PGA champion Jimmy Walker hands US Ryder Cup skipper timely boost
By Andy Swales
Last Updated: 01/08/16 8:05pm
With golf's major championships done and dusted for another year, all the attention now switches to the Ryder Cup in Minnesota on the final day of September.
Following his victory in the PGA Championship on Sunday, Jimmy Walker finds himself in a strong position to qualify automatically for the Americans.
The 37-year-old, who made his debut at Gleneagles two years ago and has also represented his country with success in the Presidents Cup, has jumped 25 spots to fourth in the US points standings.
With the top eight US qualifiers to be finalised on August 28, Walker looks to have played himself into the team - although there are still another four tournaments to be staged on the PGA Tour.
Skipper Davis Love will name his four wildcard choices at various points during September, in what is a new selection process aimed at helping a team that has lost eight of the last 10 Ryder Cup contests.
As things stand, the Americans look to have a fairly experienced line-up heading into the three-day match at Hazeltine.
Of the eight players currently inside the qualifying mark, only Brooks Koepka, who finished tied for fourth at Baltusrol on Sunday, would be a Ryder Cup rookie.
The seven Americans inside the top eight who already have sampled the pressure are Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Walker, Zach Johnson, JB Holmes and Brandt Snedeker.
Holmes has possibly the lowest profile of these seven golfers but he remains one of the few Americans currently on Tour to have tasted Ryder Cup success in the past.
The 34-year-old from Kentucky was a member of the most recent victorious US team in 2008 when he collected a more than satisfactory two points from his three matches.
And a quick look at the qualifying table shows the strength in depth available to Love with two-time major winner Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler filling the next four positions.
And if Love was to name his wildcards today, it would be no surprise to see this quartet given the nod to take on the holders from Europe.
Reed, in 10th, made his debut in Scotland two years ago when - despite being on the losing side - was the most successful player on either team with three wins from four games.
So the challenge facing Europe appears to be monumental. Although the Europeans have faced this situation many times before - and have often come out the other side with a famous win - they are unlikely to start the 41st match as favourites.
Ian Poulter, the chief talisman in 2012 on the last occasion Europe faced the Americans on US soil, is out of action for the remainder of this year and will not be swinging a club in anger.
Captain Darren Clarke will be finalising his team at the end of August when he selects three wildcards to add to the nine who successfully survive qualifying.
It is often suggested Ryder Cup skippers like to fill their teams with experience but, if the European side was named this week, then five of the nine automatic qualifiers - Danny Willett, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick - would be making their debuts in the Midwest.
This leaves Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia as Europe's cup veterans going into the final month of qualifying.
So who, as things currently stand, would Clarke select to make up his dozen Stateside travellers?
On experience alone, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer look likely wildcard inclusions otherwise there is a number of potential rookies rookies hoping to climb into an automatic qualifying slot.
Danes Soren Kjeldsen and Thorbjorn Olesen, along with Ireland's Shane Lowry, will still fancy their chances of making the European team in their own right, and maybe Clarke could call on Russell Knox who at least has plenty of US experience having spent most of his career on the PGA Tour.
But the Scot would be another first-timer in what appears to be a European team lacking in Ryder Cup experience.
One other name to consider is Englishman Tyrrell Hatton who has rapidly ascended Europe's qualifying table thanks to back-to-back top 10s in the majors during July, at Royal Troon and Baltusrol.
Whatever happens over the final few weeks of qualifying, it would appear Clarke faces a lot more head scratching than his counterpart Love before the dust settles in readiness for hostilities to resume next month.