Ryder Cup captain’s picks: How long was long enough to make the U.S. team?

·7 min read

What was the best way to show off for U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker? Apparently Stricker, who has never been a bomber off the tee since joining the PGA Tour in 1994, was impressed with distance.

Length surely was not the only consideration, but there is a distinct flavor of go long or stay home. Stricker on Wednesday mentioned distance several times when suggesting why he picked this or that player as he announced his selections from Whistling Straits, site of the Ryder Cup on Sept. 24-26.

But how long is long enough to make this team? And which short hitters were frequently mentioned by pundits and on social media as possible picks, only to be left off the squad that faces Team Europe?

Some interesting facts on distance for this team, first. The average driving distance in the 2020-21 season for the six players who earned automatic qualifying spots on the points list was 308.2 yards, with an average ranking of 37.17 in that category. Each of those six players averaged 0.54 strokes gained off the tee, a stat that reflects how much better each player is in a given round versus the Tour average for that round. And each of the six averaged 120.16 mph in clubhead speed as measured by the Tour.

And each of those averages for the six automatic qualifiers was dragged down a bit by the No. 1 player on the squad: Collin Morikawa. The two-time major winner averages a relatively short 295.2 yards off the tee.

Also worth noting: Bryson DeChambeau tilts the stats in favor of this group. The longest player on Tour averages 323.7 yards off the tee and leads the strokes gained off the tee category with 1.162 and the clubhead speed category at 132.25.

The six captain’s picks – Daniel Berger, Harris English, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth – are long on average by Tour standards, but as a group they lag the automatic qualifiers. The captain’s picks average 302.28 yards off the tee for a combined 53.84 ranking, with 0.21 strokes gained off the tee and 116.72 mph in clubhead speed. Not short, but no match for the top 6.

Next, take a look at four players who were bantered about as possible captain’s picks: Patrick Reed, Kevin Kisner, Webb Simpson and Kevin Na. None of these players keeps up even with the relatively short-hitting Morikawa, with the longest of this group being Simpson with a 292.5 yard driving average. As a group, these four average 290.38 yards off the tee for an average ranking of 155th, with an average -0.1 strokes gained off the tee and an average clubhead speed of 112.59.

If Stricker was looking for length, these four players left off the team just didn’t float the captain’s boat on Lake Michigan. Sure, there certainly were other considerations, but it’s somewhat clear that distance matters.

Take a look at each player mentioned below.

Collin Morikawa: First in standings

Tour Championship
Tour Championship

Collin Morikawa plays his shot from the 13th tee during the first round of the Tour Championship. (Photo: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports)

Driving distance average: 295.2 Distance rank: 112 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.281 SG rank: 36 Clubhead speed: 114.97 Speed rank: 110

Dustin Johnson: Second in standings

BMW Championship 2021
BMW Championship 2021

Dustin Johnson tees off on the fifth hole during the first round of the BMW Championship golf tournament, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Driving distance average: 312.9 Distance rank: 7 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.361 SG rank: 21 Clubhead speed: 119.91 Speed rank: 22

Bryson DeChambeau: Third in standings

Aug 27, 2021; Owings Mills, Maryland, USA; Bryson Dechambeau plays his shot from the second tee during the second round of the BMW Championship golf tournament. (Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports)

Driving distance average: 323.7 Distance rank: 1 Strokes gained off the tee: 1.162 SG rank: 1 Clubhead speed: 132.25 Speed rank: 1

Brooks Koepka: Fourth in standings

BMW Championship 2021
BMW Championship 2021

Brooks Koepka plays his shot from the seventh tee during the first round of the BMW Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club on August 26, 2021 in Owings Mills, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Driving distance average: 310.7 Distance rank: 12 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.631 SG rank: 7 Clubhead speed: 120.62 Speed rank: 18

Justin Thomas: Fifth in standings

BMW Championship 2021
BMW Championship 2021

Justin Thomas plays his shot from the second tee during the first round of the BMW Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club on August 26, 2021 in Owings Mills, Maryland. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Driving distance average: 303.9 Distance rank: 41 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.235 SG rank: 52 Clubhead speed: 117.01 Speed rank: 55

Patrick Cantlay: Sixth in standings

PGA: BMW Championship - Final Round
PGA: BMW Championship - Final Round

Patrick Cantlay plays his shot from the fifth tee during the final round of the BMW Championship golf tournament. (Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports)

Driving distance average: 302.8 Distance rank: 50 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.569 SG rank: 12 Clubhead speed: 116.22 Speed rank: 68

Daniel Berger: Captain’s pick

Daniel Berger
Daniel Berger

Daniel Berger tees off on No. 1414 during the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament. (Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports)

Driving distance average: 296.7 Distance rank: 99 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.264 SG rank: 42 Clubhead speed: 115.78 Speed rank: 76

Harris English: Captain’s pick

PGA: Sentry Tournament of Champions - Final Round
PGA: Sentry Tournament of Champions - Final Round

Harris English hits a tee shot on the 13th hole during the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions golf tournament at Kapalua Resort - The Plantation Course. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Driving distance average: 299.4 Distance rank: 68 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.076 SG rank: 91 Clubhead speed: 115.37 Speed rank: 82

Tony Finau: Captain’s pick

Northern Trust
Northern Trust

Tony Finau hits his tee shot on the 3rd hole during the final round at the 2021 Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports)

Driving distance average: 305.5 Distance rank: 31 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.281 SG rank: 36 Clubhead speed: 118.71 Speed rank: 36

Xander Schauffele: Captain’s pick

Xander Schauffele
Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele practices at Kasumigaseki Country Club ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Driving distance average: 307.6 Distance rank: 22 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.266 SG rank: 41 Clubhead speed: 118.93 Speed rank: 30

Scottie Scheffler: Captain’s pick

Scottie Scheffler plays his shot from the second tee during the first round of the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament. (Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports)

Driving distance average: 305.0 Distance rank: 36 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.515 SG rank: 17 Clubhead speed: 116.94 Speed rank: 57

Jordan Spieth: Captain’s pick

U.S. Open
U.S. Open

Jordan Spieth plays his shot from the 14th tee during a practice round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

Driving distance average: 299.5 Distance rank: 67 Strokes gained off the tee: -0.115 SG rank: 142 Clubhead speed: 114.58 Speed rank: 105

Patrick Reed: Left off team

Patrick Reed plays his shot from the 15th tee during the second round of the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Resort's Ocean Course on May 21, 2021 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Driving distance average: 291.4 Distance rank: 149 Strokes gained off the tee: -0.003 SG rank: 114 Clubhead speed: 115.25 Speed rank: 86

Kevin Na: Left off team

Kevin Na plays his shot from the second tee during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on November 12, 2020 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Driving distance average: 288.5 Distance rank: 170 Strokes gained off the tee: -0.253 SG rank: 167 Clubhead speed: 112.4 Speed rank: 138

Kevin Kisner: Left off team

Kevin Kisner
Kevin Kisner

Kevin Kisner plays his shot from the second tee during the second round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana on April 23, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Driving distance average: 289.1 Distance rank: 167 Strokes gained off the tee: -0.215 SG rank: 161 Clubhead speed: 111.78 Speed rank: 150

Webb Simpson: Left off team

Webb Simpson plays his shot from the 15th tee during the second round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Driving distance average: 292.5 Distance rank: 134 Strokes gained off the tee: 0.071 SG rank: 93 Clubhead speed: 110.93 Speed rank: 167

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