Ryder Cup: It's time for golfing gladiators to do battle after filmstar-style strolls in Rome

Bob MacIntyre of Team Europe acknowledges the crowd during the opening ceremony for the 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.Bob MacIntyre of Team Europe acknowledges the crowd during the opening ceremony for the 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
Bob MacIntyre of Team Europe acknowledges the crowd during the opening ceremony for the 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
They’ve posed for pictures on the Spanish Steps and walked down Via dei Condotti like film stars touching outstretched hands on their way to La Lanterna, one of Rome’s top restaurants, for a friendly dinner accompanied by wives, girlfriends, captains, vice captains and VIPs.

After all the camaraderie and smiles, though, it’s time for Marco Simone Golf & Country club on the eastern outskirts of the Eternal City to be turned into a golfing version of the Colosseum because, make no mistake, the 44th edition of golf’s biggest and best event is one that both the Americans and Europeans will be prepared to fight like gladiators in a bid to be the last team standing, so to speak.

It’s been well-documented over the past few weeks that the United States last won on European soil in 1993, since when some star-studded teams have either been outplayed or failed to deliver in the biennial match on this side of the Atlantic. History certainly isn’t on the side of Zach Johnson’s team, but, at the same time, that is one of the main driving forces for the ‘Class of ‘23’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As Jordan Spieth pointed out in the tsunami of player interviews earlier in the week, eight of the 12 players flying the Stars and Stripes on this occasion weren’t even born when Tom Watson’s team landed that last victory at The Belfry. In other words, the majority of them aren’t feeling weighed down by what’s happened in the interim at Valderrama, The Belfry, The K Club, Celtic Manor, Gleneagles and, most recently, Le Golf National.

The Americans, of course, go into this encounter as holders of the trophy, which was named after Sam Ryder and first played for in 1927. Straight after a record 19-9 win at Whistling Straits two years ago, they were talking about it being the start of a spell of dominance by Uncle Sam’s boys. That could well be the case, but there’s not quite the same air of confidence any more among those who had been shouting that loudest.

Dustin Johnson, who won five points out of five in Wisconsin, is missing from the visiting team’s ranks, as is Bryson DeChambeau, who was unbeaten on that occasion. In effect, they’ve paid the price for becoming LIV Golf players because, unlike Brooks Koepka, they were unable to accumulate enough points in a qualifying battle from only playing in majors where others were playing week in, week out on the PGA Tour.

The dramatic change in the golfing landscape over the last two years as a direct result of the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit being launched has opened the door for the likes of Brian Harman and Wyndham Clark to secure their debuts in this event. With all due respect, they’re neither Johnson or DeChambeau in many ways, but they’ve both become major winners this year so shouldn’t necessarily be weak links. It could be totally the opposite, in fact, if they’ve brought their putting boots with them.

While circumstances certainly didn’t help - few visiting fans were in attendance due to Covid restrictions being in place at the time - the sore outcome for Europe in the 2021 clash left no one in any doubt that a European era was coming to an end in this head-to-head affair. It wasn’t known then, of course, that LIV Golf would have a hand in it, but this is a Ryder Cup that doesn’t involve Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood or Ian Poulter. Henrik Stenson as well, the Swede initially having been appointed as the European captain before being stripped of the role and replaced by Luke Donald.

On form, only Garcia, the all-time points scorer in the event, could even have come close to being considered for a captain’s pick if he hadn’t been ineligible along with the others, but, even though the LIV lovers will say otherwise, the next three days are all about those actually wearing the European colours in this particular battle and not those in the past, stalwarts as they may have been.

As illustrated by his speech at the opening ceremony, Donald’s captaincy to this point has been both confident and classy. He’s earned the full respect of his big guns, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, and likes the mix of youth - twentysomethings Ludvig Aberg, Nicolai Hojgaard and Bob MacIntyre are all making their debuts - in the home ranks.

It will be down to how those players perform, of course, but Donald has enlisted an intriguing posse of vice captains in his bid to win the trophy back. Jose Maria Olazabal and Thomas Bjorn are both winning captains while Francesco Molinari, who created history as the first player to win five points out of five in 2018, was a no-brainer to join them after he missed out on a playing appearance on home soil. His brother, Edoardo, is involved as well and Nicolas Colsaerts, too, the former bringing a statistical brain to the table while the latter is one of the most popular figures in the European game with a legendary sense of humour.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Heat - it’s been toasty in the Italian capital all week - is an added factor in this contest, as is a physical challenge, with an elevation change of around 150 feet from the lowest point on the seventh to the highest on the 12th green. Home of the Italian Open in recent years, it’s a course that seems ideally suited to a match-play event due mainly to some risk-and-reward holes, including the par-4 16th, which is followed by a tough par 3 then a downhill par 5 to finish.

According to the bookies, it’s too close to call heading into the opening foursomes - the first time that’s been the case for a match in Europe since, well, 1993 - but the majority of those in daily crowds of 55,000 will certainly be echoing Donald’s shout of “Forza Europe!”



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.