Golf's Captain's Pick Defined

The term "captain's pick" refers to a golfer who failed to meet the criteria required for automatic membership on a team in a team golf competition, but who is added to that team at the discretion of the team's captain.

Let's use the most famous team competition in golf, the Ryder Cup, as an example. In the Ryder Cup, Team USA plays Team Europe. There are 12 golfers on each team. Each team has its own selection criteria for choosing those 12 golfers. In each case, most of the team members are selected automatically: They meet pre-set qualifying standards (such as being in the top handful of spots on a points list) and, therefore, make the team.

But Team USA and Team Europe in the Ryder Cup also each reserve a few spots on the team for captain's picks. After the automatic qualifiers are revealed through points lists or world rankings or whatever criteria is used, the respective team captains then make their own selections to fill out the team rosters.

Captain's picks are used today in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup, at the top levels of professional golf, and can also be found at all levels of golf in team vs. team competitions. (For example, many PGA of America chapters play Ryder Cup-style competitions, which may include captain's picks in the team selection.) Once-prominent but no-longer-played events such as the Seve Trophy also used captain's picks.

Captain's picks aren't always included in the mix at all, and in the long history of the Ryder Cup, for example, are a relatively recent addition. Why include captain's picks in a team selection process? It's a way to reward golfers who might not have been playing great throughout the automatic qualifying period, but who have gotten hot in the tournaments leading up to the team event. It's also a way, sometimes, to award a golfer who failed to meet the automatic qualifying criteria but has a long, strong body of work arguing in his or her favor.

But the definition of the captain's pick is always the same: A captain's pick is a golfer who fails to automatically qualify, but is added to a team at the discretion of the team captain. Captain's picks are also called wildcards or captain's selections.

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