Majors offer LIV players chance to make Ryder Cup case

AP photo by Abbie Parr / Zach Johnson hits from the rough on the 16th hole at Oak Hill Country Club during a PGA Championship practice round Tuesday. Johnson, the captain of the U.S. team for this year's Ryder Cup, might face tough decisions on LIV Golf League players making the American roster this fall.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — When the United States takes on host Europe in the Ryder Cup this fall, American captain Zach Johnson wants to lead a team that has chemistry and camaraderie, a 12-man squad that is built for Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, the course near Rome where the Americans will try to hold on to the prestigious trophy.

Whether that includes Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka remains unknown.

Both are competitors in the LIV Golf League and have been suspended from the PGA Tour, which is where the majority of points are earned toward getting one of six automatic spots for the Ryder Cup team. Even winning one major is not likely to be enough for someone not on the PGA Tour.

The captain has six wild-card picks he can use on any American. His struggle is not being around LIV players, regardless of their past accomplishments, to measure their current game.

Is Dustin Johnson, who won the LIV Golf Tulsa tournament Sunday in Oklahoma and is a former No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, currently among the best 12 Americans in golf?

"Really difficult for me to judge that," Zach Johnson said. "Again, I don't know the golf courses they're playing. Never seen them. I'm not there on foot in person. You're talking about an individual whose resumé is extremely deep and wide. He's certainly, in my generation, one of the best players I've ever competed against.

"But it's not fair for me to guess his true form or anybody's true form that I can't witness."

Koepka is a four-time major champion who has recovered from a long list of injuries, some nagging and some requiring surgery. He not only has won two LIV Golf events since last fall, in early April he had the 54-hole lead at the Masters and was runner-up.

"I haven't really seen where he's at since Augusta," Zach Johnson said.

Koepka missed a playoff in Singapore by one shot, and he tied for fifth in Oklahoma.

"He played really good that one week, but it's one week," the U.S. captain said of Koepka at the Masters. "I don't want to sit here and say that it's concrete, it's the only thing we're going to be looking at. It's one week, at a major venue, at the Masters tournament. He played great. There's still a lot of golf between now and then."

That much is true on any tour. The PGA Championship, which tees off Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club, is the second of four majors this year that will allow LIV players to be directly compared to their PGA Tour counterparts. Ryder Cup points for Americans are based purely on money from PGA Tour-sanctioned events — majors included — and there are four more $20 million events that LIV golfers can't play.

Dustin Johnson went 5-0 at the most recent Ryder Cup, an American rout at Wisconsin's Whistling Straits in 2021. He got off to a slow start this year, which he attributed to a tweak in his back that got him in some bad habits.

He looked strong as ever, particularly off the tee, while winning in Oklahoma.

"I have no idea if I'd get picked. Obviously if I continue to play really well for the rest of the year, then obviously there's a chance," he said. "Yes, I would definitely like to play in the Ryder Cup. It's one of my favorite events to play in, especially after the last Ryder Cup."

Koepka has played on the past three Ryder Cup teams and would love to make it four. His only thought is to play his best and see where it leads. That's all he can do.

"It's tough to be in Zach's mind or where he is at, but I would love to make it hard on him," Koepka said. "I think that would be cool. The only thing I can do is go play good. If I play good, everything takes care of itself."

Zach Johnson is trying to do what no U.S. captain has done since Tom Watson in 1993 at The Belfry in England — lead his team to victory on European soil.

The last attempt was outside Paris in 2018. Justin Thomas was the only American who played Le Golf National in the French Open. When the stacked U.S. team arrived, the course had lush rough and narrow fairways, and Europe won handily.

The Italian Open at Marco Simone was held two weeks ago, and hardly anyone from the LIV Golf League or the PGA Tour was in the field for the DP World Tour event because it was up against a $20 million PGA Tour tournament and the PGA Championship was approaching.

The American captain plans to take a team over to Rome in September, a few weeks before the Ryder Cup matches begin on Sept. 29, for players to get acquainted with the course.

"That way we get our feet on the grounds, experience Marco Simone firsthand," he said. "Then when we leave and come back home for two weeks, they'll have at least a pretty realistic expectation as to what is required.

"I think that trip right there is going to be crucial. It's a priority for those guys to get on Marco Simone."