ATLANTA – Now comes the hard part – the waiting.
Whatever value U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson put on individual performances at the Tour Championship – and given Sunday’s finish at East Lake there was plenty for Captain America to digest – there’s only one step remaining: the phone call.
Every captain will count this point in the process as the most difficult. After two years of qualifying and analysis, Johnson will huddle with his vice captains and the six automatic qualifiers to round out the U.S. team that will travel to Rome next month. Anyone with even a remote chance of being one of those six picks will spend the next 24 hours staring at their phones and mulling their fate. For a professional golfer the lack of control is a triggering experience.
The phone call that awaits players, either to invite them to join the fun in Rome or condolences for coming up short, produces emotions that are unique to a game that attempts to detach process from outcome. And regardless of the message, every call is memorable.
“The first [team] I made and got picked (the 2010 Ryder Cup) at Celtic [Manor] with [captain Corey Pavin], I remember that phone call, and the call from [2019 Presidents Cup captain Tiger Woods] to go down to Australia was also one I remember,” said Rickie Fowler before pausing to remember the “other” call. “In ’12, my back started bothering me through the summer and I didn’t play very well and ended up not being in a position to make that team, so I was far enough out I wasn’t necessarily warranted a phone call.”
There’s some debate about when a call is warranted. Johnson will certainly contact each of his six picks, but how far down the list will he venture to tell a player that he won’t be on the team?
Most observers agree Johnson’s picks will include Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Fowler and Justin Thomas, who were Nos. 7, 8, 13 and 15, respectively, on the final U.S. points list. The last two picks will be some combination of Nos. 9 Cameron Young, 10 Collin Morikawa, 11 Keegan Bradley, 12 Sam Burns and 16 Lucas Glover.
It’s likely all those players will hear from Johnson over the next 24 hours, but will the captain feel compelled to reach out to No. 14, Denny McCarthy, who had a career year in 2023 with seven top-10 finishes but didn’t win and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship?
It’s some solace that as difficult as that phone call is for captains, most players know if they should be picked.
Donald has a similar plan to the U.S. Ryder Cup team
“Jim Furyk called me and told me I wasn’t on the  Paris team. He and I had a really nice conversation. Because when he called and told me I wasn’t, I’m like, well, I know, I have not performed as well as I should have in an attempt to make this team. I understand. I wouldn’t have picked me either,” said Brian Harman, who won’t need a call this year as one of the six automatic qualifiers. “I just kind of explained to him and I asked, ‘Hey, what did you think about when you’re trying to make your first team,’ and we had a nice chat about that.
“Then Steve Stricker called and told me I wasn’t making the  Presidents Cup team. I thought I had a better shot at getting picked for that one. But Steve’s always been a dear friend of mine and I understood. I’ve never not gotten picked and felt like I truly deserved a spot.”
After seven combined appearances in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, Fowler knows the drill and even after a resurgent year that included his first Tour victory in four seasons and his first trip to East Lake since 2019, he understands the decision is out of his hands.
“The position I’m in now, sort of the middle of my career, not that I’m looking forward to a phone call that would say I’m not going or one that says I am going, I feel like I’ve been a part of teams and I understand if you don’t make it on points and you get the call to either go or not go, it’s no hard feelings,” Fowler said. “It’s not up to me. If you want it to be up to yourself, you play well enough to make it on points.”
Glover took an equally mindful approach to whatever comes on Monday. Following a torrid finish to the season that included back-to-back victories and top-10 finishes in five of his last eight starts, he acknowledged that there’s a freedom that came with Sunday’s final round, regardless of which phone call he receives.
“It’s been a while, 18 years [when 2006 Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman called to tell him he wouldn’t be one of his two picks],” Glover said. “I feel like back then I had a better case than I do now, but I have no idea what they’re thinking. Like ol’ Ben Franklin said, ‘Well done is better than well said.’”