Holywood, Northern Ireland
1 In a season he once termed neutral, the world’s No. 3 player has more than a revived putting stroke and a recent FedEx Cup victory and an $11 million payday to show for it. He also has a house full of golf equipment, or at least his parents do. Signed to play Nike’s equipment, he found out last month two hours before everyone else did that it will stop making clubs. “Apparently my parents’ house has been inundated with golf equipment from different manufacturers,” he said. “I haven’t asked for it, but it’s there. My dad’s having a field day.”
World Rank: 3 • Ryder Cup record: 6-4-4
2 Yes, he is one of Europe’s six first-time Ryder Cup players, but you won’t get captain Darren Clarke to call him a rookie. Not many rookies own a Masters green jacket, which Willett claimed in April a week after the birth of his first child. He wore it to Wimbledon in June and threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium in July. “We didn’t hit somebody in the first row,” he said, “so I think we did all right.” At age 29, Willett has won five times worldwide but doesn’t have a top-10 finish since May.
World Rank: 10 • Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0
3 A pro since 1999, he’d never won a major until this summer, when he outdueled Phil Mickelson at the British Open. Then he won an Olympic silver medal. He carried the medal in his pocket at The Barclays and admitted drinking “some French bubbly drinks” from the Claret Jug. “Without that major, it always felt like something was missing,” said Stenson, who has been sidelined the last two tour events by a knee that required surgery in December. “It elevates everything you’ve done before. It does have a nice ring to it, I have to say.”
World Rank: 5 • Ryder Cup record: 5-4-2
4 Talk about pressure, Wood knows all about it: He’s the three-time European tour winner who last year scheduled his wedding for August 2016 knowing it might conflict with tournaments in the Czech Republic and Denmark if he hadn’t already qualified for his first Ryder Cup. “Probably asking for a divorce already,” he said a few weeks before the wedding. “I did tell our parents to perhaps take out wedding insurance just in case.” Wood earned a spot on the European team before the wedding but won’t honeymoon until November.
World Rank: 32 • Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0
5 Everything his major-championship quest has denied him, the Ryder Cup has given Garcia and maybe then some. Come Ryder Cup week, he more often than not becomes Europe’s heart and soul just like Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, who also lack their own major. But teammate Stenson’s first major at age 40 gives hope. “He finally waited for that day when everything clicked,” said Garcia, who is only 36. “I think that shows me never give up, keep waiting for that day when things really happen my way.”
World Rank: 12 • Ryder Cup record: 18-9-5
Gran Canaria, Spain
6 You might remember the shot, run and leap that introduced Garcia to the world at the 1999 PGA. You maybe never saw his countryman’s shot and uphill dash on his way to a 2012 victory in Dubai. What else would you expect from two impressionistic Spaniards thunderstruck by Seve Ballesteros’ artistry? A pro since 2005, he finally is Ryder Cup-bound, thanks to six top-10 finishes worldwide. “We’ve been friends a long time,” Garcia said. “He has had some decent years, but the consistency he has been showing this year is amazing.”
World Rank: 30 • Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0
7 Six weeks after he took home a gold medal from golf’s long-awaited return to the Olympics, Rose returns to Hazeltine looking to win a Ryder Cup for the third time. He admits traveling with the gold is easier than lugging a Ryder Cup or the U.S. Open trophy. “You just kind of slip it in your pocket and then carry on,” said Rose, who at Mickelson’s urging wore his medal for his final putt at The Barclays. “Everyone wants to feel the weight of it. You can drink out of the Claret Jug, and I guess the Olympic gold would be a nice coaster for a glass of wine.”
World Rank: 11 • Ryder Cup record: 9-3-2
8 He won three 2015 European Tour events and finished second to McIlroy to end the year in Dubai. This time, the 29-year-old qualified for his first Ryder Cup with a season that includes a T-23rd at the U.S. Open and a T-12th at the British Open. If you know your Euro Tour, you know that. But you might not know: He won a free trip into space by making an ace at a 2014 tournament. ... His dream foursome includes Jack Nicklaus and Mila Kunis. … He has aquariums filled with fish. “It’s a weird one,” he said of his hobby, “but I enjoy it a lot.”
World Rank: 50 • Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0
9 Something really good happened to the former Northwestern golfer and the 2013 U.S. Amateur champion on his way to Hazeltine: He qualified for his first Ryder Cup and won a year’s supply of beer when he finished fifth and won a long-drive contest at last month’s Czech Masters days before he turned 22. A Ryder Cup rookie from the same hometown as fellow first-timer Willett, Fitzpatrick played with captain Clarke the first two days at April’s Masters, where he tied for seventh. Did the words “Ryder Cup” come up? “No,” he said, “genuinely they didn’t.”
World Rank: 44 • Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0
10 He and Clarke played eight Ryder Cup matches together and won six of them. It’s a partnership second only in its success to Spain’s Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. “He’s going to bring everything,” Clarke said. “We’ve been very, very best friends for a long time. I haven’t selected him because of that. I selected him because he brings experience no one else can. This is his 10th one. He will be somewhat like the general amongst the team.” Westwood reminds Clarke that a general’s rank is above captain. “I’m not sure I feel like that,” he said.
World Rank: 46 • Ryder Cup record: 20-15-6
11 If it’s winning Ryder Cup experience Clarke needed for a team with six first-time players, then Kaymer also is his man. Now a four-time Ryder Cupper, Kaymer made a 7-foot putt to clinch the “Miracle at Medinah” comeback for Europe in 2012. It also perhaps revived a career that included one major championship then but now includes two, the 2010 PGA and 2014 U.S. Open. “I really had that possibility to make something amazing happen, not only for my career but for the history of European golf and the Ryder Cup,” he said. “It really means a lot to my heart.”
World Rank: 48 • Ryder Cup record: 4-3-3
12 A long hitter, the 24-year-old convinced Clarke to take a sixth first-time player, winning him over with a 62 at the European Tour’s Made in Denmark event with Clarke as his playing partner. “It was one of the finest 62s I’ve ever witnessed, and he made it look very easy,” Clarke said after choosing Pieters with his final captain’s pick. Pieters’ victory capped an August in which he also finished fourth at the Olympics and was second at the Czech Masters. He beat out Russell Knox, Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald for the last spot. He won the 2012 NCAA individual title with Illinois.
World Rank: 42 • Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0