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Stephen Gallacher: No substitute for experience in US Ryder Cup team

Few surprises in Zach Johnson's team to face Europe in Rome.

Can Justin Thomas find his form in Rome? Image: PA
Can Justin Thomas find his form in Rome? Image: PA

Zach Johnson has gone for experience with his captain’s picks for the United States team for the Ryder Cup next month.

The announcement of his six picks on Tuesday was pretty much as I expected.

Three former world number ones in Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth, a two-time major winner and former world number two in Collin Morikawa, another experienced campaigner in Rickie Fowler and an in-form rookie in Sam Burns.

Having chosen five former Ryder Cup players I think Keegan Bradley, who is also experienced and has had a good season, is the one I feel for the most at missing out.

Cameron Young was the other absentee and his time will come but it’s hard to overlook Burns, who not only won the World Gold Championships Dell Technologies Match Play earlier this year, but beat Young 6&5 in the final to do so.

If that’s not putting your hat in the ring for match-play golf then what is?

The talking point for the Americans at least seems to be the inclusion of Thomas.

There will be no one factor behind the decision to include Thomas, who has had a poor season by his standards, but one of them will be his Ryder Cup record.

There are shades of 2018 here when Thomas Bjorn selected Sergio Garcia for the Europe team after Sergio had struggled that year.

Sergio responded to getting the call by helping put three points on the board for his team as we romped to victory in France and I’m sure Johnson will be hoping JT can have the same impact for his team.

How will Luke Donald respond?

Luke Donald will name his captain’s picks for Europe on Monday.

With three rookies among his six automatic qualifiers in Max Homa, Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman, trying to get a balance of eight former players and four new faces seems a sensible move from the US captain.

I’ll be interested to see how Luke Donald responds when he names his captain’s picks for the European team on Monday.

Watching the announcement on Tuesday I found myself wondering whether Johnson’s picks would alter the players Luke selects.

It wasn’t something I’d ever really considered before but it will certainly have given him food for thought.

Ultimately there are no guarantees in this game, even less so in a Ryder Cup. Form goes out the window and every captain’s pick can be labelled a gamble.

As a fan all you can do is put your trust in the captain getting his choice right.

But as we all know, in a two-team competition only the winning skipper is afforded the privilege of being the one who got it right.

MacIntyre’s fate in his own hands

Bob MacIntyre’s Ryder Cup destiny is in his own hands in Switzerland. Image: PA

Bob MacIntyre’s Ryder Cup fate is in his own hands in the final week of qualifying.

That’s as good as he could hope for ahead of what is sure to be a stressful few days.

I’ve been in his situation before and let me assure you it’s a high-pressure environment.

There are so many permutations about how Yannik Paul, Adrian Meronk, Victor Perez, Adrian Otaegui or Rasmus Hojgaard could pip Bob to the third and final automatic place from the European points list.

All Bob has to focus is on his himself. If he wins the Omerga European Masters in Switzerland then he is in Luke Donald’s team no matter what the others do.

I’m confident Bob has already earned his spot whatever happens after his remarkable week at the Czech Masters.

He bounced back from a quadruple bogey seven at the par-3 16th hole on Friday by having a bogey free weekend with two six-under-par rounds of 66.

That’s the sort of mental strength a Ryder Cup captain may be taking notice of when pondering which guys he is going to put on his team next week.

I love the fact Bob, Yannik and Adrian are all playing together in the first two rounds this week.

The stakes are high and it’s going to be intense for the Scot and his two closest challengers.

But it’s precisely the sort of situation which is going to prepare these guys for Rome if any of them do make Luke’s team.

Fitzpatrick also chasing an automatic spot

We can add Matt Fitzpatrick to the list of potential qualifiers too. Matt can qualify via the world points list provided he finished tied for seventh or better.

If he does so he will pip Tommy Fleetwood to the automatic spot on the team.

With either Tommy or Matt as well as Justin Rose and Shane Lowry going to be relying on getting the nod from Luke on Monday it looks to me as if at least half of the captain’s picks are already pencilled in.

Hovland is the best in the world on current form

Viktor Hovland with the FedExCup after winning the Tour Championship on Sunday. Image: Shutterstock

One man who the Europe captain will be thrilled to have on his team is FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland.

He may not be world number one but I’m struggling to think of a player who is in better form than him anywhere on the planet right now.

To win comfortably two weeks in a row against a stellar field is no mean feat but Viktor looked at ease in both the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.

What was more impressive than his play was Viktor’s post-match press conference.

I loved the fact he was so at ease. It can’t be easy to keep calm when you have just won £14million but he was quick to stress the money was not his motivation.

It feels as if 2023 has been a breakthrough year for him and the only thing missing from his CV is a major win.

I will not be surprised if he rectifies that omission in 2024.