Tour Confidential: Ryder Cup locks, Brooks Koepka’s chances, Brandel tells all
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, our team discusses U.S. Ryder Cup team locks, Brooks Koepka’s chances and our recent interview with Brandel Chamblee.
1. Viktor Hovland shot a final-round 61 — with a back-nine 28!! — to come from behind and win the BMW Championship by two over Scottie Scheffler and Matt Fitzpatrick. What’s your biggest takeaway from Hovland’s second win of the season?
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): My biggest takeaway is that eight 3s on that back nine is some video-game stuff. Hovland has been focused on playing with greater discipline in big events on tough golf courses. This was next level. It was disciplined but it was also raw aggression. One terrific shot after another. Gone are the days of Hovland only winning on resort-style golf courses. What a summer it’s been for Vik.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): All the short-game work has paid crazy dividends. He can afford to keep playing the aggressive style he’s always played without suffering the same consequences as he used to. Getting up and down two or three more times a round, or even a tournament— that’s the difference between wins and close calls. And fun to see him playing so well heading into the Ryder Cup. The better the Europeans are, the more interesting it is.
Jonathan Wall, managing editor (@jonathanrwall): How little we’ve talked about Vik’s impressive summer. In his last seven PGA Tour starts, he’s notched two wins and finished no worse than T29. It feels like the focus is constantly on Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm — and rightfully so. They’ve been playing on a different level this season. That said, Sunday’s back nine 28 was a reminder that Hovland’s as good as any pro on the planet. To do that at Olympia Fields — a course that forces you to elevate your game or perish — confirms he has another gear. We talk all the time about guys who have “that gear” in big moments. I think it’s safe to say Vik is one of those guys. With the short game and putter clicking, he’s nearly unbeatable.
2. Now that the BMW is complete, the field for the season-ending Tour Championship is set. We also now know the six auto-qualifiers for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark, Patrick Cantlay, Brian Harman, Max Homa and Xander Schauffele. Six captain’s picks will be made on Aug. 28 to round out the team. But besides the six auto-qualifiers, which other players at this point are virtual locks?
Sens: Spieth, Morikawa either based on history or team pairing purposes. Everyone beyond that strikes me as a toss-up. Cameron Young for the firepower? Denny Mcarthy for the putting. The good news is Johnson can’t really go wrong. Until he does
Dethier: Koepka’s in. Spieth’s in. I’m pretty sure Morikawa and Fowler are in, too. Nobody really busted through the door this week which means those final two spots are still sort of up for grabs based on play at East Lake. Cameron Young seems like a near-lock, and Justin Thomas is waiting in the wings, but there’s still a week left for Keegan Bradley, Sam Burns, Lucas Glover and (perhaps?) Denny McCarthy to show their captain something dramatic.
Wall: Say what you want about Koepka plying his trade on the LIV Tour, I think he’s a mortal lock for the team. Spieth, Morikawa and Fowler should get the nod, but the other three slots are total tossups.
3. Brooks Koepka jumped into auto-qualifier territory thanks to his PGA Championship win, but he was bumped out of the top six after the BMW and now sits seventh. As the only LIV player with a realistic chance to make the Ryder Cup team — which Brandel Chamblee voiced his strong stance on last week — do you think captain Zach Johnson will struggle with the idea of picking Koepka now?
Sens: I think we can call Koepka a lock. No matter what he does, Johnson knows he will likely take heat from one faction or another. Might as well take a proven killer who happens to be the reigning pga champ, with a runner up the Masters this year to boot. All that said, I think the European captain picks are more fraught/interesting. Harrington or Aberg, for instance. The veteran playing well vs the young birdie machine etc. No shortage of LIV controversy either.
Dethier: There’s no leaving Koepka off this team; he nearly won the Masters and he won the PGA! He’s earned his spot in Rome. And he’ll be chosen for the team. That doesn’t mean Koepka is playing his best golf of the year; he’s been T38 or worse in his last three LIV events and DataGolf’s rankings show that several other American LIV golfers have been better in the lead-up to the event. But the Ryder Cup is a big event and Koepka shows up for big events. He belongs on the team, no question.
Wall: Leaving Brooks off the team would set a dangerous precedent that only PGA Tour members deserve a spot on the team. Things are tenuous at best between the Tour and LIV, so the last thing anyone wants is more chaos. Koepka is a proven name with team experience who showed up during the majors. You need a big-game hunter like Koepka who thrives under pressure. ZJ will have some difficult choices when he fills out the rest of his team — but this one is a layup. Put his name on the squad and move on.
4. Lucas Glover followed up his back-to-back victories with a T22-finish at the BMW Championship, and his recent surge has pushed him all the way to 16th in the Ryder Cup standings. But is it still too little too late? What kind of finish does he need at the Tour Championship to force Zach Johnson to pick him?
Sens: Glover has been on a torrid run but I don’t think you take an older guy with a history of heebie-jeebies with the putter over any number of younger guys with younger nerves. If anything, though, that’s more a reflection of the depth the Us can draw on that it is a dis on Glover
Dethier: We’re always such prisoners of the moment with this stuff; people got understandably swept up in Glovermania following his (ridiculously impressive!) back-to-back wins. If the Ryder Cup was in two weeks I think he’d have a better argument. But we’re still more than a month out, which means Johnson will have to project forward. I think Glover needs to contend at East Lake to be in the conversation for that final spot.
Wall: I’m with Dylan. If the Ryder Cup was a week or two after the Tour Championship, I think he might got the nod. A lot can change in more than a month. If Glover wants to lock up a spot, he needs to be right there on Sunday with a chance to win.
5. Our Dylan Dethier sat down with Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee for a lengthy discussion on his career, LIV, Phil Mickelson and lots (lots) more. What was your biggest learning from the extensive chat with the sport’s most well-known analyst?
Sens: Lots has been made of Chamblee’s preparedness on the golf front, but what strikes me is the wide range of his interests and his curiosity about the world beyond the game. I get why the occasional Aristotle reference, say, strikes some people as pompous or gratuitous. But it’s refreshing to hear a golf lifer who is not so deeply buried in his own sport that he doesn’t look much past it. Sports commentary has enough jocks doing the jock thing. Chamblee’s well-roundedness makes him more interesting and more substantive than most. And, regardless of what you think about his stance on LIV, he has been admirably consistent— and unbowed by a torrent of social media hate from people who mostly aren’t even bothering to form an argument.
Dethier: My biggest learning was that Chamblee is sticking to his convictions! I wasn’t sure, ahead of the interview, how willing he’d be to talk LIV given the new PGA Tour- PIF deal. But he had no qualms about doubling down. Also said that Phil Mickelson should be kicked out of the Hall of Fame. That was plenty spicy.
Wall: I think it’s the importance of letting your kids play as many sports as they want. Brandel grew up fixated on football and riding horses before the golf bug bit him. He wasn’t groomed to be a tour pro from a young age and somehow still had the chops to earn a scholarship to Texas and play on the PGA Tour. As a father with kids who aspire to do it all, I’m more inclined to let them continue to try as many sports as they want until they find one they’re passionate about.
6. In the upcoming week, GOLF will release its latest batch of the Top 100 Teachers in America. What’s the best tip you’ve ever received from an instructor?
Sens: Enjoy yourself. You’re not good enough to get mad.
Dethier: This will sound incredibly dumb but my college coach told me to remember to look at the target and focus on trying to hit it there. Still a work in progress, but that’s the goal…
Wall: Take one swing thought to the course. That’s it. If you’re working on several things, pick the one that seems to get your swing in the best spot. Filling your brain with four or five things you need to do when you’re standing over the ball is a recipe for disaster.