And then there was one. Captain Jim Furyk was not on hand Sunday and would not have said anything if he had been, but practically speaking, there really is only one spot left on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Bryson DeChambeau was a solid candidate even before he teed it up this week in the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs and now, having won the Northern Trust, he is just about certain to be on the squad bound for Paris next month. When you consider that eight golfers made the 12-member team automatically and that Furyk’s name would be mud in American golf if he does not pick both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, that leaves one spot open with two tournaments to go.
The really interesting part is that it is such a pertinent topic. Here are the best golfers on the planet playing for the $10-million first prize in the four-stop FedEx Cup, and the Americans and Europeans in the field have one eye (or both) on the Ryder Cup. It truly has become that big of a deal.
Tommy Fleetwood of England, who will be a rookie in the biennial U.S.-Europe matches, said as much the other day. He had just shot a terrific first round (4-under-par 67) here at the Northern Trust, and he nonetheless waxed poetic about the match that is a month and a continent away.
“It’s the biggest sporting occasion in the world,” Fleetwood said, when asked specifically about possibly facing Woods (a member of his threesome Thursday and Friday) in France. “Whoever you play, it’s the biggest sporting occasion in the world at that time. And for us, being European and American to have the chance to play in that and be a part of that, I think that’s very special for us.”
All due respect to the FedEx Cup in general, a fine wrap-up to the PGA Tour season, and the Northern Trust in particular, a tournament that hits close to home for many of us around here who remember it as the Westchester Classic and our first live exposure to the rockets that pros are capable of hitting. But the Ryder is the Cup that runneth over. Some people consider it even more compelling than the Masters or the U.S. Open. Count John Feinstein among them, given the title of his book about the 2016 Ryder Cup: “The First Major.”
“There’s nothing better than playing for your country,” said DeChambeau, who has yet to play in a Ryder Cup but still has proven himself one of its most dedicated adherents. Two years ago, when he was a new pro, he paid his own way to Minnesota just so he could watch his countrymen finally take back the trophy that Europe had won three times in a row and six of the previous seven.
That string of failure is what made the Ryder Cup such a hot topic. Years ago, it almost went by the wayside because the U.S. was too good. To save it, organizers expanded the other side, which had been Great Britain and Ireland, to all of Europe. The latter became a buzzsaw and the U.S. became desperate. It hired Tom Watson as captain, Watson benched Mickelson, Mickelson squawked at the losers’ news conference and the whole U.S. apparatus was changed as a result.
Americans and their fans were fired up in Hazeltine two years ago. DeChambeau was so caught up in the fever that he had to attend. He knew he was not good enough to be on the team back then, “But I did want to get the experience because I knew two years was a long time and you could do some good stuff in two years.”
Two years later, many golfers — Kevin Kisner, Xander Schauffele to name a couple -- would dearly love to get that one apparently available spot. Tony Finau surely did not hurt his cause by finishing second here Sunday. “It’s a cool position to be in, just to know that maybe you’re one of a few guys that (Furyk) is looking at,” said Finau, whose head is focused on the next playoff round in Boston and whose heart is set on France.