Tiger-Phil? Nah. JT-Spieth? Not so much. Here's who Michael Rosenberg thinks should play together for Team USA on Friday at the Ryder Cup.
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — Suppose Jim Furyk and his various vice captains get violently ill from eating bad escargot in Paris. And suppose the U.S. players do not want to set the pairings themselves, because nobody wants to ask anybody to sit, and playing rock-paper-scissors could mess with their feels. The Americans would naturally turn to their country’s favorite, most respected and trusted group of people: the media. They would head to the press center to find the most knowledgeable and insightful and American golf writer there.
Now imagine that person saying no. I don’t know why. Let’s go with that escargot thing again. And then imagine everybody else in the press center being unavailable, for various reasons—overslept, journalistic conflict of interest, too busy checking their Marriott Rewards account balances, whatever it may be.
Then they come to me.
I’m your new Ryder Cup captain.
I’m honored to serve my country. I hope it pays well.
Here are my Friday pairings.
Dustin Johnson-Brooks Koepka
The easiest call on the board to me. It’s not just that Johnson and Koepka are buds. It’s that they seem to be much closer to each other than to anybody else. They also are so good that they will both play at least four and possibly five matches this week.
There is no danger of one of them turning to the other, in the middle of a foursomes match, and saying “You only hit it that far?” unless they’re joking. We can only hope their four-ball opponents are the shortest hitters on the European team, so these dudes can bomb it 400 yards, kiss their biceps and start whistling that Lee Greenwood song. Take that, you weeny Europeans.
Also, I assume Koepka and Johnson want to play with each other, and I don’t need them beating the crap out of me.
Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed
This should be the easiest call on the board. Spieth and Reed formed a fantastic pairing in 2016 at Hazeltine, going 2-1-1 while partnering in all four paired sessions, and there is no point in messing with such a good and feisty thing…except that Spieth has not done a very good Jordan Spieth impression this year. He hasn’t won in more than a year. I don’t care. I’m riding these guys until they give me a reason to jump off.
Rickie Fowler-Justin Thomas
They are best friends and live within walking distance of each other. Well, OK, you could pretty much say the same of Seinfeld and Kramer, and I wouldn’t ask them to win the Ryder Cup for me. But there are good reasons to put these two together.
Fowler is a fascinating player. As he is constantly reminded, he hasn’t won a major, and by that simple metric it’s easy to say he has been overhyped. But he has done a very good job of contending at majors. He is, in a way, the opposite of Koepka: Fowler has played consistently excellent golf but failed to capture a big one, while Koepka seems to specialize in the big ones.
Some of this is luck and timing. But it is fair to say that this is at least partly in Fowler’s head. And that’s where Thomas comes in. There is nobody on the U.S. team who will help Fowler get to a better mental place. And that works both ways—Thomas is probably the U.S. player who is most likely to go on a crazy birdie run, but he is, amazingly, a Ryder Cup rookie, and while nerves are not an issue for him, having his pal there will only help. This feels like the best possible pairing for both of them.
Bubba Watson-Webb Simpson
Watson didn’t make the 2016 team, and earlier this year, he was lobbying Furyk, my predecessor, for a vice-captain position. I would have given him one, based on my strongly held belief that when you represent America on foreign soil, you should always have a guy named Bubba with you.
But then Watson earned a playing spot by winning three times this season. So, surprisingly, did Simpson, who completed his comeback from the belly-putter ban that, at least initially, appeared to wreck his career.
Watson’s career Ryder Cup record is 3-8. But he and Simpson were a dynamic pairing in 2012 at Medinah – they won their two fourball matches, 5-and-4 both times, and lost a foursomes match on the 18th hole. I’m hoping they remember, because I didn’t until I looked it up.
Tiger Woods-Bryson DeChambeau
There has been a lot of speculation about DeChambeau being Woods’s partner—stemming mostly, I guess, from their competition to be golf’s biggest geek. If there is ever a golf version of Jeopardy, these guys should be on it.
DeChambeau famously tries to defy every convention in golf: irons that are the same length, a compass to read greens, wearing his underwear outside of his pants. (We pause now while gullible readers Google “dechambeau underwear outside pants”.) Arnold Palmer used to tinker with his clubs, but DeChambeau tinkers with everything. And Woods is the most successful tinkerer in golf history. He crushed everybody in the Masters and changed his swing, then played the best golf ever and changed it again. You can rip him for that if you’d like, but it’s part of who he is—if he didn’t constantly try to improve, he never would have become Tiger Woods.
Woods and DeChambeau also have a strong personal relationship, having played multiple practice rounds together this season; Woods would probably be OK with just about anybody at this point, but this seems like an especially good fit.
DeChambeau is a Ryder Cup rookie. I’m counting on Woods to help him figure this thing out. And this brings me to my last pairing …
Phil Mickelson-Tony Finau
Mickelson has quite a history of playing with Ryder Cup rookies. David Toms played with Mickelson in his first Ryder Cup, back in 2002. In 2012, Keegan Bradley was a rookie, and he and Mickelson won all three of their matches together. In 2010, Johnson and Fowler were both rookies, and both played with him. You want your first time to be with … wait, let’s try again: When your stock has its initial public offering, you want Phil … um … well, let’s just say Phil is good with rookies.
So those are my pairings. Johnson-Koepka and Reed-Spieth play both matches Friday. Woods-DeChambeau and Fowler-Thomas play the fourballs Friday morning—I don’t want Woods hitting tee shots for anybody else, and I want Thomas and Fowler playing freely and aggressively. Mickelson-Finau and Watson-Simpson play the foursomes Friday afternoon. We’re going to win this thing. And if we don’t … well, I’m not the one who ordered the escargot.