2023 Ryder Cup Preview

Golf’s greatest gladiators head to the Eternal City, Rome for the 44th Ryder Cup. Luke Donald’s men look to wrestle Samuel Ryder’s trophy away from a powerful American squad, starting on Friday.

David Anderson, Head of Trading

David Anderson, Head of Trading

5 months ago

“The Ryder Cup is now one of the most riveting, most exciting, most keenly anticipated and most closely contested events in all sport. It is Golf’s Super Bowl, the Royal and Ancient game’s Olympics. It is BIG TIME” — Alister Nicol

Seve Ballesteros sat in the European locker room. Around him, his teammates were disconsolate after suffering a 14 ½ to 13 ½ defeat against the United States. Europe had not trailed at the end of any of the sessions of play until they were pipped right on the line. The mood was sombre. But the Spaniard knew better. “We must celebrate. This is a victory for us,” he told the group in the team room before telling each of his teammates in turn that they should be proud of what they had done. The year was 1983 and the Europeans had narrowly lost the 25th Ryder Cup.

Sure enough, the five-time major winner was right. Though they had lost, the Europeans had confirmed that they would be a match for the Americans going forward. The losing Captain, Tony Jacklin saw this, commenting afterwards: “One thing is for certain, these matches are going to be as close as this from now on. There will be no more American walkovers.” Two years later they would win the trophy as Europe for the first time. The previously moribund contest for Samuel Ryder’s cup had been reignited and would become one of the greatest battles in the world of sport.

There’s no I in team

Friday will see the start of the 44th renewal of this event and the 22nd time Europe has squared off against the United States. Professional Golf is, by and large, a solo game. 156 players tee it up at the start of most events, each in their own little world — the camaraderie is limited. Golf has a couple of pairs events but the annual Zurich Classic which changed to a two-player format in 2017 has never really caught Golf fans’ imagination. While the World Cup is a huge event in many sports, Golf’s version passes most people by during the sport’s silly season, towards the end of the year. For many years, the Alfred Dunhill Cup was well supported, with individual nations providing three-man teams to play for national honour. However, this too was held towards the end of the season and was replaced by a Stroke play tournament — the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship — in 2001.

With more than half of the points at stake in pairs formats, the Ryder Cup has a team element which greatly adds to the excitement. However, with 12 of the 28 points available in the day three Singles matches, everything can change on the final day…..and it often has.

The Match play nature of the event is a large part of its appeal. Run up an eight in a normal Stroke play tournament and it can be hard for a player to recover. But in Match play, an aberration during the round only costs a player the hole. To illustrate the volatility of this format, Justin Leonard won four holes in a row against José María Olazábal in the 1999 Ryder Cup. Had he trailed the Spaniard by four strokes in a regular event there would have been little jeopardy but not so in Match play where big swings — no pun intended — frequently happen.

As well as the team element and Match play format, the quality of players on show is a big draw for viewers of the Ryder Cup. Combining the cream of continental Golf talent into Team Europe and placing them in opposition to the world’s pre-eminent Golfing nation — the United States — means that a huge tranche of the world’s best players is on show. Australia, South Africa, South Korea, Japan and other nations provide outstanding golfers but a look at the latest golf world rankings shows where the international balance of power resides. 31 of the world’s top 40 men’s golfers are eligible to represent either the US or Europe, including the world’s top 12 players. The United States plays a biennial match against the Rest of the World — which doesn’t include European players — in the Presidents Cup, while Continental Europe faces Great Britain and Ireland in the Hero Cup. But both are not on par (pun intended) with the Ryder Cup and tend to serve as a sighter for the main event.

Sceptics unite to face “the Septics”

People from this part of the world don’t always feel very European. Brexit, Brussels, Bureaucracy. And yet there is something about the Ryder Cup which makes even the biggest of Euro sceptics cheer for the team in blue. The galvanising force that seems to envelop the European team is hard to understand. Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros were polar opposites. Faldo measured, composed, and driven. Ballesteros a matador, a maverick, all fire and flair. They had duelled at the head of the leaderboard on many occasions. And yet, when Faldo helped Europe to win the 1995 Ryder Cup, the emotion was obvious. With tears in their eyes, the two embraced as they celebrated regaining the trophy.

Only the Ryder Cup has the power to do this.

Having outlined that the Ryder Cup adopts a different format to other Golf tournaments, it’s worth discussing how this event is mapped out. Firstly, the Ryder Cup is a Match play format. The lowest score on each hole wins that hole but the actual number of shots taken is immaterial — unlike Stroke play, where the cumulative score across 72 holes decides the winner.

The Ryder Cup takes place over three days with teams from Europe and the United States. It’s a biennial match with the only exceptions being the one-year delays necessitated by the events of 9/11 and COVID. Home advantage alternates between America and Europe.

The first two days each feature two sessions of pairs golf. Both the Friday and Saturday schedules are divided into four Foursomes matches and four Four-balls games. In Foursomes — or alternate shot — the two players in each pairing play alternate shots, with one player teeing off on the odd-numbered holes and his partner hitting the tee shot on the even-numbered holes. Foursomes arguably favours the more metronomic players rather than those more inconsistent types — smashing a wild tee shot and leaving your playing partner stuck behind a tree or in knee-high rough does little for team morale. If both teams have won an identical number of holes during the round, then the match is halved, with half a point awarded to each side, and the same applies to the other Ryder Cup formats.

In the Four-ball — or better ball — format both players in each pairing play their own ball around the course, with the best score counting for each team on each hole. Here the tactics vary. Some teams opt to pair a steady-Eddie type who hits plenty of fairways and greens, with a more attacking, grip-it-and-rip-it player who is less consistent — the theory being that the more consistent player posts a solid score on each hole, allowing his more mercurial teammate a free shot at a birdie or eagle on each hole. An alternative strategy is to select two attacking players, in an attempt to pepper the flagstick on each hole and accept that there will be occasions where both mis-fire.

Two days of Foursomes and Four-balls see a total of 16 points awarded. On day three, all 12 players play Singles matches with a total of a dozen points available. Both captains submit the order that they want their players to go out in for the Sunday Singles, without knowing the order that the opposing team captain has selected. If a team has been trailing, many captains have opted to load up the top of their lineup with their star performers in an attempt to “get some blue (or red) on the board” early on, in the hope that seeing that their teammates are winning their matches might inspire those starting their games later on and build some momentum. Of course, the destination of the trophy could come down to the later matches, so leaving some of the more experienced players until further down the list also makes sense.

So, the Ryder Cup is a titanic tussle between Europe and the US. But it wasn’t always so. The Ryder Cup was the brainchild of Samuel Ryder, an English businessman and Golf promotor. His idea was for a match between the best professional Golfers from Britain and their equivalent from the United States. Players from Ireland joined their British counterparts in the team, but it was only from 1973 onwards that America’s opponents were known as Great Britain and Ireland. In 1927, Ryder donated a gold trophy for the winning team. The 17-inch tall prize is the same one that the current crop of transatlantic Golfers will be competing for. Atop the trophy is the figure of Abe Mitchell. A prominent Golfer in the early twentieth century, major success alluded Mitchell. But as well as being a regular winner of tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic, he was Ryder’s private Golf coach and central to the setting up of the initial event.

The first four iterations of the biennial event were shared, with two wins for the United States on American soil and a pair of victories for the team from these isles in matches that were played in England. From then on — with a hiatus necessitated by the Second World War — it was a relentless run of success for Uncle Sam, as the US recorded seven straight triumphs. In 1957, the British team, captained by Dai Rees, regained the trophy at Lindrick Golf Club, in Nottinghamshire. Far from sparking a British revival, the win proved to be an anomaly, as the US won nine of the next 10 matches. The honourable exception was a tied match in 1969 at Royal Birkdale. But America still retained possession of the cup until the 1980s.

From 1935 until 1977 the United States won 16 renewals of the event with Great Britain having just a solitary win to show for their efforts and one tied match. If Britain and Ireland were to be able to compete with the might of the United States, greater reinforcements were going to be required.

Big game hunters wanted

There is no better example of how uncompetitive the event had become than the story of Tom Weiskopf. The 1973 Open champion had made the 1979 US Ryder Cup team but opted not to play, choosing to go big-game hunting instead. To make the Ryder Cup relevant again, something had to be done.

The late 1970s had seen a growth in interest in Golf within continental Europe, but particularly in Spain. Though largely still populated by British and Irish players, the 1979 European team included Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido. Two years later, their compatriots José María Cañizares and Manuel Piñero made the team, along with a talented German rookie named Bernhard Langer. These Euro stars were making their mark on both sides of the Atlantic. Ballesteros won four of his five major titles between 1979 and 1984, while Langer secured a coveted Green Jacket by landing the 1985 Masters.

The relatively new phenomenon of the package holiday led British tourists to flock to Spain in their droves. While there, many wanted to play Golf, and courses began springing up across the country. Many locals began caddying for tourists and Spain started to develop an armada of top players.

Even fortified by golfers from the continent, Team Europe was unable to wrest the trophy from American hands in their first three attempts. In 1983, they came oh so close to victory, prompting Seve’s aforementioned pep talk. With a fortified team and home advantage — with the event taking place at The Belfry, near Sutton Coldfield, — 1985 seemed to be the time for Europe to strike back. Predictably, Ballesteros led the charge with a 3-1-1 record, as the US tasted defeat for the first time since 1957 — a win that would herald European hegemony in the event over the following decades. Going back to and including that inaugural European triumph, the continent has won 11 Ryder Cups, with just six victories for the US, and a tie, back in 1989. Rather like the Ashes, the Ryder Cup is another biennial event where home advantage alternates between the two teams and, should the event end in a tie, the trophy is retained by the present holders.

The concession

Golf has always been a sport that values sportsmanship. Never was this better exemplified than in the 1969 Ryder Cup. Great Britain was pushing the Americans hard, for the first time since 1957. Everything rested on the final match between Britain’s Tony Jacklin — who had won that year’s Open Championship — and the great Jack Nicklaus, who would end his illustrious career with 18 major titles. Jacklin had drained a 50-foot putt for eagle on the 17th hole to square the match. Whoever won the last hole would win the trophy. A half would see the US retain the Ryder Cup. The previous days of competition had been acrimonious, but the event would come to be known for an act of great sportsmanship. Jacklin was left with a putt from nearly three feet to half the match. The power exists in Match play Golf to concede a putt, not asking your opponent to knock it in if you think they will hole it. On the 18th Nicklaus was left with a putt from four-and-a-half feet with Jacklin closer to the pin. Having held his putt, the American conceded his opponent’s — meaning the 1969 Ryder Cup ended in a tie. Three-foot putts under that pressure are missable — a year later American Doug Sanders would miss from slightly closer to the hole with the Open on the line. As Nicklaus picked up his opponent’s marker, he told Jacklin: “I don’t think you would have missed it, but I wasn’t going to give you the chance, either.“

Sixteen years later, the United States headed into the Singles matches in a very unfamiliar position. They trailed their opponents going into day three for the first time in a Ryder Cup event since 1949. It was left to Scotland’s Sam Torrance to sink the decisive putt on the final green, as Europe took the trophy from American hands for the first time since 1957.

Europe had discovered their own dream team in the form of Spanish duo Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal, who began their partnership in 1987, and would go on to pick up 12 points from 15 matches played together. As Europe celebrated a 15-13 victory, Olazábal broke into an impromptu Flamenco dance on the green.

The Golf war

Just prior to the 1991 renewal, the United States had participated in the first Gulf War. Even seven months on from the conflict’s conclusion the US Ryder Cup team seemed intent on channelling the wartime spirit as Europe arrived in Kiawah Island, South Carolina looking to defend the trophy after a tie at The Belfry in 1989. From the moment American captain Raymond Floyd introduced his team at the opening ceremony as “the 12 greatest players in the world” the fuse was lit, for what would come to be known as “the War on the Shore”.

That opening ceremony saw a military flyover and many US players wore camouflage hats in recognition of the recent military conflict. The 1989 event had seen the United States’ Paul Azinger clash with Ballesteros when Azinger refused to let the Spaniard replace a scuffed golf ball and Ballesteros challenged a drop the American made during a match. Ironically, the draw for the 1989 Singles pitted Azinger against Ballesteros. Despite 1991 US Captain Dave Stockton organising a pre-event barbeque for the two teams, it was clear that there was still a different kind of beef on the menu.

Driving in for the opening ceremony, volatile American Steve Pate suffered rib injuries in a limo crash — talk about friendly fire. Pate wasn’t considered fit to play in the Sunday Singles — even though he had taken part in, and lost, a Four-ball match on Saturday afternoon — and Europe had to agree to halve his match with England’s David Gilford without a shot being played (maybe that should be fired). Some Europeans were convinced that the nature of Pate’s injuries wasn’t as severe as was being suggested and that the Americans were hiding a weak link.

Another titanic battle came down to the final game between Hale Irwin representing the home team and Langer. The German had made clutch putts on the 15th, 16th, and 17th holes to keep Europe’s hopes alive. Faced with a putt of just over five feet, the German’s putt to retain the trophy went agonisingly wide, sparking wild US celebrations.

The United States retained the cup with victory at The Belfry in 1993 and were favourites to keep hold of it before the 1995 renewal. However, it was Irishman Philip Walton who held the winning putt for Europe. Realising that the continental European contingent had brought so much to the party, it was decided that hosting duties should move from the UK to the Valderrama Golf Club, in Spain. Given the location, there was only one possible European captain: Señor Ballesteros. There was an element of redemption for Langer who secured the decisive point in a European victory.

“I have a good feeling about this”

Despite consecutive wins, the Europeans were underdogs as they travelled to The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. That flight on Concorde did see a bizarre world record set. Pilot Captain David Studd happened to be a Golf fan. Whiling away the flight José María Olazábal attempted a 150-foot putt along the plane’s cabin, armed with the pilot’s putter. It went in at the first time of asking. Technically, given their conveyance was clocking 1,270 mph, the Spaniard holds the record for the longest putt ever made — a distance of 9,232 miles. A good omen? Well, after two days it certainly seemed so, as the Europeans had made a mockery of those pre-event odds, taking a 10-6 lead into the final day’s Singles. To that point, no team had ever overcome more than a two-point deficit on the final day — let alone four. However, the US Captain Ben Crenshaw still had faith. He told the assembled press conference on the night before the Singles: “I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this.”

The Europeans had lent heavily on their star performers. Colin Montgomerie, Sergio García, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, and Jesper Parnevik — along with Montgomerie’s playing partner Paul Lawrie — had all played all four pairs matches and were running on empty. Trailing by four points, it made sense for Crenshaw to front-load his lineup, with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Lehman, and Davis Love III — along with David Duval, who had become world number one earlier that year — sent out in the first six matches. With a commanding lead European Captain, Mark James opted to put out three of his least experienced team members in the top five, Jarmo Sandelin, Jean van de Velde, and Andrew Coltart — none of whom had played on the first two days. All three lost their Singles matches. The first seven games to finish all went in favour of the Stars and Stripes who took a 13-10 lead, needing just a further one and a half points to regain the trophy. The decisive half-point was delivered controversially.

Justin Leonard and José María Olazábal were all square on the 17th tee. Their approaches had left the American facing a 40-foot putt, with the Spaniard 25 feet from the hole. Leonard held the monster putt, sparking wild — and premature — celebrations. Olazábal still had a putt to keep Europe’s hopes alive. However, upon seeing Leonard drain the lengthy putt, his teammates, their wives and girlfriends, and the host broadcaster’s camera crew all rushed onto the 17th green, running all over the Spaniard’s putting line. Once order was restored, Olazábal missed the resulting putt, and the trophy was America’s.

Easy Ryder

The start of the new century would see unprecedented success for the Europeans, and it wouldn’t be until 2008 that Samuel Ryder’s cup would be back in American hands. After a 15 ½ – 12 ½ triumph at The Belfry, in 2002, Europe handed the Americans their heaviest-ever defeat at Oakland Hills Country Club, by a score of 18 ½ – 9 ½. US Captain Hal Sutton elected to put Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson out as a pairing — two players who could never have been described as being close. Their styles of play were worlds apart. There were occasional looks exchanged between the two which could only be described as daggers drawn. The two superstars lost both matches as a pairing.

The lead-up to the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club, County Kildare was overshadowed by the death of Darren Clarke’s wife, Heather, at the age of just 39, a few weeks before the first matches teed off. The Clarkes had been stalwarts of the European team over many Ryder Cups. The noise as Clarke, alongside close friend Lee Westwood, made their way to the first tee was deafening. Somehow, the Ulsterman kept control of his emotions — and his driver — as he split the fairway. Europe never looked back and repeated the dose of the 18 ½ – 9 ½ victory from two years earlier. In both matches the European charge was led by Sergio García and Lee Westwood, who each won four and a half of a possible five points in 2004 and each added four more in 2006.

If those were two of the first names on the team sheet for Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup, the rest of the names weren’t a mystery for very long. European Captain Nick Faldo had a tremendous record as a player for Europe. Not so much as captain. Prior to the event, each team’s pairings are kept as a closely guarded secret. However, Faldo was photographed with a piece of paper with what looked to be the initials of players, signifying the pairings. In fairness, his two wildcard picks delivered five points but many of the Euro stars didn’t produce in Kentucky. Europe failed to win any of the first four matches for the first time since 1989. The US team contained the irrepressible Boo Weekley. One of the more colourful stories about the three-time PGA Tour winner was that he was once knocked out cold by an orangutan — a tale straight out of a Burt Reynolds movie. In the home state of the US thoroughbred industry, Weekley celebrated by straddling his iron and miming to give this steed a couple of reminders as he galloped down the fairway. The US won in a canter.

Bad weather meant that the 2010 Ryder Cup required an unprecedented Monday finish. The event saw Rory McIlroy make his Ryder Cup debut. But it was another man from the island of Ireland who had the final say. For the first time since the War on the Shore in 1991, the Ryder Cup went down to the final Singles game on the course. Ulsterman Graeme McDowell held the winning putt as Europe survived the US challenge — and two lengthy weather delays — to seal a 14 ½ – 13 ½ victory.

The miracle at Medinah

The 2012 Ryder Cup was one-way traffic for most of the first two days. Having led 8-4 after three sessions, the US team won both the first two afternoon Four-balls and led 10-4 with two matches still out on the course. 1999 had seen the Americans overturn a 10-6 deficit but Europe would require a turnaround in the bottom two games even to be in that position. The pairing of Sergio García and Luke Donald won their match to make it 10-5 before Ian Poulter took centre stage. He rattled off five consecutive birdies as he and Rory McIlroy closed out their match to reduce the arrears to four points overnight. If the Europeans had needed an Act of God/miracle double at 10-4, now a miracle would suffice.

If alarm bells should have been ringing for the Europeans regarding the score, they should have been ringing a bit earlier on Singles Sunday for McIlroy. Medinah is in the Central Time Zone. Despite having been in the area for days, the Ulsterman read his tee time as 12:25 instead of 11:25. McIlroy’s phone began lighting up with concerned team connections wondering where he was. He needed a police escort but narrowly made his allotted tee time.

Although acutely aware of the task they faced, European Team Captain José María Olazábal had a front-row seat for a comeback from 10-6 down in a Ryder Cup having played in the deciding match at Brookline, thirteen years before. The man most responsible for making the Ryder Cup competitive again, Seve Ballesteros, had passed away a year earlier. Seemingly needing help from a higher power, the Europeans played with a symbol of Seve on their golf bags and were resplendent in the Spaniard’s favourite navy and white attire. Blue was also very much the colour of the top of the Singles scoreboard as Team Europe got the fast start they so desperately needed. One by one, the Europeans prised American fingers off the trophy that had seemed to be safely in their grasp. Europe won the top five matches and Germany’s Martin Kaymer held the winning putt as Europe clawed their way back to a 14 ½ – 13 ½ victory. Overcome with emotion, Olazábal looked to the heavens. Someone was smiling down on the Europeans.

Not so elementary for Watson

The score was 10-6 heading into the Singles in 2014. But this time it was a European team with a record nine different nationalities represented who was in the driver’s seat. There would be no repeat of Brookline or Medinah as Europe comfortably beat their transatlantic rivals 16 ½ – 11 ½, starting a run in which the two teams swapped the trophy back and forth. But that wasn’t the end of the Americans’ embarrassment. At the post-match Press Conference, Mickelson seemed to criticise US Captain Tom Watson, as Watson and Lefty well and truly aired their dirty laundry in public.

The Americans opted to reinstate Davis Love III as captain and he launched a successful recovery mission as the Americans regained the trophy at Hazeltine National Golf Club, Minnesota. The US was hardly troubled after becoming the first American team since 1975 to win a session 4-0 in Friday’s opening Foursomes. The Stars and Stripes never looked back as they won by a comfortable 17-11 margin. For the first time, the Ryder Cup was hosted by France two years later. Led by Open Champion Francesco Molinari, who became the first player since Larry Nelson, in 1979 to deliver a maximum five points for his team, Europe ran out easy 17 ½ – 10 ½ winners.

Which brings us to the most recent contest between Golf’s gladiators. Delayed a year by the COVID outbreak, Team US wasted no time in dominating Europe. In a young team, Dustin Johnson was put in the unfamiliar role of elder statesman, and he responded by emulating Francesco Molinari’s five-star effort as he ended the weekend with a 100% record. Europe suffered their heaviest defeat since players from the continent had joined those from Britain and Ireland, as they succumbed to a 19-9 reversal.

After the United States had held the trophy between 1959 and 1983, it’s been 11-6 to Europe — with one tied match — since then.

LIV and let LIV

It had long been thought that any player who signed up with the breakaway Saudi-backed LIV Tour would not be eligible for Ryder Cup selection. However, the Americans are benefiting from a loophole. The US team is run by the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour. Any US player who has paid their PGA of America membership fees is eligible. It is for this reason that five-time major champion Brooks Koepka has become available for selection. That said, the US will be without several of Koepka’s fellow LIV Golfers, including two-time major champion Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, who has an impressive Ryder Cup record, Bryson DeChambeau, and young talents like Talor Gooch and Matthew Wolff.

European Captain Luke Donald cannot select players from the breakaway tour. The DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) is responsible for the European Ryder Cup team, making players like Sergio García, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, and Paul Casey among others, who resigned their European Tour membership unavailable for selection. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1995 that none of those four names will appear on the European team sheet. Arguably, these are players whose best days are behind them, but it does mean that Europe will be without their considerable Ryder Cup experience.

When in Rome

Before we analyse the gladiators who will be taking part, we will look at the amphitheatre selected for the 44th renewal of this event: the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome. US Captain Zach Johnson has seen plenty of Ryder Cup venues and noted the undulating nature of this course in the Eternal City, saying: “Marco Simone will be a very difficult test for all 24 players. It’s probably the most demanding physically of any Cup course I’ve ever seen that I’ve been a part of.”

Named after the castle which bears the same name, and which is believed to date back to the year 1000, this year’s Ryder Cup host course was completed in 1989, but was significantly remodelled for the Ryder Cup. In 2018 this work was undertaken by European Golf Design and Tom Fazio II, whose father designed the original layout. The course is very different from its pre-2018 setup with new holes added and others switched in direction — only the 6th hole remains unaffected by the alterations.

At 7,268 yards in length, the par 71 layout features four par 3s, 11 par 4s, and three par 5s. We have limited evidence to go on, but it looks like the sort of track where long, straight driving will win the day.

There are few tee shots to match that of teeing off on the 1st Tee of a Ryder Cup match, and that pressure will be amplified by the opening 445-yard hole, with a bunker strategically placed on the left and two more sand traps awaiting errant tee shots on the right. Discretion might be the better part of valour on the 302-yard par 4 5th. A lay-up short of the lake will be the play for most of the players but, like the classic 10th hole at The Belfry — which played a pivotal role in many a Ryder Cup match — there is a substantial reward for players who can complete the 290-yard carry. Distance isn’t a problem on the 525-yard par 4 eighth hole but accuracy is at a premium, with water in play again and the fairway is narrow at points

The back nine starts with a bang and arguably the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club’s most formidable hole. There is only limited data to analyse since the course redesign but at this year’s Italian Open, the field secured 42 birdies but suffered 144 scores of a bogey or worse at this hole. Numbers 14 and 15 have also been among the redesigned track’s tougher tests. There is a relatively safe play on the par 4 303-yard 16th, a short tee shot of 200 yards. For those more adventurous souls, there is the possibility of a long shot off the tee with a pond very much in play down the right. The 17th is a par 3 surrounded by fescue rough and a small green. From one of the shortest holes on the course to the longest. At 597 yards the par 5 closing hole does at least offer a fairly generous fairway target. Things get tougher from there with water on the left and a bunker on the right.

The Europeans will have more experience of these tests as many have played in the past three renewals of the Italian Open which have been held at the Marco Simone. Nine of the US team’s 12 players took part in a 36-hole scouting mission to play the course. Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, and Xander Schauffele are the only ones who will see it for the first time in Ryder Cup week.

30 years of hurt

In 1993, Bill Clinton had just entered the White House, the World Wide Web was released into the public domain, and the year also marked the last win for the United States in a Ryder Cup on European soil. For America, the three decades since then have yet to see them return across the Atlantic with Samuel Ryder’s cup in their carry-on luggage. Played six, lost six. A one-point loss at Valderrama, in 1997, was the closest they have come over that period.

Although the European team weren’t too badly affected by the defections to the LIV Tour, one impact of the breakaway tour was the loss of the man who was originally lined up as captain, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson. Former world number one Luke Donald stepped into the breach as European skipper.

Both teams are composed of players who booked their spot via their position on the US or European Points List, qualified via their standing on the World Points List, or received one of the six captain’s picks. This format has changed over the years — back in the mid to late Nineties both captains had only two wildcard picks, and there have been somewhat unsatisfactory situations where one skipper had four selections and the other only two. At least we now have a level playing field.

Donald selected Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Sepp Straka, Nicolai Højgaard, and Ludvig Åberg. These six selections will join automatic qualifiers Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, and Robert MacIntyre. Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, Spain’s Rahm, and Scotland’s MacIntyre made the team via the European Points List, where points are awarded for DP World Tour events over the qualification period. McIlroy and Rahm would also have won a place via the World Points List, and this was how Hovland, Fitzpatrick, and Hatton earned their spots.

O brother, where art thou?

As discussed, course form on the Marco Simone track is in short supply, as it hasn’t been used for many events since it was heavily modified to host the Ryder Cup. Many observers were therefore surprised by the exclusion of Poland’s Adrian Meronk, the man who won this year’s Italian Open title on the Ryder Cup course. The Pole hadn’t been far from earning an automatic spot either, placing fifth on the European Points List (higher than any of the players Donald did select) and 11th on the World Points List, which was higher than either Højgaard or Åberg. With his first five picks made, it came down to a straight choice between Åberg and Meronk, and Donald opted for the Swede who recently won the European Masters title. One Højgaard will be travelling to Italy but his twin, Rasmus, missed out having been thought to have been in contention. 22-year-old Nicolai Højgaard was the youngest player to receive a captain’s pick since 1987 when José María Olazábal received a wildcard.

Twice a major champion, Zach Johnson has been chosen as the US captain. He had an even greater choice of potential picks, with major winners likely to miss out on a place in his twelve-man team. Four of his picks already have at least one major title on their CV, while the remaining pair are among the best players yet to win one of Golf’s signature events.

Doubting Thomas

Brooks Koepka’s availability made him a certainty for one of the six wildcard selections. Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, and Justin Thomas have 12 major titles between them, but there have been doubts raised about Thomas’ recent form. The Kentucky native missed five of seven cuts between the Memorial Tournament in June and July’s 3M Open. Though yet to finish better than a tie for 20th in a major, Sam Burns finished tied-ninth in the final FedEx Cup standings while Rickie Fowler has enjoyed a renaissance since reuniting with former coach Butch Harmon. Cameron Young missed out on a Ryder Cup debut despite a season which saw him contend in both The Masters and the Open Championship. Johnson decided he could manage without Keegan Bradley’s Ryder Cup experience or the first-class putting of Denny McCarthy. Tony Finau has finally discovered how to get over the line in Golf tournaments, but his form perhaps deserted him at the wrong time and one of the few American players to emerge from their last foray onto European soil with any credit misses out. Will Zalatoris and Tiger Woods are both recovering from operations which has made them unavailable.

The 12 players looking to regain the trophy for Europe are headed by Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Viktor Hovland. It will be McIlroy’s seventh Ryder Cup, though his record has been mixed, with 12 wins, 12 losses, and four halves from his 28 matches played. There’s certainly no arguing with the Ulsterman’s current form figures of T7/T7/T9/2/T7/1/T6/T3/4/4/T16/T7 dating back to the PGA Championship. As always with McIlroy, everything is down to his putting. Ranked second in Strokes Gained: Total, and in the top 15 in all the other Strokes Gained categories, the four-time major winner is only 65th in SG: Putting. If his putter heats up this week, he will be at the forefront of the European charge.

Rahm added a second major to his collection when he secured a coveted Green Jacket at The Masters in April. The Spaniard closed with three rounds in the 60s at the BMW PGA Championship in a fourth-place effort. Sixth in the Strokes Gained: Total standings last season, the reigning Masters champion has been less impressive on and around the greens. He finished 37th in SG: Putting and occupied 69th place in SG: Around-the-Green. In Sergio García’s absence, Donald will need to find a new partner for Rahmbo, as the Spanish pair were one of the few bright spots for Team Europe in Wisconsin two years ago, as Rahm moved his Ryder Cup record to 4-3-1.

To the Viktor, the spoils

And when I say spoils, I mean the $18M FedEx Cup bonus that was pocketed by Norway’s Viktor Hovland. He secured wins in both the BMW Championship and the season finale, the Tour Championship. At the BMW, Hovland became only the second European player (after Rory McIlroy) in the past 40 years to shoot a 61, or lower, in the final round of a PGA Tour event. Having failed to break the top 10 in his first 11 major appearances, 2023 confirmed his turnaround in form in Golf’s signature events with a tied-seventh effort at Augusta, a tie for second in the PGA Championship, a 19th-place effort in the US Open and a tie for thirteenth at Hoylake. Ranked in the top 10 in three Strokes Gained categories last season, the Norwegian’s Achilles heel has long been his chipping. However, he improved his Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green to 83rd in 2022-23, which represents a big leap forward. Hovland will be hoping he can turn around his Ryder Cup fortunes too, as his only appearance two years ago saw him tie two and lose three of his five matches.

Next come two Englishmen, 2022 US Open Champion, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton, who ranked seventh in Strokes Gained: Total on the PGA Tour in the season just finished. The former has been in solid form, with four consecutive top-20 finishes, but Fitzpatrick is 0-5 across his two previous appearances in Golf’s biggest team event. It’s his iron play that has let him down in recent months, as he ranked 110th in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green. Hatton has also appeared twice in the Ryder Cup, with a 2-4-1 record. Four rounds in the 60s saw the man from High Wycombe place tied second at Wentworth last time out, following a missed cut in the Irish Open. Finishing seventh on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting attests to this being Hatton’s strongest suit.

The final automatic place in Donald’s lineup went to Robert MacIntyre. This summer, the Scotsman came close to being the first player from north of the border since Colin Montgomerie in 1999 to win the Scottish Open title. Despite being touched off by Rory McIlroy at The Renaissance Club, a string of strong performances between March and August secured a Ryder Cup debut for the man from Oban. His form has tailed off slightly over his past two outings, with a tied-55th finish in the European Masters and a share of 45th in the BMW PGA Championship.

Donald hoping for a Lowry masterpiece

Shane Lowry’s mid-season form left a little to be desired, as the Irishman has seen his world ranking drop to 34th. In his past 18 events on the PGA Tour, Lowry has just one top-10 finish to his name. However, Donald will be hoping that a tie for third at the K Club and a tied-18th effort in the BMW PGA Championship are signs of a return to the form that saw the Irishman record top-20 efforts in the season’s first three majors. Tee-to-green this exceptional iron player ranked in the top 30 in all the Strokes Gained categories in 2022-23 but it’s with the flat stick that he needs to improve, having ranked 116th in Strokes Gained: Putting, if he is to improve his 1-2-0 Ryder Cup record.

Tommy Fleetwood’s partnership with Francesco Molinari — which came to be known as Moliwood — was a boon for Europe in the 2018 Ryder Cup. The best friends won all four pairs matches — including two by a 5&4 scoreline — to underpin Europe’s success. The Italian is absent from this year’s event — but will be one of Donald’s vice-captains — so Fleetwood will require a different partner. Fleetwood has produced a run of six consecutive top-25 finishes in recent months and finished sixth last time out in the BMW PGA Championship when let down by a closing 72. Tied-fifth in Strokes Gained: Total on the PGA Tour last season, the Southport native has a game with no real weakness, evinced by a top 30 ranking in all the Strokes Gained categories. His Ryder Cup record stands at 4-2-2 heading into the contest at Marco Simone.

Fleetwood’s fellow Englishman, Justin Rose owns the best Ryder Cup record of any of the European team. He enters his sixth appearance in the biennial event with a 13-8-2 mark. After missing the cut in the Scottish Open and the Open Championship, the former Olympic champion finished in a tie for 36th at Wentworth. His problems have been in terms of driving, as the former US Open champion ranked 107th on the PGA Tour in the Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee category in the recently completed season.

Sepp Straka’s meteoric rise in 2023 sees him become the second Austrian — after Bernd Wiesberger — to make the European team. Now up as high as 22nd in the world rankings, in July, Straka landed his second PGA Tour title — a victory in the John Deere Classic — and backed that up with a career-best major finish, with a tie for second at Hoylake. A tied-10th effort at Wentworth suggests this Ryder Cup debutant is still in good heart. Iron play is the man from Vienna’s strong suit, and he finished 21st in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green last year. It’s his chipping that sometimes lets him down as he sits 157th on the PGA Tour in SG: Around-the-Green.

Also making their Ryder Cup bows will be Scandinavians Nicolai Højgaard and Ludvig Åberg, Højgaard hasn’t made the winner’s enclosure in 2023 but he has posted six top-six finishes across the PGA and DP World Tour combined. He does possess some strong course form, thanks to his tied-fifth effort in this year’s Italian Open. His game has been in good order with a third-place effort in the Czech Masters and a tied-fifth finish in the European Masters, and it was only an opening-round 76 which derailed his challenge at Wentworth, where he finished in a tie for 64th.

Åberg has long been touted as the next big thing. Formerly the world’s leading amateur, he won back-to-back Big 12 Men’s Championships on the American Collegiate circuit, including an eight-stroke victory in his defence of the title. He has made a smooth transition to the pro ranks, winning his maiden professional title at Crans-sur-Sierre and finishing tied-10th at Wentworth last time out. On debutant Åberg, his captain gushed: “I played with him in Detroit and was blown away by his game”.

So much for the home challenge, what about the men who will look to take the trophy back across the Atlantic with them?

Backing up what he did in 2022 the following year was always going to be a tall order for Scottie Scheffler but the world number one has given it a good go. You have to go back to August 2022 for the last time the New Jersey native missed the cut in a tournament. Since then, 25 Stroke play tournaments have seen Scheffler post two wins, and an incredible 13 other top-five efforts, No surprise then that he ranks first in Strokes Gained: Total, SG: Tee-to-Green, SG: Off-the-Tee, and SG: Approach the Green. The fifth-best player on the PGA Tour around the green, his only weakness is with the flat stick, as 150 players finished the season ahead of him in the Strokes Gained: Putting category. Scheffler was just on the cusp of this rise when picked for the last Ryder Cup, which saw him win two and halve one of his three matches. Ominously for Europe, the 27-year-old is a different proposition these days.

Cantlay — a man not to be opposed on the Exchanges?

Practice partners, close friends off the course, and next to each other in the world rankings, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele both knew some time ago that they would be playing at the end of September. Cantlay recorded eight top-five finishes in the 2022-23 season without a victory. He contended in The Masters before shooting a Round Four 75 and made the cut in all four majors. After finishing tied for 15th in the BMW Championship, four rounds in the 60s at East Lake was good enough for fifth in the season-ending Tour Championship. A man with no obvious weakness, he ranked in the top 60 in all the main Strokes Gained categories and was third in SG: Total, SG: Off-the-Tee, and SG: Tee-to-Green on the PGA Tour in the recently completed season. One of three members of the US team who didn’t go on the scouting mission to Marco Simone, the Long Beach native won three and halved one of his four matches two years ago.

The most mispronounced of golfers — it’s pronounced “zan-der shaw-flea” — Cantlay’s fellow Californian has had a similar season. No wins but six top-five efforts have seen Schauffele reach number six in the world rankings. He continued to display metronomic consistency in his major performances and his form figures for the last seven of Golf’s signature events read T13/T14/T15/T10/T18/T10/T17. The San Diego native found only Viktor Hovland too good when finishing second in the Tour Championship, where he closed with an excellent 62. Third in Strokes Gained: Total, and fourth in putting, it’s his chipping that remains the only slight deficiency in his game, as he ranked 86th in SG: Around the Green in 2022-23. He too opted not to join the team on the scouting mission and will be seeing the course in Rome for the first time.

Clark becomes Superman

The remaining three automatic places all went to rookies. Rookies? Some rookies — the US Open Champion, the Champion Golfer of the Year at Hoylake, and one of the game’s most highly touted young players. Although he hadn’t finished better than tied 75th in a major prior to the US Open, Wyndham Clark’s win at the LA Country Club was less surprising when you look at his advanced metrics. Twelfth in Strokes Gained: Total, Clark’s worst ranking across the main Strokes Gained categories was his 66th in SG: Off-the-Tee. The world number 10 had recorded four top-10 finishes in eight events before winning his national championship, including a win in the Wells Fargo. He rounded off a fine campaign when finishing third in the Tour Championship.

Brian Harman made light of the pressure of sleeping on the lead of a major championship as he triumphed in the Open at Royal Liverpool. After a disappointing start to 2023, with eight missed cuts in 12 events from the AmEx onwards, the Georgia native was clearly rounding into form prior to Hoylake with tied-second, tied-ninth, and tied-twelfth efforts in his three events prior to the season’s final major. Four rounds in the 60s in the BMW Championship confirmed his well-being, though he could only place 23rd at East Lake. The world number nine’s putting remains an asset, as he ranked 21st on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting. His iron play was somewhat less impressive as he sits just outside the tour’s top 100 for SG: Approach-the-Green.

Now seventh in the world rankings, Max Homa enters the week in fine form. He followed a tied-12th effort in the Scottish Open with a tie for tenth at Hoylake. He placed tied-6th, tied-fifth, and tied-ninth in the FedEx Cup playoff events and started the new wraparound season with a share of seventh place in the Fortinet Championship. In the top 50 across all six of the major Strokes Gained categories, the man based in Scottsdale, Arizona placed sixth in Strokes Gained: Putting and ninth in SG: Total. He may be new to the Ryder Cup, but a four-from-four record in the 2022 Presidents Cup suggests Team Golf agrees with him.

Aces among the wildcards

Johnson’s six wildcard picks have played 58 Ryder Cup sessions between them. Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth’s form has been mixed in recent months. Having narrowly missed out on the RBC Heritage title in a playoff, he missed the cut in the Wells Fargo. A solid tied-29th in the PGA Championship was followed by failing to make the weekend at Colonial. He bounced back with a tie for fifth in The Memorial but then missed two cuts in a row. A week later he finished tied for 23rd at Royal Liverpool and managed a share of sixth in the St. Jude Championship. He subsequently ended the BMW Championship equal 34th and was 27th in the Tour Championship. The Texas native didn’t take part in the American team’s scouting mission to the course so that he could attend the birth of his second child. His stats were solid if unspectacular last year — he failed to make the top 20 in any of the six major Strokes Gained categories but an 80th place in Strokes Gained: Putting was his lowest ranking. The US player with the most Ryder Cup matches under his belt, Spieth brings an 8-7-3 record into this year’s event.

Though yet to finish better than a tie for 20th in a major, Sam Burns finished tied-ninth in the final FedEx Cup standings. Rickie Fowler was languishing at 173rd in the world rankings at one point last year but since reuniting with former coach, Butch Harmon, there has been a distinct uptick in Fowler’s form. A missed cut at the US PGA aside, Fowler has made every cut dating back to mid-October last year.

Spieth’s friend since childhood, Justin Thomas was always likely to be the most controversial pick. Since his aforementioned loss of form over the summer he has posted a tied-12th place finish in the Wyndham Championship and finished fifth in the Fortinet Championship, suggesting his form may be on the turn. He missed the cut in three of the four majors and failed to break 70 in four rounds at the US PGA. Neat and tidy around the greens, the University of Alabama alumni has struggled on them, ranking 129th in Strokes Gained: Putting. The man ranked 24th in the world, has a strong Ryder Cup record with six wins, two losses, and a draw from nine matches played.

Koepka selection Brooks no argument

Brooks Koepka’s major pedigree is phenomenal. In winning this year’s PGA Championship, the 33-year-old became only the seventh man to claim five majors before the age of 34. The list of the others resembles a Mount Rushmore of the game: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, and Tiger Woods. The Florida native’s past 35 starts in majors have seen him record 18 top-10 finishes, including top-five efforts in the four majors that took place in 2019. The only member of the LIV Tour taking part, he was the winner on the breakaway tour’s stop in Orlando. A veteran of three previous Ryder Cups, the world number 17 has a 6-5-1 record in Golf’s most prestigious team event.

Twice a major winner, Collin Morikawa’s recent form has been somewhat inconsistent. Tied for 14th in his national championship, a week later he missed the cut in the Travelers Championship. The following week he was only denied victory in the Rocket Mortgage Classic in a playoff, but he followed that with two rounds of 73 to miss the cut in the Open. Things have improved with T13/T25/T6 form figures in the FedEx Cup playoffs which included an opening 61 at East Lake. The world number 19 remains a fantastic iron player and finished second in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green. It was on and around the greens that he struggled, finishing 88th in SG: Around-the-Green and 114th in SG: Putting. The man from Las Vegas was unbeaten on his Ryder Cup debut two years ago, with three wins and a tie.

The fourth-youngest player to have represented the United States at a Ryder Cup, when he made his debut in the 2010 renewal — Rickie Fowler is the only player on this year’s American team with a losing record. In 15 appearances, he has won three times, suffered seven defeats, and halved five games. Given where he was a year or so ago, the former Oklahoma State alumni must have doubted he’d ever get the opportunity to face Europe again. Claiming the title in the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July ended Fowler’s four-year wait for a PGA Tour title. Now back to 25th in the world rankings, he finished the 2022-23 season 11th in Strokes Gained: Total, and a respectable 68th place in SG: Off-the-Tee was the worst of his Strokes Gained numbers. It’s just been one poor round per event that has curtailed his progress since the last major. A second-round 74 at Southwind was bookended by scores of 70, 67, and 68, while six rounds in the sixties accompanied a 73 in both the BMW Championship and Tour Championship.

A player many observers expected to break his major maiden in 2023, in truth Sam Burns never looked like troubling the judge in any of Golf’s signature events. A tie for 29th at Augusta, and a share of 32nd in the US Open were joined by two major missed cuts. The Louisiana native was certainly prolific in the most recent PGA Tour season, playing 26 events. A sixth place in the Valspar and a tie for the same position at Colonial were his best performances. A boss of the moss, Burns ranked ninth in Strokes Gained: Putting. However, the Ryder Cup debutant didn’t give himself as many looks at birdie as he would have liked when ranking 122nd in SG: Approach the Green.

So those are the dozen gladiators from each side looking to take Rome by storm. But one of the key tasks of the two non-playing captains is putting the right combinations together for the sixteen pairs matches over the first two days. Presuming neither captain is going to give us such a clear hint as to his plans as Nick Faldo did in 2008, can we decipher who might be partnered with whom over the weekend?

For the European team, with players from different, disparate countries, many a previous captain has paired up players from the same nation. Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal flew the flag for Spain. When Ballesteros wasn’t in contention for selection a few years later, Olazábal was partnered with compatriot Miguel Ángel Jiménez in the 1999 Four-balls. One of Europe’s few bright spots in Wisconsin was the pairing of Jon Rahm and Sergio García two years ago. Englishmen Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood were paired together throughout the first two days in 1997 as were the Scottish duo of Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie two years later. Who better to see Sweden’s Niclas Fasth through his 2002 Ryder Cup debut than fellow Swede Jesper Parnevik?

Golf is an individual sport. Teamwork is anathema to some who play the game. Therefore, putting together players who get on well is a plus — or it’s at least advisable to avoid combining players who actively despise one another. The Moliwood partnership of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood reaped rich rewards for Europe in France four years ago, and it was no surprise when friends — and players from within the same management company — Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood — were regularly sent out as a pairing. It’s hard to imagine anyone else who could have helped Clarke through the emotions of 2006, other than Westwood. At the very least Messrs Donald and Johnson will seek to avoid partnering players who don’t get along, no matter how good they may be as individuals (please see Woods and Mickelson).

Then of course there is simply the tendency to fall back on what has worked in the past. Tried and tested combinations that have survived the white heat of battle in Golf’s most emotionally charged event may well see the light of day again.

BMW road trip revs up the European challenge

Donald took the opportunity afforded to him by all 12 Euro stars turning out to play in the BMW PGA Championship earlier this month to put his players out in the same three-balls, to work on some chemistry. Donald and four of his five vice-captains also played in the event.

Two years ago, McIlroy and Hovland were mooted as a possible pairing, and the duo played two rounds together at the BMW PGA alongside Hovland’s fellow Scandinavian Åberg. An alternative combination would see McIlroy and Shane Lowry join forces. Speaking of their relationship, the Ulsterman commented: “I would say (his relationship with Lowry) very close early on, not-so-close in the middle, and closer than ever now.” The two both have homes in Florida and were paired together — unsuccessfully as it turns out — in a Four-ball two years ago.

Fellow Englishmen Fitzpatrick and Rose were partnered together at Wentworth, alongside MacIntyre. Perhaps Rose’s experience will be used to help the Scotsman through his Ryder Cup debut. Tuesday’s practice groups also saw this trio grouped together.

A pair of fiery characters, perhaps Rahm and Hatton may be sent out as a pairing. They were in the same Wentworth two-ball — alongside Højgaard, — formed a Four-ball in Wisconsin, and played Tuesday’s practice round together. With the Moliwood pairing no longer an option, it was interesting to see Fleetwood and Lowry grouped together at Wentworth — with Straka completing the three-ball — and the pair played as part of a four-man group on Tuesday.

It’s more likely that those without Ryder Cup experience will have the slightly easier introduction of Four-balls, where at least they play their own golf ball around the course and can rely on their partner, rather than the alternate shot of Foursomes. Åberg in particular looks tailor-made (if you’ll excuse the Golfing pun) for the Four-ball format.

Five star

Things are perhaps slightly easier for Donald’s opposite number Zach Johnson. Schauffele and Cantlay have played five Foursomes matches in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. They have won all five. The duo won the 2022 Zurich Classic as a team — the PGA Tour’s only pairs event. Best friends off the course, they won both their Foursomes matches together two years ago, including a 5&3 hammering of McIlroy and Poulter. Critics have regularly panned Cantlay for his slow play — Patrick Can-delay would be more appropriate — so finding a partner who is happy to take things at a slower pace is important. It will be a major surprise if Johnson doesn’t go to the well once more with this duo.

Friends reunited

Friends since childhood, Spieth and Thomas were paired together in both Foursomes sessions in Wisconsin and could well get another outing or two in Italy. The duo has won eight of their ten Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup Foursomes/Four-balls games, and are likely to get the opportunity to add to that record in Italy.

It’s hard to know who to pair with Scottie Scheffler — a bit like what gift do you buy for someone who has everything? Given the only thing missing from Scheffler’s game is consistency on the greens, putting him with a putting expert would seem to make sense. Tuesday’s practice partner, Sam Burns would fit the bill in this regard, and the pair played three of the four Presidents Cup pairs matches together, and were alongside one another in Tuesday’s sighter of Marco Simone. Morikawa and Homa have paired up in the Zurich Classic, and they were part of the same ‘pod’ in Tuesday’s practice. so their captain may look to reprise that combination. Morikawa formed a strong pairing with Dustin Johnson in 2021, so perhaps in DJ’s absence, the other Johnson might put Morikawa with Dustin’s close friend Brooks Koepka. Homa and Clark have warmed up with Foursomes practice in their home town of Scottsdale and may be rolled out as a pairing.

Again the US team’s Ryder Cup rookies — Clark, Harman, Homa, and Burns— are likely to see more action in the Four-balls than the Foursomes

So how do the teams stack up? At almost every Ryder Cup renewal man-for-man the US team looks superior, with Europe heavily reliant on one or two Euro stars and their greater familiarity with the Foursomes and Four-balls formats. The average world ranking among the United States team is 12.92. The challengers from across the Atlantic have a combined 15 major titles to their name, while Europe can muster nine. The European dozen has an average world ranking of 29.25. That said, Europe contains three of the top four players in the rankings and is likely to lean heavily on that trio, and Match play is very different from the Stroke play events that define those rankings. Both teams feature four rookies who will be getting their first taste of this unique event.

US numbers don’t add up in Foursomes

Despite the advantages that the Americans would seem to possess, paradoxically, Europe, with players drawn from across the continent, has enjoyed the best of it in the Foursomes and Four-ball play which demands effective teamwork. Since 1979, Europe has won 43% of the Foursomes and Four-balls sessions, with the US winning 35% of the pairs sessions, with the remaining sessions finishing tied. This has usually left Europe with the upper hand going into the dozen Singles matches. Between 1983 and 1993 the US had failed to take the lead into the Singles matches in any Ryder Cup.

The US has been the more powerful Singles lineup claiming 62% of the sessions featuring individual matches, with Europe winning 38%.

Each session has been tightly fought since the Ryder Cup became Europe against the United States. Only the victorious 2006 European team has managed a clean sweep of all five sessions. That said, the final score hasn’t always been that close. Only in 1989 have Europe and the US played out a tie and seven of the past nine renewals saw the victor triumph by at least a five-point margin.

The polls struggling to split blue and red

With all these factors accounted for, a few weeks ago the Americans were solid favourites to win the Ryder Cup. However, there has been a market move for Europe and, at the time of writing, Luke Donald’s men are priced at Evens to win the trophy outright early on Sunday evening, with the United States at 11/10, while a repeat of 1989’s tie can be backed at 11/1. Perhaps punters believe that the Americans could be undercooked, with only three of their number having played competitive Golf this month. Maybe they feel home advantage will be decisive. While the comforts of playing on home turf don’t convey as much of an advantage in Golf as in other sports, the hosts can set the course up to their liking, and the home team has won seven of the past eight Ryder Cups. As holders, the Americans are 8/11 to be taking the trophy back with them across the Atlantic, a feat that can be achieved with either a win or a tie.

Before most Ryder Cups there are some dissenting voices: does the event still have a place in the Golfing calendar, given all the millions of dollars washing around in other events? Will the US just prove too strong for Europe? Well, this event has made believers of players right at the top of the world rankings. Former world number one David Duval had described the biennial event as an “exhibition match” at the start of 1999. But, swept along by the emotion of winning his Singles match in that year’s Ryder Cup his celebrations upon beating Jesper Parnevik suggested he’d had a change of heart. Likewise, Rory McIlroy said: “Going into my first Ryder Cup (in 2010), I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. I still thought it was a team event that really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. I was more concerned about individual titles and all that.” Now preparing for his seventh Ryder Cup appearance, McIlroy too, has changed his tune, stating of this year’s renewal: “I’ve been excited for this since the last day in Hazeltine, when we were not the ones spraying champagne for a change,” he declared. “I really love being part of the process.”

Gladiators ready

That process begins again on Friday. Nobody was involved in more Ryder Cups than the late Peter Alliss, who played in, and commentated on them over several decades. The “voice of Golf” said: “It would be very easy to drool with sentimentality over the Ryder Cup. But, at the end of the day, it is simply two teams trying to knock seven bells out of each other, in the nicest possible way.” And what better venue for that battle than a Roman amphitheatre? The stage in Guidonia is set. The Italian town is twinned with Kawasaki, in Japan, and the Florida city of Cape Canaveral, and this weekend’s full-throttle action will deliver Golf that is out of this world. The Ryder Cup is an event like no other.

As usual, Seve was right.