team USA, you can kind of look back on history we’ve been burnt on both ends of that. You take it into consideration just like experience — that is probably the one that you can compare it to. It is great to have experience, but we have shown rookies can play really well in this.”

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter, Patrick McDonald and Greg DuCharme to break down Zach Johnson’s Ryder Cup picks and the completion of the US Ryder Cup Team. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

In the end, it was Thomas’ Ryder Cup and President’s Cup experience that outweighed the recent form of his counterparts. He boasts a record of 16-5-3 and includes a 4-0-0 stint at the most recent Presidents Cup and 4-2-0 effort at the last two Ryder Cups alongside Spieth. The two are likely to play with each other once again.

Couple these two pairs with best buds Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, and three American duos are already penciled in. There will be movement amongst the pairs, but the remaining six include Cal products Max Homa and Collin Morikawa and Oklahoma State boys Rickie Fowler and Wyndham Clark. Both twosomes possess complementary skillsets, as do Brooks Koepka and Brian Harman, who have the potential to be a nightmare team for the Europeans.

Take all of this into account — skillsets, personalities, experiences — and Johnson’s vision becomes apparent. 

“My job is to take six that I think can win the Ryder Cup at Marco Simone at the end of September in Rome,” said Johnson. “It’s really that simple.”


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