For Ryder Cup captains, you’re typically damned if you do and damned if you don’t. With only 12 spots available on their biennial squads — and only a precious few captain’s picks — inevitably there will be some snubs, perceived or otherwise.
European captain Darren Clarke announced Tuesday morning that the automatic qualifiers — Rafael Cabrera Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Chris Wood — would be joined by Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Thomas Pieters, leaving Russell Knox on the outside looking in, clearly the biggest snub of the year.
— Ryder Cup Team EUR (@RyderCupEurope) August 30, 2016
There were a few factors that went into selecting Pieters over Knox (or even Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell, as Clarke would admit), which included an advantageous pairing in Denmark this past week on the European Tour and the conspiracy theory that Knox was put at a disadvantage by playing primarily on the PGA Tour.
Knox tips cap to Pieters. On being left out: “I barely spoke to anyone on the European Tour. Ultimately, I had that going against me.”
— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) August 30, 2016
Most debated was the final pick, which went to Pieters.
Clarke intentionally was paired with Pieters at last week’s Made in Denmark event, and in the opening round, the big-hitting, 24-year-old Belgian fired a 62 alongside his future captain. “One of the finest 62s I’ve ever witnessed,” Clarke said. “He made it look very easy.”
On Sunday, Pieters closed with 65, including three birdies in a row to finish, to win his third European Tour event in the past 12 months. No other player has won more during that span.
“I found it impossible to leave him off the team,” Clarke said.
Clarke’s picks were first reported Monday by Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte.
The nine Europeans who qualified on points: Rafael Cabrera Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Chris Wood.
It’s a tough break for Russell Knox, who at world No. 20 is the highest-ranked European player that won’t be at Hazeltine. A full-time PGA Tour member, he broke through for two victories this season, but his WGC-HSBC Champions title last fall didn’t count toward the Ryder Cup points list; otherwise he would have automatically qualified.
“Probably one of the toughest phone calls I’ve ever had to make,” Clarke said. “He’s played unbelievably well during the qualification period. Some people will say he deserves this position on the team.”