It's been a long lead-up to this Ryder Cup -- from the extra-year wait after COVID-19 forced its cancellation last year to the four days of practice rounds before the first ball of competition is struck Friday morning at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
So what will happen? Might U.S. captain Steve Stricker roll the dice and put Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka together after all? How will all of these rookies fare? Who will be the hero? Which side will win? We answer all the big questions.
If you are Stricker are you tempted, even a little, to play DeChambeau and Koepka together?
Bob Harig: A little bit. The idea is intriguing, only if you feel that no matter whom DeChambeau is paired with you are hoping for, rather than expecting, a victory. DeChambeau has yet to win a match at either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, but his length should be a great advantage at Whistling Straits. If you believe that he and Koepka might be so motivated to outplay the other guy, it would work on four-ball, where they don't really have to do anything other than try to make as many birdies as possible. But there are too many other good possibilities for each player, and Stricker seems disinterested in any kind of sideshow.
Michael Collins: Stop it. Just, stop it. Why do people insist on creating drama? Just because they quashed their beef doesn't mean that their personalities and, more importantly, their style of play will mesh well together. No, captain Stricker is too smart for this.
Mark Schlabach: No. It would be like putting Tiger Woods with Phil Mickelson when they were fierce rivals early in their careers. We know how that went at Oakland Hills in 2004. They lost both of their matches together on Friday, leaving an early hole from which the Americans never recovered. Don't poke the bear. If you want to make them sit together at breakfast, fine, but don't force the issue.
Tom VanHaaren: Yes. Do it. Those two feed off of energy and are as competitive as anyone. Think about how amped up they would be to try to be the guy to win the match. They would inherently compete with each other during the match, which would up the level of play. Depending on the day, you have two guys who could work well in multiple formats. I'm not just saying this for selfish reasons, but I actually think this could be a good strategy to put them together. I don't know if Stricker would do it, but I would have prepared them for it ahead of time and told them part of this team's strategy is going to rely on them to win it together. I don't think the beef would have any impact on the play, so I would have at least broached the idea with the two beforehand.
All this talk about U.S. chemistry, will it play a role at all in the final outcome?
Harig: No. The narrative is overrated and is simply a product of a lot of U.S. losing. Teams don't look like they are having fun or have good camaraderie when they are not winning. And the idea that the European team has all kinds of unity is also overblown. They have had their share of misfits and clashes over the years and managed to win anyway. Everybody gets along when you win.
Collins: Yes, of course. What team in any sport ever won a championship without team chemistry? Ever? Not to say every guy has to be friends and all 12 guys sing "Kumbaya" together, but there is something to be said for every guy knowing his role on the team and embracing it for the betterment of the team. Where will this show its face? Watch which players are on the course rooting and cheering on teammates when they don't have a match.
Schlabach: Stricker and his assistant captains have gone out of their way to ensure that the Americans are putting their personal beefs aside this week. I think the Koepka-DeChambeau rivalry is somewhat overblown and a product of social media. Patrick Reed has been one of America's best players in this event, but his inability to get along with everyone (and his health) explain why he's not here. The roster turnover and injection of youth should help chemistry in the team room. Most of those guys get along with each other.
VanHaaren: No. I think we've all played sports at some level with someone we didn't like. I think the biggest myth in professional sports is that everyone on a team likes each other and gets along. They manage their egos every day and I don't think it will be an issue. We already saw Koepka briefly talking to DeChambeau on the range and DeChambeau hinted that they might have something fun coming this week. These guys are competitors and losing to Europe would be a bigger deal than getting along with each other for a week. What I think will be interesting, though, is if America loses, we will probably hear more about the chemistry and how it was an issue. If the Americans win, we will probably hear about how they pushed past it and worked together. Winning cures all. Just win and all the talk goes away.
There are nine rookies in this Ryder Cup -- six on the United States side, three on the European side. Which rookie do you trust the most this week? Which one do you trust the least?
Harig: I trust Collin Morikawa. He has never played in a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup, and yet he hardly seems one to worry. Winning two major championships and a World Golf Championship before your 24th birthday is pretty impressive. On the other side, Austria's Bernd Wiesberger is the lowest-ranked player in the field at 63rd in the world and does not mix it up with PGA Tour players very often because he is one of just two on the European team who is not a full member. That said, he did win earlier this year on the European Tour and was fifth recently at the European Masters. And he did earn the final spot on the team.
Collins: I trust Patrick Cantlay. There's a reason his nickname is "Patty Ice." No moment is too big for him, even in this setting. Cantlay will not only be the calmest of the rookies, he will also be a thorn in the Euros' side because of his consistent play and unflappable demeanor. Wiesberger is the easy answer because he has played so little in the U.S. compared to the others. First Ryder Cup that's an "away" game for someone who is relatively quiet and soft-spoken isn't easy. There are probably going to be some initial nerves and eye-bulging. Could end bad.
Schlabach: No one, other than maybe Jon Rahm, is coming in as hot as Cantlay. He closed the PGA Tour season with victories at the BMW Championship and then the Tour Championship. He was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers -- ahead of Rahm. His strokes gained average the past three months is better than that of anyone else on the American team. He took down DeChambeau in a six-hole playoff at the BMW Championship by draining putts from everywhere. I'd probably trust Austria's Bernd Wiesberger the least because he's the lowest-ranked player on either team, which means he'll probably be sinking bombs all weekend.
VanHaaren: I like to make picks based on streaks and how players are doing. I think golf is one of the few sports where momentum really matters, so I like Cantlay right now. He is playing so well, and having confidence coming into this event could be a huge factor. Especially at a place like Whistling Straits, where there are some terrifying shots with water and deep bunkers staring you down. I'm with everyone on Wiesberger. We don't have much of a track record to go off of and this type of event at this venue is not a great place to get your feet wet. And if your feet are wet at Whistling Straits, you're likely standing in Lake Michigan, which is not great.
Play the roles of Stricker and European captain Padraig Harrington ... which players would you consider putting out there all five matches?
Harig: For Stricker, I would consider Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa. You could see those six players making up three of the four teams in every session, although it's unlikely all of them would play that often. For Harrington, it would seem likely that Rory McIlroy would play all five sessions. He has never missed a session in any of his Ryder Cups. Jon Rahm would also seem a lock for every session.
Collins: Stricker sends Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger out all five. Those two can be workhorses for the U.S. side even if their pairings are split between others. Watch Koepka closely. If he seems less than 70% healthy, then maybe play him only twice. Harrington sends Viktor Hovland and Rahm out five times. If the Europeans are gonna have any chance to win, those two have to win -- a lot. Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood might play only two or three times total depending on how their performances in the first match go. Hopefully (if you're rooting for Europe), Padraig doesn't pull the trigger too early on Wiesberger.
Schlabach: For the Americans, JT, Spieth, Schauffele and Cantlay would be locks for me to play in all five matches. Spieth hasn't been great in singles matches at the Ryder Cup, but everyone has to play on Sunday. Thomas displays the most patriotic spirit of the Americans and cares about this event more than most. I love Morikawa's confidence, but Whistling Straits doesn't seem to fit his game as well as other courses. Plus, he was bothered by a back injury late in the season. If he's playing well, though, it will be tough to take him out. DJ and Koepka are the X factors for me, and I'm not sure how much they'll play. DJ's form hasn't been great since he won the Masters in November, and he didn't play well at the Ryder Cup in Paris in 2018. Koepka's wrist injury from the Tour Championship could become a problem with any swing, but he's typically at his best when people have doubts about him. It will also be fascinating to see what Stricker does with DeChambeau. He can't play alternate shot, right? For the Europeans, I'd be shocked if Rory McIlroy isn't out there for all five, along with Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world. If Viktor Hovland plays well on Friday, I wouldn't be surprised to see him out there for all five matches, either.
VanHaaren: I would look at the formats to figure out who should sit out and who can play all five. I agree with Mark about DeChambeau playing alternate shot, that I don't think it's a good risk. He is so up and down, I could see that going sideways having to play with a partner in that format. I would put Thomas, Spieth and Schauffele in all five for the Americans. Johnson and Koepka are toss-ups for me, and Koepka's status depends on his wrist. For the Europeans, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Ian Poulter would be the three I'd have out in all five. Poulter is a source of energy for Europe and always seems to play well in this event, so as a captain, I'd want him on the course as much as possible. I don't know if that would tire him out, and maybe you'd want to give him some breaks, but the presence he gives Europe is worth considering.
Which player will be the hero of this Ryder Cup?
Harig: Justin Thomas. The American has had a bit of a disappointing year by his standards, and will be full on to have a big Ryder Cup. With Jordan Spieth as his partner, the pieces are in place for a solid partnership. He'll then prevail with a big point during Sunday singles.
Collins: Daniel Berger for the U.S. team; Viktor Hovland for the European squad. If Berger wins three points for the U.S. he will be the darling of the Ryder Cup. He has the attitude that can be pestering to the European side and lift the pro-American crowd into a frenzy. Hovland could be the monkey-wrenching spoiler. If he earns at least 3.5 points for Europe the American squad could be in some trouble at home.
Schlabach: If the Europeans win again, Rory McIlroy will probably be a big reason. He played in all five matches in each of the four previous Ryder Cups. There's a good chance captain Padraig Harrington will have him out there for all five this week. There are only two other players in Ryder Cup history to play all five matches in five straight Ryder Cups: Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood. McIlroy had only one victory this past season, but he led the tour in birdie average. If he avoids big numbers, he'll be difficult for the Americans to take down.
VanHaaren: I agree with Bob, it's Justin Thomas. He's now becoming a veteran for these team events and he always seems to play up to the competition. He doesn't need anything synthetic to get him going emotionally for a match and he's coming off of a top-four finish at the Tour Championship, which doesn't hurt. I can't think of anyone he can't compete with on the European side, so you can throw him out in any situation and expect results.
Which side wins?
Harig: The U.S. Stricker's belief in youth and not a lot of losing scar tissue is an excellent approach. His idea is to be more prepared, and having players at Whistling Straits in advance to play the course before arriving this week was an important move. He also seems to have several teams set and appears to have a plan to stick with them. He has seen a lot in his years as a player, an assistant and Presidents Cup captain. All that said ... it's never easy and rankings mean little at the Ryder Cup. The Americans will have to sweat it out. 14.5-13.5.
Collins: A 14-14 tie, which means Europe retains the cup. The weather will play a huge factor in equalizing things for the European side. Another little nugget about the course: No American has won here -- Vijay Singh, Martin Kaymer, Jason Day won -- when the PGA Championship was held at this venue. That means the singles matches could be a fight, especially if the weather gets squirrelly.
Schlabach: I don't think the Americans are going to win in a rout, but I think they'll squeak out a victory on Sunday. They're younger, stronger and higher-ranked than the Europeans. They'll have a decided home-course advantage. Will it be too much pressure for a young team? In the end, JT, Schauffele, Koepka, Cantlay and Spieth will deliver a 14.5-13.5 victory.
VanHaaren: I'm taking the United States. I think we're going to see some fireworks late in the week. For all the talk about a lack of chemistry and DeChambeau versus Koepka, this team is going to come together and find a way to win. The makeup of this team is that of younger, competitive players who don't back down. There's no intimidation factor, and I think the Americans take it 14.5 to 13.5 in a close fight.