LOS ANGELES: LIV Golf star Brooks Koepka was among US Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson's six picks for the biennial match play showdown with Europe announced on Tuesday.
Koepka grabbed his fifth major title at the PGA Championship this year, just weeks after a runner-up finish at the Masters.
He is a three-time Ryder Cup player, but his inclusion comes after LIV Golf roiled the golf world and with European players who jumped to the Saudi Arabia-backed league banned from Ryder Cup participation.
US players remained eligible because even though they were suspended by the PGA Tour they remained members of the PGA of America.
Tensions between the established tours and LIV Golf rebels have eased somewhat since the announcement that the PGA Tour and DP World Tour agreed a deal to merge with LIV's Saudi backers.
Johnson said Koepka had "basically earned his way onto the team", even though playing LIV Golf events without world ranking points had seen him slide out of the automatic qualifying berths.
"It was a pretty easy pick," Johnson said. "Brooks is great in the team room, great inside the ropes. These guys wanted him. I wanted him."
"He's built, in my mind, for the biggest stages, and there's no bigger stage than the Ryder Cup," Johnson added of Koepka, who has never lost a singles match in Ryder Cup competition.
Koepka said he was "super-excited" to be back on the Ryder Cup team after grinding his way back after 2021 knee surgery.
"The last few years have been a lot, but at the same time, that's what I've been grinding for, trying to get back in shape and to feel good for this moment," he said. "Super excited. It's going to be a fun week."
Johnson's other captain's selections were Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns and Justin Thomas.
Thomas could be Johnson's most controversial selection.
The two-time major winner has struggled this season, finishing 71st in the PGA
Tour's FedEx Cup standings and missing the playoffs.
He missed the cut in three of four major championships.
But Thomas has been a solid performer in international match play competitions. In two Ryder Cup appearances he has a 6-2-1 record.
Thomas, 30, has been one of the Americans' best performers in international match-play competitions. He also has a 10-3-2 mark in three Presidents Cups.
"He has, without question, been the heart and soul of Team USA," Johnson said of Thomas.
"Our emotional leader. He leads by example. His passion for the Ryder Cup is very evident. In my mind, he was born for this, and you just don't leave JT at home."
Johnson said his aim in making the selections was to complement the six automatic qualifiers – world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, US Open winner Wyndham Clark, British Open champion Brian Harman, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa and Xander Schauffele.
"They check all the boxes," Johnson said. "Fierce competitors, great versatility, great flexibility when it comes to pairings.
"Got some great experience in there, too, considering we are going across the pond, no easy feat."
The Ryder Cup will take place in Rome from Sept 29 until Oct 1.
The United States will be trying to retain the trophy that they won in a crushing 19-9 triumph at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in 2021.
The Americans lead the all-time series 27-14 but have not won the Cup on foreign soil since 1993.
"We know the history," said Morikawa, who won three team matches alongside Dustin Johnson in the Americans' 2021 victory.
"That's all in the past. We want to create new memories and history for the US side." --AFP