Completing a Ryder Cup team with four captain’s picks is more an art form than a science.
However, if anyone has ideas about how Thomas Bjorn will resolve his wildcard dilemma, vice-captain Padraig Harrington dropped a major hint when he insisted that form generally trumps experience when it comes to a tight decision in the vice-captains’ huddle.
Bjorn planned to sit down yesterday with the Dubliner and assistants Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Robert Karlsson to go through his options before he reveals the solution to his Ryder Cup wildcard puzzle from Sky’s west London HQ at 2pm tomorrow (Wednesday).
With Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Thorbjorn Olesen all qualifying automatically, the Dane admitted on Sunday that while he was “pretty set on two or three names… there’s still one little doubt in my head”.
Given their recent form and experience, one could argue that Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey may be the three he has in mind.
However, with the likes of Thomas Pieters, Sergio Garcia, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Russell Knox, Matt Fitzpatrick and Made in Denmark winner Matt Wallace also on his shortlist, getting his decision right may well be the difference between winning back the Ryder Cup and losing two in a row for the first time in 25 years.
With a trained accountant like Harrington, the son of a maths teacher in Westwood and a former mechanical engineering student in McDowell among his assistants, Bjorn has no shortage of grey matter at his disposal.
However, as Harrington pointed out, it’s a lot more complicated than any mathematical formula or simply picking the four players that give Europe the 12 strongest individuals possible.
“The mistake that’s made many times is that people seem to think you should pick the best player, but that’s not the case,” Harrington said. “You have to pick the best player for the team, whether that’s experience for foursomes or fourballs or the course.
“I think the classic one was when Paul Casey was ranked in the top 10 in the world (in 2010) and didn’t get a pick. People thought that was outrageous. Same with Bubba Watson last time. Clearly, he’s one of the top 12 players in the US, but he didn’t fit the foursomes and fourballs and model they needed.”
In the past, the presence of five rookies among the eight automatic qualifiers — Rahm, Noren, Hatton, Fleetwood and Olesen — would have the European captain pencilling in experienced players like Stenson, Garcia, Poulter and Casey.
But Harrington admits a European rookie in 2018 is not quite the weak link of yesteryear and that could mean bad news for at least one European stalwart.
After all, experienced players such as Westwood, Stenson and Martin Kaymer were among the least successful European players at Hazeltine in 2016.
“Traditionally you picked on class,” Harrington said. “You picked experienced players to come in and help everybody else. But the last Ryder Cup proved experience is not always best.
“The experienced players didn’t play as well as the rookies. So while it depends on the make-up of the team, a bigger consideration is given to form. So it comes down to a combination of the golf course, who suits foursomes and fourballs, who do you think will win singles points?”