Top Links:

Get A Golf Handicap

UK Golf Guide

Golfshake Top 100s

Find Golf Travel Deals

Golf Competitions


Community Forum


Tee Times | Search | Reviews


Gear | Tour | Industry Insider


Video Library | Tuition Sections


Join | Log In | Help | Useful Links


The Best Ryder Cup Wildcard Picks

By: | Fri 24 Sep 2021

The importance of a Ryder Cup captain has long been debated, but one area where the role has undeniable influence comes when he selects his wildcard picks for the matches.

It wasn't always this way, however, as the captain's picks are a relatively modern invention. For decades, the teams were selected through a variety of qualifying criteria, ranging from order or merits and specific tournament victories.

Much changed in 1979 at The Greenbrier. We saw the needed introduction of players from Continental Europe, but also the first captain's wild card picks as John Jacobs selected Des Smyth and the experienced Peter Oosterhuis to enhance his side.

Europe also used picks in 1981, 1985 and 1987, but it wasn't until 1989 when the process was formalised for both teams, with Raymond Floyd adding the impressive duo of Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins to his travelling party at The Belfry.

The number of picks has fluctuated through time, but they have proven to be invaluable as the captain attempts to forge the ideal composite group of 12 players in the biennial contest.

For the delayed 43rd Ryder Cup in 2021, Steve Stricker had a staggering six captain's picks available, with Padraig Harrington using his three to reward the form of Shane Lowry and gain the experience of Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter.

But which wildcard picks have been the most decisive? We have gone through the records and identified some of the most impactful additions that made all the difference to their team.

Ian Poulter - 2012

The Englishman lives and breathes the Ryder Cup and that passion has seen him selected an incredible five times for a wildcard pick. We could have easily included his battling four points for Nick Faldo's unsuccessful Europe in 2008, but it was four years later, in 2012, when the legend of Ian Poulter was written.

Winning both foursomes alongside Justin Rose at Medinah, Poulter then partnered Rory McIlroy in the Saturday afternoon fourballs, with Europe facing a disaster. However, the man from Hertfordshire inspired a crucial late point, giving his teammates some heart for the comeback that would follow on Sunday.

It was the Miracle at Medinah - and Ian Poulter won all four of his points for Jose Maria Olazabal.

Lee Westwood - 2006

In 2006, Lee Westwood was ranked outside the world's top 50 and required a pick from Ian Woosnam, which the Welshman duly obliged. In fourballs, the Englishman partnered fellow wildcard Darren Clarke (more on him in a moment) and talisman Colin Montgomerie in the foursomes, winning both with the Northern Irishman and halving two matches with the Scot.

On Sunday, Westwood defeated Chris DiMarco in the singles to complete an unbeaten week in a rout for Europe.

Thomas Pieters - 2016

Hazeltine was undoubtedly a disappointment for Europe, but the star of the show for the away team was rookie Thomas Pieters, who was comfortably beaten alongside Lee Westwood on the Friday morning before winning his next four matches, a run that included a sensational partnership with Rory McIlroy. 

It was a brilliant debut - but the Belgian hasn't found his way back into the team since.

Darren Clarke - 2006

Many had questioned the wisdom of selecting Darren Clarke, who was mourning the tragic loss of wife Heather little over a month before the Ryder Cup. But riding a wave of emotion, the Northern Irishman was in remarkable form, validating the belief of captain Ian Woosnam, who embraced Clarke after his singles win on Sunday, claiming a third point of an unforgettable week at The K Club.

Colin Montgomerie - 2004

A European stalwart, by 2004, Montgomerie's form had declined through personal struggles and he needed a reprieve from captain Bernhard Langer. The wildcard was handed to the Scot, who rolled back the years, claiming three points, and was credited with securing the winning one as Europe ran away with the Ryder Cup in America. Reportedly, Ian Poulter actually holed a crucial putt seconds before, but we shan't deny Monty his moment in Michigan.

Hunter Mahan - 2008

Paul Azinger broke norms as captain in an effort to correct a losing run, and it succeeded. Among them was handing picks to rookies, including Hunter Mahan, and it was inspired. The young American won a brilliant 3.5 points on his debut appearance, the most of his winning team in Kentucky.

Raymond Floyd - 1993

He was the captain in 1989, but Raymond Floyd returned with his clubs in 1991 and 1993, the latter by the hand of Tom Watson. At 51, the American remains the oldest Ryder Cup player, and he won three of four matches, including a singles win over Jose Maria Olazabal as the United States claimed their most recent victory on European soil.

Jose Maria Olazabal - 1987

The Spaniard won half a point more as a pick in 1991, but his debut four years prior was the breakthrough moment, as the 21-year-old formed his legendary partnership with mentor Seve Ballesteros, winning three of four matches together. Olazabal lost his singles to Payne Stewart, but we'll always remember his celebratory dance as Europe secured a historic success.

Sandy Lyle - 1987

The Shropshire Scot was the reigning Tournament Players Champion in America, but he still required a captain's pick from Tony Jacklin, and it made all the difference. Alongside Bernhard Langer, Lyle won three points as Europe led after two days. Lyle may have lost to Tom Kite in the singles, but his impact had been felt as the away side won in the United States for the first time.

Sergio Garcia - 2018

Making his ninth Ryder Cup appearance, Sergio Garcia's inclusion was a masterstroke from captain Thomas Bjorn, as the Spaniard played a key part throughout a dominant triumph, securing three winning points and setting a new record in the event, overtaking Nick Faldo's 25 points won in his 11 appearances.

So, there we have it, just some of the most impactful wildcard selections in Ryder Cup history. It's arguably the first major decision that a captain has to make - and it can be the most important one.

Related Content

Dream Future Ryder Cup Venues

Picking The Greatest European Ryder Cup Team

The Ryder Cup is unlike any other tournament in golf and the atmosphere is something that every golf fan should experience. The experts at Golfbreaks.com can help with all aspects of your Ryder Cup experience, from accommodation and ticket packages to hospitality and travel and playing some of the fantastic nearby courses.

More Ryder Cup Coverage

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

Tags: ryder cup PGA Tour european tour daily picks

Scroll to top