Ryder Cup captain’s picks: Why Kevin Kisner should be on the U.S. team

Kevin Kisner

Kevin Kisner in August after his victory at the Wyndham Championship.

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The 43rd Ryder Cup is just around the corner, on Sept. 24-26 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. We know whom the automatic qualifiers are for the U.S and whom they likely will be for Europe, so now the fun begins as we wait to see which players land a spot via captain’s picks, which will be announced in the coming weeks. Yes, Jordan Spieth wasn’t an auto-qualifier, but let’s get real: Spieth will be on the U.S. team. But what about the other guys, the players who might not be slam-dunk picks? In the days leading up to the captain’s picks, our staffers make their case for some of those players.

Previous installments: The case for Scottie Scheffler | Should the Europeans call up the old guard, or go with new blood? | Don’t leave Daniel Berger off this U.S. team | Bubba’s bubbliness makes him an enthusiastic choice | Will Zalatoris’ recommendation letter


Before we talk why Kevin Kisner should be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, let’s first discuss why he shouldn’t. It is, after all, the elephant in the room. 

The inability to hit like one. 

The argument goes something like this: Kisner would be a fine captain’s pick for U.S. skipper Steve Stricker. But the venue, Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, at 7,390 yards, is mammoth. And Kisner, the 169th-ranked player in driving distance this season on the PGA Tour, is not. 

So while we’ll eventually argue that Kisner is a match play monster, that he could be the clubhouse guy for a team in need of one, that he has every chance to be the Americans’ Ian Poulter, we need to settle this distance debate. And we know a guy who can make the case.

What say you, Kis?

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“I know it’s long,” Kisner said a few weeks ago after his victory in a six-man playoff at the Wyndham Championship. “In match play, it’s a total different animal than stroke play, so I’m not having to beat 155 other guys on the golf course. I just have to beat one or two depending on the format. So I can bring value to the team in the ways I can get the ball in the hole.”

“So,” a reporter followed up with, “you feel like the style of match play almost eliminates the concerns of, yeah, like length or whatever? It becomes a whole different game that you’re good at?”

“What if I’m playing with D.J. and I’m hitting all his approach shots?” Kisner said. “The game’s pretty equal from there out.”

Good point. A little curt. A little cute. All Kisner. But let’s not walk off the tee box quite yet. Let’s play a game. As we mentioned above, Kisner is 169th on Tour in driving distance, at 289.9 yards per pop. Player P in our game is averaging 285.2. In 2018, he averaged 293.6 yards. In 2008, he was at 283.6.

And yet, there Ian Poulter was, across seven Ryder Cup appearances (2018, ’14, ’12, ’10, ’08, ’04), going a combined 14-6-2, earning himself the “Postman” nickname and making American fans wonder if they’d ever have someone who could deliver in match play like Poults.

Well …     

Kisner won the World Golf Championships-Match Play event in 2019. He finished second the year before. At the 2017 Presidents Cup, his lone international team appearance, he went 2-0-2. Not the Ryder Cup. But not bad. 

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“He’s a tough competitor. He’s not going to ever give anything away. He’s a grinder, a bulldog, he’s a guy that’s going to always be in every hole,” Matt Kuchar said at this year’s Match Play. “Shoot, certainly when you’re on a team, you love having a guy like that on your team, knowing that that guy’s giving you everything he’s got on every hole.”

And even after every hole. 

While there’s certainly no metric for “locker room guy” — Strokes Gained: B.S.’er? — you know it when you see it. And hear it. Take Poulter. The double fist pumps. The bulging eyes. Those don’t win events. But you remember them. His teammates remember them. His opponents remember them.   

Could Kisner be that guy for Team USA? Let’s listen to him again, and we’ll end it here. On Barstool’s Fore Play podcast, he was asked how he would build a Ryder Cup team. 

“Like the best thing to do is go get all your guys together a couple times a year, put a bunch of beers on a golf course, or wherever, bowling alley, whatever, and build camaraderie throughout the year instead of like, ‘Let’s go play Whistling Straits and be sober and everybody worry about where’s our ball going to go on this hole,’” Kisner said. “I’m like, dude, we’re the best players in the world. Let everybody — give them what they need and get the hell out of the way and let them all be good buddies and they’ll win. 

“But we don’t really have that on the team right now.”    

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