Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson still has time on his side, just not as much. He also keeps getting more candidates for his U.S. team, which isn’t making the job any easier.
And it’s no longer about Brooks Koepka or anyone else from LIV Golf.
“There’s still a lot of golf between now and then,” Johnson said that Sunday morning in May at the PGA Championship, a few hours before Brooks Koepka showed off his major swagger at Oak Hill with a victory that did more than restore his reputation as Big Game Brooks.
It moved him to No. 2 in the Ryder Cup standings. Given that Koepka appears to be back at full strength, that’s not such a bad thing.
Now consider the last two weeks.
Wyndham Clark showed plenty of moxie when he outplayed Rory McIlroy on the back nine of Los Angeles Country Club and won the U.S. Open. Coupled with his victory in an elevated event at the Wells Fargo Championship, Clark moved past Koepka to No. 2 and is all but assured of his Ryder Cup debut in Rome.
And then Keegan Bradley battled the internal pressure of playing before a home crowd in New England and won the Travelers Championship for his second victory of the year. That big yell he let loose on the 18th green brought back images of his Ryder Cup debut in 2012.
He moved to No. 7 in the standings.
Bradley hasn’t played in a Ryder Cup since 2014, an unhappy memory in Scotland from Captain Tom Watson benching him in three of the five sessions and Europe celebrating on home soil.
The thought of playing in another Ryder Cup meant every bit as much as the $3.6 million he won.
“It is the first thing I said to my wife walking up to sign my card,” Bradley said Sunday. “This is a pretty big step towards doing that. I’m 37 years old. I hope to play in multiple more. I don’t know how many more with everybody so good and the young kids, just the team is incredible.
“I would love to go to Rome and be a part of that team.”
Right when it looks as though the American team has a core of Ryder Cup stars who finally can swing the pendulum in its favor, someone new — or something new — comes along.
From that ‘21 team that gave Europe its worst loss ever in the Ryder Cup, three players defected to something new (LIV Golf). Among the potential newcomers to the big stage are Max Homa and Cameron Young, Clark and Sam Burns, the latter narrowly left off the last Ryder Cup team.
The core from Whistling Straits included Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa, all of them multiple major champions, none with a victory over the last 12 months.
The matches start Sept. 29 in Rome. The leading six players through the BMW Championship automatically qualify, and then Johnson says he will lean on those six players and his assistant captains to determine the six wild-card picks to give the team a sense of ownership.
Time on his side?
Eight weeks remain before qualifying ends. That includes a major (British Open) and a pair of $20 million events from the FedEx Cup playoffs. Most of the top players won’t be playing more than four of those eight weeks.
The leading six in the Ryder Cup standings going into the Rocket Mortgage Classic are Scottie Scheffler, Clark, Koepka, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Homa.
Next in line are Bradley, Spieth, Young, Burns, Thomas and Morikawa.
Still to be determined? Plenty.
The resurgent Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau, who has played on the last four U.S. teams and has two wins this season, are part of the conversation.
Dustin Johnson is probably too far back that even a claret jug won’t allow him to qualify, but he will be hard to ignore if he were to win the final major of the year. The last (healthy) American to win a major and get left off the Ryder Cup team was Todd Hamilton in 2004.
Turnover is nothing new for the Americans.
When they manhandled Europe at Hazeltine in 2016 to end a three-match losing streak, only six of them were on the charter flight to France two years later (another loss).
Five players from the dominant Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits didn’t make it to the next U.S. team 12 months later in the Presidents Cup — three because of LIV, two because of injury (Harris English, Daniel Berger).
But the way golf has gone over the last few months must make Zach Johnson wonder how the next two months will play out. Six players qualify. Twelve players go to Rome. Someone always gets squeezed out, and that will be the case again. Johnson knew that when he accepted the job.
Now it’s a matter of waiting for the music to stop to find out who doesn’t have a seat.