Zach Johnson’s Ryder Cup Picks Add Proven Winners, Comfy Partners, Good Putters

Brooks Koepka, 151st Open Championship, Royal Liverpool,(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Brooks Koepka, 151st Open Championship, Royal Liverpool,(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

There will be story after story and more radio and TV commentators than you can shake a 60-degree wedge at opining on Zach Johnson’s picks for the upcoming Ryder Cup.

But from what I can see, in the midst of dodging a hurricane, they all make perfect sense when you stop to think about it. But Johnson said it best.

“They check all the boxes,” he explained at his press conference. “Fierce competitors, great versatility, great flexibility when it comes to pairings, when it comes to the fit for Marco Simone, a great fit for each other, which is massive.”

Marco Simone is known more for being a course that they will narrow to reduce the effectiveness of U.S. long hitters. But they need to be careful not to negate one of their strengths, which is Rory McIlroy, by doing that. The set up will definitely be interesting.

Take Sam Burns, which of course is what Johnson did and he had a great reason. Burns is friends with fellow Dallas resident Scottie Scheffler. They’ve played a lot of golf in the same tournaments over the years since they were juniors, so they have a comfort factor as partners that they might not have with other players.

As Scheffler said about his Ryder Cup experience, he was so nervous he couldn’t feel his arms.  Having a golf pal as a partner can only help with that. And Scheffler will help Burns get over the first tee jitters.

"“To say that he meshes well with the other guys on the team, again, would be a massive understatement.”  — Zach Johnson on picking Sam Burns for Ryder Cup."

Last Ryder Cup, Scheffler played in the better ball matches with Bryson DeChambeau as his partner. They won one of them and lost in one of them.

This time around, maybe Scheffler will lean a little on Burns’ putting, that is if fourball is what they are asked to play. We won’t know that until they tee it up. Maybe playing with Burns will help turn Scheffler’s putting around. (Something has to. When you’re in a hole, you can only go up.)

“Tremendous putter, which is always good in a Ryder Cup,” Johnson, a good putter himself, said about Burns. “To say that he meshes well with the other guys on the team, again, would be a massive understatement.”

He could have just said they were picking him for Scheffler, and everybody would have just nodded yes and moved on.

Ryder Cup, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, Capital One’s The Match, (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for The Match) /

When Johnson selected both Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, he picked a fully-formed pairing. It will only be controversial if they don’t do well this time around. They are such good friends that it’s likely they pick each other up as partners.

Between them, they have five major championships. It would be surprising if they did not get the US several points. How many? Hard to know because we don’t know who they will play.  Europeans are miracle workers in the Ryder Cup.

What we do know is that Spieth and Thomas will not give up. They will claw and fight and crawl on their stomachs through thick fescue if that’s what it takes.

There is already another solid partnership on the team, and they made it on points: Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. They are friends off the course. They’ve played together in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. If one of them hadn’t made the team, the other one would have been picked.

It’s unlikely that anyone else will play with either of them unless it’s to break in a rookie, and that might happen.

What those three pairings mean is that Johnson has three solid teams in his arsenal. Everything else is a bonus. Truly. If those three teams played three times and won three times, it would be 9 points on the board.

Then, if they each won their singles matches, it would be 9+6=15, and the Ryder Cup would belong to the U.S. That’s how important those three teams are. And to keep the Cup the U.S. only needs to win 14 points, but nobody likes a tie.

Of course, it’s never that easy in a Ryder Cup.

It’s unlikely that they will win every match, because that kind of stuff seldom happens, but it would be mighty handy if they could.

So now, it’s time to look at everyone else, the bonus players. The ones that must come through if the initial three teams don’t win 15 points.

When it comes to the decision to pick Brooks Koepka, it must have been kind of like the NFL draft. He’s one of the best available players, no matter where he’s been playing the last two years. And he won this year’s PGA at a very tough course.

In 2021, Koepka partnered with Spieth in fourball and with Daniel Berger in foursomes (alternate shot). And even though he flew the coop to LIV, he explained that it was because he was afraid that his knees were so bad that he was never going to be able to play a lot of golf again. Then his knees got better.

However, by not attacking the PGA Tour, Koepka was able to maintain a good relationship with the golfers in the South Florida division of the PGA Tour, which includes Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, and even Rory McIlroy. That alone probably kept him in everyone’s good graces.

"“He’s built, in my mind, for the biggest of stages, and there’s no bigger stage than the Ryder Cup,” Johnson said about him. “I know his buddies want him on the team.”"

Translation, the South Florida PGA Tour wants him on the team.

And it has Koepka’s attention.

“Super excited, looking forward to it, and we’ve got a great group of guys, great captain, great assistants,” Koepka said. He added that the Ryder Cup was “the most nervous I’ve ever been in a golf tournament.”

Koepka nervous? Perhaps he’s actually human after all! He did look thrilled with the baby.

Koepka may not be the easiest to pair with other players, because his game is so intimidating, but he probably has guys lined up saying they want to play with him. Really, who wouldn’t? Chances are, he’s going to improve your record.

There’s a good chance he might partner with Rickie Fowler. That’s what Johnson meant by having guys on the team that are flexible. That can play with any kind of player. And there’s also the flexibility to have Koepka play with Collin Morikawa, another pick.

Last Ryder Cup, Morikawa partnered with Dustin Johnson three times and won all three of those matches. So, this time, is Koepka Morikawa’s “length guy?”

On the other hand, if you believe in the theory of guys from similar regions playing with each other, Morikawa might be the perfect partner for Max Homa who plays longer than he looks like he could. Both of them can putt. They are both part of the California portion of the PGA Tour.

There’s always the chance that Homa, who made the team on points, requested the Northern Californian? Think about it. If you could request someone, wouldn’t Morikawa be near the top of your list? He just broke the record for the low first two rounds at the Tour Championship, and one of those rounds was a 61. That’s a guy you would be pleased to have as your partner.

The beauty of being Zach Johnson is that he has several players who are good enough to pair with anyone and still do well. He has one of them on points, and that’s Brian Harman, who Johnson knows and trusts. He has another in Rickie Fowler, who can play comfortably with anybody.

Johnson cited Fowler as someone who is definitely flexible not just in pairing but also in formats. And if you need a guy who is not afraid to hit a precision shot, pick Fowler. He used to ride motocross, so golf is pretty tame.

The great unknown of this season’s Ryder Cup is Wyndham Clark. We saw what he did at the U.S. Open and the Wells Fargo, but other than those two events, he is less known by everyone. He will be the wild card. Clark will get a trial pairing, and Johnson will see how he does. If he performs well, then he will get a repeat chance until he doesn’t.

At least that’s the way it should work, even though sometimes it doesn’t. If they are going on grass types that guys grew up on, look for him to get Morikawa or Homa as a trial pairing.

Next. Does Team Europe want the Ryder Cup more?. dark

So, as crazy as it all may sound, picking six for this year’s Ryder Cup team comes down to making pairings so players are comfortable, making sure there are guys who can earn some points, and having a couple of aces up the U.S. sleeve if a few of our stars don’t perform as expected.

Johnson is in a perfect position. Now all his guys have to do is win!