Several exciting young stars will make their Ryder Cup debuts when Europe and the USA lock horns at Le Golf National in Paris this week. Reigning Golfer of the Year Justin Thomas is one of three Americans lining up for the first time in the famous showdown. The European team will have five debutants and they will surely be given a baptism of fire in this extremely heated contest. But who will finish as the top debutant?
World number four Thomas has enjoyed a remarkable rise to prominence since the USA won the last Ruder Cup at Hazeltine in 2016. Since then he has seized his first major, the PGA Championship, won the FedEx Cup, finished 2017 as the top earner, spent some time as world number one and racked up several PGA Tour victories. He is part of a formidable crop of exciting young Americans, along with Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed, and it is understandable to see the USA ahead in the golf spread betting on the Ryder Cup. Thomas is the favourite to finish as the top debutant, but he has stern competition.
The Spaniard is only 23 years of age but he has already enjoyed a spell ranked second in the world after securing two PGA Tour and three European Tour wins. He was fourth in the Masters this year and he finished T4 at the PGA Championship and it seems like only a matter of time before he claims a major. He is one of four Europeans inside the world top 10, along with Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari, while the rest are American, so there is pressure on him to deliver.
The Englishman has been on a remarkable upward curve in recent years and he has shot up to 12th in the world rankings. He was the 2017 Race to Dubai champion, he now has seven tournament victories under his belt and he finished second at this year’s US Open. Fleetwood has often thrived on links courses, he is a confident and exciting player and he could be a strong pick to finish this year’s Ryder Cup as the top debutant.
DeChambeau has finished the season in absolutely remarkable form, winning the first two FedEx Cup playoff events and shooting up to seventh in the world. The 24-year-old physics major, dubbed the Mad Scientist, looks like a really astute wildcard selection for US Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk and he also makes a great pick for the top debutant at the tournament as he is in magnificent form and he will carry great momentum into the contest.
The 36-year-old Swede is also in the mix after qualifying in third place on the world points list. He has secured an impressive six wins on the European Tour in the last two years, and he has a strong record at Le Golf National. He won the 2018 HNA Open de France here in July. “Having won around there this year I obviously can play well there so hopefully I can help the team win as many points as possible,” he said. That might inspire European captain Thomas Bjorn to give him plenty of playing time and Noren therefore looks like an intriguing outside option to finish the tournament with more points than stars like Thomas, Rahm and Fleetwood.
Finau has also enjoyed a strong 2018 and that inspired Furyk to make the 29-year-old his final wildcard selection. “He has an unbelievable body of work this year,” said Furyk. “All those top-10 finishes, the play in big championships and the majors, and then his current form, a second, a fourth and an eighth in the playoffs.” Finau played in the same group as Furyk at the PGA Championship in St. Louis this year and he managed 10 birdies in the second round, equalling a PGA Championship record. The captain is therefore well aware of his talents, and he could unleash Finau to devastating effect later this week.
Thunder Bear won the Italian Open this summer and then went on to finish runner-up in the BMW International Open. He is a good friend of captain Bjorn, his countryman, but he qualified automatically thanks to strong finishes at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, plus a fine performance in The Open Championship. However, he is the lowest ranked player at the Ryder Cup and he may not get as much playing time as his more vaunted teammates.
Hatton is a fiery competitor who is sure to take the fight to the Americans with his trademark passion. Towards the end of 2017 he landed the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Italian Open, all but guaranteeing his participation in the 2018 Ryder Cup. He has not added to his title haul this year, but he has secured a number of top 10 finishes and his consistency could see him enjoy a fruitful Ryder Cup.
All these debutants are strong players, but right now DeChambeau and Fleetwood look like the best choices to secure the most points.