Next year around this time, a hyperventilated golfer will hit the first tee shot in the most anticipated Ryder Cup in recent memory.
Given the last 12 months of golf, it’s impossible to predict what will happen between now and then, but we do know some things for certain.
Team USA won’t have LIV Golf rebels on the team, but they will come into the match as big favorites to win a first Ryder Cup on foreign soil since 1993.
For Americans, PGA Tour membership is part of the criteria to play, and the outcome of a recent court hearing means the LIV defectors are definitely missing.
The PGA Tour banned the Rebels, who were denied a temporary restraining order and will only see their case fully heard after the Ryder Cup in 2024.
However, Dustin Johnson is arguably the only defector who would make the team, because despite widespread hyperbole, the vast majority of the game’s biggest stars have said no to LIV.
The names of Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed may carry weight, but none of them have sparked fire in recent months.
And with troublesome reputations, Captain Zach Johnson might have been inclined to think they cause more trouble than they’re worth.
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Either way, Team USA were still able to call on 12 of the world’s top 25 for their Presidents Cup triumph earlier this month, and they appeared more united than ever.
Previous American teams bickered to capitulation, but this team’s only Ryder Cup memory is a record 19-9 win at Whistling Straits last year.
Even so, Team USA will still have the most talented team ever assembled in Ryder Cup history, and Team Europe will cling to home-court advantage.
Also, things are a bit more complicated for the Europeans and Captain Luke Donald.
Team USA (predicted)
While the lawsuit against the PGA Tour was only put to bed after the Ryder Cup, legal action against the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) is on the horizon.
Changes have been made to the team selection process for 2023, with Team Europe moving to six automatic qualifiers and six captain selections.
The team will therefore consist of the top three players from the European points list, the top three from the world points list and the rest will be chosen by Donald.
LIV Golf player Ian Poulter and his fellow rebels have been granted a temporary reduction in suspensions and fines on the DP World Tour, meaning they can compete until a final decision is made in February 2023.
So right now defectors Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia can compete for European points to automatically qualify for the team.
However, it is highly unlikely that they will succeed. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland are all in the world top 11. Then you have Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood in the top 30.
There are more complications when it comes to going on a LIV tour that currently has no official golf world ranking points, but the bottom line is this: even though they have access to all competitions, the European rebels are not good enough to qualify automatically.
Nothing rules out the choice of a captain for LIV players – and a perceived lack of depth on Team Europe is the only thing that will draw Garcia, Poulter and Westwood into the conversation.
Garcia is the game’s all-time leading points scorer, Poulter is turning into a different player at the Ryder Cup and Westwood has shown decent form in recent weeks.
However, given the fallout of Henrik Stenson giving up the captaincy for LIV, there’s surely no way Donald will choose the Rebels.
The biannual event is loved by fans and gamers alike as it directly opposes the Saudi-funded, money-driven product of LIV.
It’s all about sporting glory – and it’s arguably the established Circuits’ greatest weapon in the fight against LIV.
But how can Team Europe fight without its veterans? Well, the situation is not as bleak as many make it out to be.
Besides the aforementioned seven, who are almost guaranteed to make the squad, experienced major winners such as Justin Rose, Danny Willet and Francesco Molinari can still be called up.
Both Willet and Molinari have shown promising signs in recent weeks, having dropped out of the top 100 in the world, and the latter will have extra motivation at a home Ryder Cup in Italy.
However, if 2021 has taught us anything, it’s that Europe needs to change the guard.
Speaking earlier this month, McIlroy said: “The Hojgaards, Bobby Mac, whoever else is coming. They are the future of the Ryder Cup team.
“That’s what we should think about and talk about.
Let’s talk about it then.
Scotsman Robert MacIntyre has just beaten McIlroy and Fitzpatrick to win the Italian Open at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, where next year’s Ryder Cup will be held.
With a T6 at the Open and a T12 at the Masters, the 26-year-old is one who expects to work his way up the team.
The Hojgaard twins, Rasmus and Nicolai, are also strongly tipped for a Ryder Cup bow.
The 21-year-old Danes have won five DP World Tour titles between them – and the idea of pairing twins in foursomes might prove too tempting to turn down.
Let’s not forget: Thomas Pieters won four of his five matches at the 2016 Ryder Cup and the Belgian is finding some form.
Team Europe (planned)
Seamus Power, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Alex Noren and Guido Migliozzi could also defend over the next 12 months.
So while this may not be a team with the world rankings to match the Americans, there is no shortage of talent and Ryder Cup experience.
In the end, LIV Golf will do its best to dominate the conversation, but the Ryder Cup may tear it down.
And don’t expect Team USA to step on it either.