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Stephen Gallacher column: Which rookies will make Padraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team?

Europe will be led by Padraig Harrington.
Europe will be led by Padraig Harrington.

The race to make Padraig Harrington’s European Ryder Cup team will resume next month.

The points system began at the BMW PGA Championship in September 2019, but was frozen in March when golf was halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

A new weighting process will come into force to give in-form players a better chance of making the team with all Race to Dubai and World Golf Ranking points multiplied by 1.5 from January 1 and May 9.

All points earned from May 10 until the final qualifying event in September will be multiplied by two.

It really is all to play for and there will be no shortage of European players starting the year with the target of being one of Padraig’s 12 players to take on the United States at Whistling Straits.

When we are looking at possible rookies to make Padraig’s team, the Norwegian Viktor Hovland has got to be a strong candidate.

Viktor Hovland smiles on the 18th green during the first round of the Zozo Championship in October.

He is sitting 14th in the world rankings after a very impressive 2020 which included wins at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and the Puerto Rico Open.

He is only 23, but he looks a very talented player with a huge future in the game.

I would be very surprised if he doesn’t make the team.

The Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez is another player who looks capable of making a charge for the team.

He finished runner-up at a couple of big events this year and won the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews last year.

It would be great to see a Scotsman in the team and Robert MacIntyre’s terrific end to 2020 has given him the platform to push for a spot in the team.

He achieved his maiden victory on the European Tour in Cyprus and I expect to see him pushing on in 2021.

Oban's Robert MacIntyre.
Oban’s Robert MacIntyre.

He is ranked 55th in the world so he should have the schedule to give him a chance to make the team.

It’s very difficult to qualify for a Ryder Cup team if you aren’t playing in the majors and World Golf Championships.

Sami Valimaki, who won the European Tour’s rookie of the year award, could also get into contention.

The 22-year-old Finn won the Oman Open in March and finished in the top five at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.

Lee Westwood may be at a different stage of his career, but he also has to be in with a real chance of qualifying for another European Ryder Cup team.

The Englishman has made no secret of his desire to play in an 11th Ryder Cup match.

Lee Westwood.
Lee Westwood.

He may be 47, but he remains an excellent player and his experience could be vital for Padraig.

Whenever you speak to past Ryder Cup captains, they always talk about how difficult it can be to pick a rookie, especially if a few rookies have already qualified.

That Ryder Cup experience is so valuable, especially away from home. It depends on the balance of the team. If Padraig has six rookies in his team, it is inevitable he will look to balance that up by picking experienced players.

On the other hand, if only one rookie qualifies, he may be more inclined to pick a couple more.

The fact the tournaments from May 10 onwards will be worth double points really opens the door for someone to make a late run at the team.

Unthinkable if certain big-hitters don’t make European contingent

I still expect players such as Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood to make up the backbone of the team. It would be unthinkable if one of those players weren’t in the team.

Francesco Molinari hasn’t had a great year and has dropped out of the top 100, but – if he shows any form at all – he will be in the team.

He formed a great partnership with Tommy at the last Ryder Cup in Paris and won five points out of five.

It would be very tough to leave him out.

Padraig will know he can produce some top golf in that match-play environment.

Justin Rose has also been a great Ryder Cup player and he finished fourth at Whistling Straits at the 2015 US PGA Championship, so he has shown he can perform at the host venue.

Martin Kaymer won the 2010 US PGA at Whistling Straits, so he is another player that would love to be in the mix.

One thing is certain, whoever makes Padraig’s final 12 will have played well, because there are so many good players capable of making the European team.

Whistling Straits should be a good course for the Europeans, because it reminds me of Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart, so hopefully that bodes well for September.