The race to automatically qualify for the 2018 European Ryder Cup team begins at the D+D Czech Masters this week
This week’s tournament in Prague is the first European Tour event where players can earn points in their quest to make Captain Thomas Bjorn's 12-man team for Le Golf National in France next year.
From the D+D Czech Masters until the 2018 Made in Denmark event, players will compete for points on both the World and European points list, with the final event fittingly being hosted at Bjorn's home golf course of Silkeborg Ry GolfKlub.
After that, eight players will gain automatic qualification in to the 12-man European side, with four gaining entry through the European points list and four through the World points list. Bjorn will then decide on four wildcard picks, and given the current strength of players in Europe - it's going to be a hotly contested race.
Bjørn, himself a three-time winner of The Ryder Cup, is excited to finally start the selection process for golf’s greatest team event.
“From now on it is going to be a lot more concrete as you start to see who is playing well and who isn’t,” he said.
“So far there has been a lot of planning, but now all my focus turns to the 12 who are going to play, which is by far the most important thing.
“I am so close to a lot of the players, many of them are great friends of mine, and I am trying to balance the captaincy with those friendships.
“So many of those relationships extend beyond The Ryder Cup, and I’ve got to realise that I have got to be a captain of these players and some will be there and some will not.
“My door will always be open as I am captain of all the European-born members of the Tour, not just players who everyone thinks are going to be in the team."
Currently, there are four European players in the World's top 10 (Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson) and six more in the World's top 20 (Alex Noren, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tyrrell Hatton and Thomas Pieters).
Considering the high calibre of players and knowing that only eight can qualify for automatic European team selection, it is enevitable the contest is going to be a tough one. And given that six players in the 2016 squad aren't currently in that group (Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood) - there will no doubt be a big push from players late on to challenge for a Wildcard pick.
Of the 10 players in the World's top 20, four would be rookies (Rahm, Noren, Fleetwood, Hatton) if they were to be included in next year's battle with the United States. Paul Casey still hasn't confirmed if he will join the European Tour, although Bjorn has left the door open for him.
Elsewhere, Ian Poulter has put together some brilliant rounds of golf since regaining his PGA Tour card this year, while Russell Knox will be hoping for inclusion after narrowly missing out last year.
“Everyone believes they have a chance of playing in the team," Bjorn said. "There might a couple of players who go on to surprise everyone and I have to have an open mind to that.
“I have spoken to a couple of past captains already. I’ll try and speak to most of them along the way and gather as much information as I can from them.
“The focus will be on the 12 players and not on me. I know sometimes I am the front figure of it but I like to put the focus on the players as they are ones that deserve to have the focus on them.
“Our players are some of the finest in world golf, and I am going to just be sitting on the sidelines trying to give them as much good direction as I can.
“There is so much talent now. If you look at guys who are ranked 25th to 30th in the Race to Dubai they are so talented and so capable and you don’t know if they are the ones who next year will go on to take that step to become one of the best players in Europe and make the team.
“I am not worried because I see so much great talent out there and there are still those guys who have lots of experience too.
“The way it looks today it is going to be a well-balanced team, I would like to think. You have got to have rookies and you have got to have experience in there.”
This week, Martin Kaymer, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters will all be competing in the D+D Czech Masters - with an opportunity to give themselves a head-start on the Ryder Cup European Points list.
As part of changes announced earlier this year, there will be a greater weighting for points earned in tournaments in the latter stages of The 2018 Ryder Cup qualification process to help ensure the European Team reflects those players in form nearer the time of The Ryder Cup itself.
Race to Dubai points and World Ranking points earned in these tournaments will be multiplied by 1.5 for the two respective qualification lists with the first counting event to benefit from this increased weighting in the 2018 season being the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Bjørn will also have four wildcards at his disposal, as opposed to three, while no Ryder Cup qualification points will be available from tournaments staged anywhere in the world opposite Rolex Series tournaments, both in 2017 and 2018.