Ryder Cup wildcards: The importance of captain’s picks

From Valhalla in 2008 to Le Golf National in 2018 we look at the impact made by wildcards and whether their contribution is vital or overblown.

As usual ahead of the Ryder Cup, there has been intense speculation in recent weeks over which players would be given wildcards.

Perhaps it was a little more diluted on the American side due to captain Steve Stricker having six to pick from.

But even then, there were hard-luck stories after he'd named his half-dozen. That was brought even more into focus when one of the contenders that missed out, Billy Horschel, went and won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

For European captain Padraig Harrington, the showdown at Wentworth absolutely went to the wire.

His headache grew when Bernd Wiesberger knocked Shane Lowry out of an automatic qualification spot, meaning Harrington had to revert to Plan B to hand his fellow Irishman a captain's pick.

However, with the rumours that Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter were already assured of wildcards proving true, that meant Justin Rose missed out.

Four into three just wouldn't go.

Will that prove a costly decision or is the obsession over wildcards blown out of proportion?

How to rate a wildcard pick

How, in strict points terms, do we assess the value of a wildcard?

Time for some maths...

A total of 28 points are up for grabs at each Ryder Cup and the magic number to claim an outright win is 14.5.

However, the combined individual points tallies of the two sides when the match is complete will always add up 44.

That's because both players are credited with a point if winning a fourballs/foursomes match over the first two days, so add those 32 points (16 x 2) to the 12 singles points and we arrive at 44.

It means if every player scored equally in a 14-14 tie, all 24 would register 1.8333 points each (44 divided by 24).

Of course, that technically isn't possible but it gives us a handy barometer for success.

Score two points or more and you've had an above average Ryder Cup. Score less and you've not quite contributed.

That may be harsh on a player who's gone into battle just twice and won both times but, looking at it differently, their skipper didn't have enough faith to play them more often.

Using that 1.8333 per player figure as a guide, did the combined tallies of the wildcards average over that mark. Or did it come out below, rendering all that pre-pick debate rather overblown?

Ryder Cup wildcards

A look at how many points each wildcard gathered in the last six Ryder Cups...

2018 - Le Golf National

Europe

Paul Casey 1.5, Sergio Garcia 3, Ian Poulter 2, Henrik Stenson 3

Combined points: 9.5

Points per wildcard: 2.375

USA

Bryson DeChambeau 0, Phil Mickelson 0, Tiger Woods 0, Tony Finau 2

Combined points: 2

Points per wildcard: 0.5

Wildcards: Europe 9.5 USA 2

Thomas Bjorn went for experience, with his four wildcards aged 41, 38, 42 and 42. It drew derision by many but proved a masterstroke as all four made notable contributions.

Jim Furyk's wildcards were a disaster as Tiger, Phil and DeChambeau all scored nil points despite playing nine matches between them. Finau won two points from his three matches to slightly save face.

2016 - Hazeltine

USA

J.B. Holmes 1, Rickie Fowler 2, Matt Kuchar 2, Ryan Moore 2

Combined points: 7

Points per wildcard: 1.75

Europe

Lee Westwood 0, Martin Kaymer 1, Thomas Pieters 4

Combined points: 5

Points per wildcard: 1.67

Wildcards: USA 7 Europe 5

Not a lot to choose overall in terms of points per wildcard although Europe's tally was inflated by the standout performance of Pieters who was the event's leading scorer. Westwood and Kaymer only managed a single point between them for Euro skipper Darren Clarke.

By contrast, Davis Love's quartet all chipped in nicely in very much a team effort. All 12 American players scored at least a point but no-one more than 3.5 as they ran out comfortable 17-11 winners.

2014 - Gleneagles

Europe

Stephen Gallacher 0, Ian Poulter 1, Lee Westwood 2

Combined points: 3

Points per wildcard: 1

USA

Keegan Bradley 1, Webb Simpson 0.5, Hunter Mahan 1.5

Combined points: 3

Points per wildcard: 1

Wildcards: Europe 3 USA 3

Gleneagles was a fairly low-key event for wildcards with the captain's picks averaging just a single point on both sides.

Westwood was the most successful of the six with two points while there was disappointment for Stephen Gallacher who didn't manage to score anything in front of his home Scottish supporters.

2012 - Medinah

USA

Steve Stricker 0, Jim Furyk 1, Brandt Snedeker 1, Dustin Johnson 3

Combined points: 5

Points per wildcard: 1.67

Europe

Nicolas Colsaerts 1, Ian Poulter 4

Combined points: 5

Points per wildcard: 2.5

Wildcards: USA 5 Europe 5

The Miracle of Medinah and an absolute triumph for Jose Maria Olazabal's wildcard pick, Ian Poulter. Playing like a man possessed, Poults birdied the final five holes to win his Saturday four-ball alongside Rory and a singles win gave the Englishman a tremendous and match-changing four-point haul.

Dustin Johnson played well to get three points for the Americans but Love's other three wildcards managed just two points between them.

2010 - Celtic Manor

Europe

Edoardo Molinari 1, Luke Donald 3, Padraig Harrington 2

Combined points: 6

Points per wildcard: 2

USA

Zach Johnson 2, Tiger Woods 3, Stewart Cink 2.5, Rickie Fowler 1

Combined points: 8.5

Points per wildcard: 2.12

Wildcards: Europe 6 USA 8.5

A strong tournament for the wildcards. The Americans picked four for Celtic Manor in Wales and they averaged over two points each, with Tiger banking three points.

But the Euros were solid too, Luke Donald the most impressive of the trio as his three points helped the hosts claim victory.

2008 - Valhalla

USA

Steve Stricker 0.5, Hunter Mahan 3.5, J.B. Holmes 2.5, Chad Campbell 2

Combined points: 8.5

Points per wildcard: 2.12

Europe

Ian Poulter 4, Paul Casey 1

Combined points: 5

Points per wildcard: 2.5

Wildcards: USA 8.5 Europe 5

Another strong tournament for wildcards. In fact, a captain's pick finished as the top points scorer for both the Americans and Europe.

Mahan went unbeaten in his five matches to emerge with 3.5pts while Poulter, not for the first time, justified his pick in style, with a tournament-leading 4pts for Europe although it couldn't stop the USA running out 16.5-11.5 winners.

Average points tallies of wildcards in last six Ryder Cups

USA: 0.5, 1.75, 1, 1.67, 2.12, 2.12 - average 1.53

Europe: 2.38, 1.67, 1, 2.5, 2, 2.5 - average 2.01

Summary

European wildcards have outperformed their American counterparts by around half a point (0.48) in the last six Ryder Cups.

When the margins are tight, as they were at Medinah in 2012, that can make a huge difference.

Returning to that baseline figure of 1.833, over the last six Ryder Cups European wildcards have performed better than average while US picks have underperformed.

Using all the above info for betting purposes, there's money to be made when considering the top scorer markets.

In four of the last six Ryder Cups, a wildcard has finished as top or joint top European points scorer.

Poulter (2008 and 2012) and Pieters (2016) would actually have won top overall points scorer while captain's pick Donald shared Euro honours with that man Poulter again in 2010.

That suggests backing Lowry, Poulter or Garcia to be Europe's biggest points accumulator at Whistling Straits could be a smart play.

READ MORE: Happy Hammer Horschel wins BMW PGA Championship

Latest Golf Videos