Thomas Bjorn has named Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson as the four wildcard picks for Europe's Ryder Cup team. Here, he explains why...
Thomas Bjorn was always going to split opinion when he named the four wildcard picks for his European side. There were around 10 players who were in with a chance of getting the call, consisting of a broad mixture of in-form players and those with a lot of Ryder Cup history.
Matt Wallace claimed his third title of the year at last week's Made in Denmark in phenomenal style, while 2016 top Ryder Cup points scorer Thomas Pieters is in excellent form and Rafa Cabrera Bello briefly topped the leaderboard at the Dell Technologies. Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia missed 7 of his last 12 cuts and failed to qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time, but is the highest Ryder Cup points scorer to potentially be in a team that was hugely lacking experience.
So for the Captain, the choice then became between making it six rookies, adding in-form players with good Ryder Cup debuts, or players with plenty of experience to handle an incredibly strong United States side.
Bjorn chose the latter. With five rookies already on the team, the European Captain decided to opt for players who all came with a lot of past Ryder Cup experience, including out-of-form Sergio Garcia and recently injured Henrik Stenson joining Ian Poulter and Paul Casey.
Despite reports circulating he was going to be joining the team in Paris, the biggest surprise for many was Garcia. For Bjorn though, not taking the 8-time Ryder Cup player would be "like a football team going without their captain."
"These four all bring so much to The Ryder Cup," he added of his choices. "They bring loads of experience, loads of appearances, loads of points won, and they know what it's like to win and lose, and they will come in with heart and soul into this.
"If I had written down 12 names before I started my captaincy journey, it wouldn't have been far away from this. I'm very delighted with this team and I'm very proud to be captain for these 12 players. They bring so much to European golf, and they are just a fantastic group of guys. We know what we are up against. We know what America brings, but I'm confident that this is the group of guys that can do the job."
Casey, Garcia, Poulter and Stenson join Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Thorbjorn Olesen as the 12 Ryder Cup players on Team Europe.
Below, he outlines his reasons for choosing each player.
➤ Ryder Cup Experience: 8 Appearances ('99, '02', '04, '06, '08, '12, '14', '16), Record: 19-11-7
➤ Appearances at Le Golf National: T8 ('18)
"You've got to look at Sergio in certain ways," Bjorn said about picking the 2017 Masters Champion. "The one thing about Sergio is he's the heartbeat of the team. I've always said that about him. It's like a football team going without their captain. That's what he is.
"He comes in the team room, and people that have experienced Sergio in the team room and around The Ryder Cup Team realise how much he brings to it. Not only is he a fantastic golfer and goes out on the golf course and does what he does in Ryder Cups and we've seen it time after time but what he also brings is that he makes everyone around him better. He is just everything that that team room is. He is everything what the European Ryder Cup is about.
"...there's just something about him, and I for one have so much belief that he's going to go to France and deliver as he normally does in the team, on the golf course, but as important, off the golf course.
"You need people that's been there and done it all and through it all positively and negatively, and Sergio is, for me, the one person that I really feel like I can trust with everything that we do that's Ryder Cup."
What Garcia said about being chosen...
"Yeah, obviously it feels amazing, very thankful to Thomas for believing in me and, you know, I know that it probably wasn't an easy decision," said Garcia. "I mean, he knows what I bring to the team, not only game-wise but inside the team room.
"It is very exciting for me to be part of another Ryder Cup Team, and I'm going to give everything I have, like Thomas was saying, not only on the golf course, but in the team room, make sure that some of those rookies and some of the other guys feel as comfortable as possible and try to make them better and more comfortable. You know, hopefully that helps us all to get our goal, which is winning The Ryder Cup again."
➤ Ryder Cup Experience: 3 Ryder Cup Appearances ('04, '06, '08), Record: 3-2-4
➤ Appearances at Le Golf National: T10 ('04)
"With Paul's commitment to what he wants to do with playing back in The Ryder Cup team after ten years, the conversations we had, he's really shown he missed this part of his life and he really wanted to get back," Bjorn explained behind his reason for picking Casey.
"With a win earlier this year, he's really done well to get back in the game, and it really was a no-brainer for me to bring him back.
"He's world-class, Paul. These are the things that he, as you say, making hole-in-ones is what he does, and hopefully he does in a few weeks' time. He brings world class golf to the team and he's a wonderful match player, as well. Great to have him back.
"He just has that demeanor about him that when he gets in those tough situations, he wants it really bad; and in golf, sometimes it goes the right way or the wrong way. But in The Ryder Cup, he's shown he has the pedigree on the team."
What Casey said about being chosen...
“It’s been ten years since I last played a Ryder Cup. I’ve put a lot in to this, so to stand here confirmed as part of this team is amazing, I’m very honoured. It’s great to play for Captain Bjørn and I’m very excited.
“I’ve had ups and downs in my career. At times I’ve questioned the success I would have in the future, but I’ve stayed very consistent and focused on what I was doing. I’ve played very, very good golf in the last three, four, five years and put The Ryder Cup in the crosshairs and made it a very big goal. I re-joined the Tour and right now I’m playing some of the best golf I’ve ever played.
“I only wanted to be a part of the team if I felt I could be a great contributor, which I know I can be. Once I announced my intentions to Thomas it was full-tilt. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have to push on and go to Paris and win and I’m excited to get back to somewhere I feel I belong.”
Ian Poulter - 6th Ryder Cup Appearance
➤ Ryder Cup Experience: 3 Ryder Cup Appearances ('04, '08, '10, '12, '14), Record: 12-4-2
➤ Top 5 Appearances at Le Golf National: T14 ('04), T3 ('06), T9 ('07), 3 ('09), T4 ('12)
"...when he won in Houston, I thought he was on the track to become part of this team," Bjorn said of choosing 'The Postman'. "There's a thing about Ian: When he gets confident and when he gets believing -- and I met him in the parking lot at Augusta, and that's where he just kind of went: 'Okay, I'm going to make this Ryder Cup Team, and I'm going to be there and I'm going to do everything I can.'
"He normally hits that European badge that hard, and that's what he's always about doing it for the big stage. He is a man for the occasion. He really is just a special person that week. Both him and Sergio, sometimes you feel like they should have been footballers because they like that team sport so much, and that's what they bring to a Ryder Cup Team.
"I think the way he kept playing and the way he kept talking about, this was the only real main focus of his; he was back in that frame of mind that we like seeing him in, and that for me, is the important thing. Winning golf tournaments is important, but the frame of mind and what you want to achieve and how you want to go into a Ryder Cup is really important, and he does it probably better than anybody else."
What Poulter said about being chosen...
“This feels extra special to be part of another Ryder Cup Team. For Thomas to give me the call yesterday to say ‘I’d like you to join this great team’ means absolutely everything to me. It’s going to be an incredible spectacle.
“It is a very strong US team but when you look at the European Team on paper now I get goose bumps just standing here thinking about it. This Ryder Cup is everything to me and for me to know I am going to be part of that team, hopefully part of a victorious team, and to lift that trophy again, keeps me going.
“It has been a tough two years – 208th in the world rankings two years ago. That little gold trophy kept my heart beating and to be competing for that again is magical.”
Henrik Stenson - 5th Ryder Cup Appearance
➤ Ryder Cup Experience: 4 Appearances ('06, '08, '14, '16), Record: 7-7-2
➤ Appearances at Le Golf National: T7 ('12)
"...he had a pretty decent start to the season and he did well in the U.S. Open and in the Masters," Bjorn explained of Stenson. "He was putting in good performances. Maybe not winning as much as Henrik is used to, but when it came down to it, he ran into an injury just before The Open Championship, and we had long conversations.
"But those conversations continued and Henrik's focus then changed from his personal achievement to be wanting to be ready for The Ryder Cup. As soon as we had those conversations and I knew where his focus was, I knew it wasn't a big problem for me to pick him because I feel like he is -- the stature that he brings, the calmness that he brings in the team room and the person he is, he's great at looking after some of the youngsters. He's just a very good guy to have around, and just a strong player.
"This is what all four brings. They are easy I for me to partner up with other players and amongst the other eight, they are already qualified. This is a strong partnership that has built over the years. These two guys love each other, and Justin will find it difficult to be at a Ryder Cup at this moment in time if Henrik is not there. That's the things you have to look at. You have to look at other players that react, as well, to the players that are coming in."
What Stenson said about being chosen...
“It means a lot to me. I’ve got some of the greatest memories of my career from being part of the European Ryder Cup team, so to get that phone call to be playing in Paris is incredible. I’m super-excited and I’m going to do my very best to show up with my best form possible.
“It’s going to be a great venue. Europe has one of the strongest teams we’ve ever had, so does America, so it’s all set for possibly the greatest battle ever.”