ORLANDO, Florida - A pandemic might have changed the way the United States Ryder Cup team chooses players for its side, but success is keeping the new system intact.
PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh and current president John Lindert said definitively this week during the annual PGA Show that current U.S. captain Zach Johnson will have six wildcard picks as the Americans look to end a 30-year drought on foreign soil in the 44th edition of the biennial matches against Europe at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome, Italy. And it's unlikely the system will ever revert to its pre-pandemic ways.
Prior to 2008, captains were only given two wildcard selections with the other 10 picks chosen by automatic qualification through a points system. That jumped to four captain's picks under Paul Azinger in '08, then was bumped to six for captain Steve Stricker in 2021 due to COVID concerns.
The results spoke volumes: Stricker led the Americans to a 19-9 win at Whistling Straits, the largest margin of victory since all of Europe joined the Ryder Cup in 1979. After two decades of being pummeled by Europe, the U.S. has now won two of the last three matches.
And Lindert and Waugh said there's no talk about ever going back to fewer captain's picks.
"The feedback from last time's Ryder Cup, it was a very positive influence to have the captain be allowed to have six captain's picks for a variety of reasons and some that I didn't even think about," said Lindert, who is a member of the Ryder Cup committee along with Waugh. "When there were only two, the two who got picked somewhat didn't feel inclusive because they were the two, right?
"With six, it's a 50-50 field so it becomes a more inclusive team and it allows the captain to actually build a team."
Julius Mason of the PGA of America, president John Lindert and CEO Seth Waugh speak at the PGA Show in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Tim Schmitt/Golfweek)
Johnson, 46, was officially named the captain of the 2023 Ryder Cup for Team USA last February. He played in the Ryder Cup five times (8-7-2 record) and the Presidents Cup four times (10-6-1) and was an assistant captain the past two editions of the Ryder Cup. He will be the 30th captain for Team USA.
Waugh added that the addition of extra selections makes the job more enticing for future captains.
"Really, the six started because of COVID. We don't know how many people are going to play or how long the season would be. And so, to give the captain maximum flexibility of obviously putting the best team on the field. And they loved it," Waugh said. "If you talk to a lot of the captains, the hardest thing they have to do is tell the 13th person that they didn't make the team. So by having six choices, you're making six happy calls, when you might be making a bigger number of unhappy calls because you might have to call 13 through 15 or something.
"They absolutely are all competitors who want to win. And we think this gives them the best opportunity to do that - to put the best team out of field."
As of now, the six automatic qualifiers for the U.S. team are Scottie Scheffler, Will Zalatoris, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Cameron Young and Chris Kirk. It's unknown if Dustin Johnson, currently seventh on the list, would be eligible for the event due to his ties with LIV Golf.
One year to Italy: What the United States 2023 Ryder Cup team could look like
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek
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