Only eight of the 12 spots on the United States' Ryder Cup team are officially spoken for. Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson are the players guaranteed to represent the red, white and blue at Le Golf National in the end of September.
In reality, 10 of the 12 spots are solidified. That's because two players with a combined 19 major championships—and two guys who are playing a heads-up game for some cash over Thanksgiving weekend—didn't qualify on points but are mortal locks to be selected by Jim Furyk as captain's picks. Tiger Woods's resurgent season, coupled with the magnanimous reputation he's built over the past 20+ years, has made it impossible for Furyk not to select him. Phil Mickelson, while he's struggled a bit this summer, remains a birdie machine and will be a terrific locker room presence. He's also a lock to receive one of the four captain's selections.
That leaves just two vacant spots for a number of players with cases to make a U.S. team that will try to win on European soil for the first time since 1993. Furyk will make his first three selections after the Dell Technologies Championship, which begins on Friday, and the final one after the BMW Championship the following week.
Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar offer experience, but neither has had a particularly impressive year. Plus, the only rookie to qualify on points was Justin Thomas, a major winner who starred at last year's President's Cup. No need to worry about Ryder Cup pressure phasing him. Kevin Kisner is a gritty competitor whose game would seem to fit Le Golf National, a tight track that will put a premium on fairways. Patrick Cantlay is another steady performer whose low-key, unflappable demeanor could fare well in front of a hostile (for golf's standards) European crowd. Xander Schauffele has played well in some huge tournaments this season.
Thus, Furyk's decision seemed a perplexing one just a few weeks ago. But after the Northern Trust wrapped up Sunday afternoon in New Jersey, it is now abundantly clear whom Furyk should select to fill the final two spots: Bryson DeChambeau, who won the tournament by four shots, and Tony Finau, who finished solo second.
DeChambeau, a quirky 24-year-old with a keen interest in physics and biomechanics, has now won two marquee events this season, having won the Memorial in a playoff earlier this summer. He finished ninth in the points standings, just one spot behind Simpson for the eighth and final qualifying spot, and is now up to No. 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He has earned his spot on the team with his play on the course, but it's his demeanor and passion that make him such an intriguing Ryder Cup prospect.
There is perhaps no other player in the world who cares more about his craft than DeChambeau, who has yet to learn the art of masking frustration when the cameras are on. After he blew a four-shot lead at the European Open last month, DeChambeau gave a petulant handshake to the champion on the 18th green, a display of emotion that rubbed many the wrong way. At the British Open, cameras caught him having a borderline meltdown on the driving range. He brought a compass—not a navigational one, but the geometric one used in elementary schools—out onto the course, which forced the powers that be to ban that practice.
He is golf's mad scientist, a player with a voracious, insatiable hunger for improvement. In his post-round interview on Sunday, he couldn't help but rue his tee shot on the 18th hole. In fairness, it was a foul ball that went 50 yards right of his target, but most every player would focus on the victory rather than harp on one of the very few bad shots he hit all week. But that's just who DeChambeau is.
Say what you want about him—he has some maturing to do, for sure, and his number-driven approach to the game isn't for everyone—but neither his passion nor his competitiveness are up for debate. He does not care that he's the only player on tour whose irons are all the same length or that people might not like his hat choice. All he cares about is his performance, about getting one percent better every day.
A fiery rookie with a chip on his shoulder is an asset to any Ryder Cup team—Patrick Reed showed that in 2014, as did Thomas Pieters in 2016—and that's exactly what DeChameau would be. He has also developed friendships with fellow golf nerds Woods and Mickelson, and DeChambeau could well partner with either 40-something in foursomes or four-ball. Those relationships bode well for his chances, given that finding partners for Tiger and Phil is always a tricky proposition for Ryder Cup captains.
And then there's Finau, who secured his third second-place finish and ninth top-10 finish of the season with four rounds in the 60s in New Jersey. The big Utahn, who could have played college basketball had he not turned professional in golf right out of high school, has something you can't teach: first-tee intimidation factor. He's third on Tour in driving distance, 13th in scoring average, eighth in eagle frequency and 16th in birdie frequency. Finau makes birdies in flurries and has shown he can compete on a number of different courses—he finished in the top 10 at the first three majors of the year and tied a PGA Championship record with 10 birdies in his third round at Bellerive.
Sure, his bomb-and-gouge style isn't a perfect fit for Le Golf National, but he'd pair perfectly with a Simpson or a Spieth, guys who can grind out pars while Finau takes chances. The U.S. is going to need to play aggressively to have a chance, and adding Finau to a team that already includes birdie machines like Johnson and Koepka gives the Americans more firepower to do exactly that.
Furyk didn't qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs for the second straight year, but you can bet he was watching the action all week with detective-level attentiveness. What he saw, and what the final leaderboard showed, must have made his pending decision a much simpler one. He'll likely name Woods, Mickelson and DeChambeau as his first three picks, leaving the door open for Kisner or Johnson or Schauffele to blow him away at the BMW. But as long as Finau doesn't develop the yips or twist his ankle celebrating a hole-in-one again, the final spot ought to be his.