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Ryder Cup puts focus on pure sporting rivalry after bitter feud

Ryder Cup puts focus on pure sporting rivalry after bitter feud
Matt Fitzpatrick of Team Europe plays a shot from a bunker on the eighth hole during a practice round prior to the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on 26 September 2023 in Rome. (Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The 44th staging of the Ryder Cup between Team Europe and Team USA will be played in Italy for the first time, against a backdrop of a golf world divided.

The toxic feud that consumed golf since the last Ryder Cup in 2021 means some familiar faces will be missing when the 44th edition of the contest begins in Rome on Friday. 

Thankfully, fears that the biennial clash between the USA and Europe had been irrevocably damaged by the 2022 exodus to Saudi-backed LIV Golf have been allayed — for now, at least.

If anything, the troubles of the past 18 months have served to raise excitement levels for the three-day duel at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club just outside the ancient city. 

After all the talk of Saudi millions and players turning their back on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour for pots of gold, all that matters when the first ball is struck on Friday will be the pride and passion of a dozen players from each continent battling for a trophy measuring a mere 43cm.

ryder cup donald

Luke Donald, captain of Team Europe, holds the Ryder Cup Trophy on 26 September 2023 during the European team portraits at the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome. (Photo: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)

“The Ryder Cup is pure, pure sport, with all the other stuff kind of taken out. The Ryder Cup will always be above all that stuff,” said England’s Luke Donald, who replaced Henrik Stenson as captain of Team Europe after the Swede joined LIV Golf.

That is not to say it will be all sweetness and light in the first match in Europe since the hosts won in Paris in 2018. 

ryder cup rahm

Jon Rahm looks on as teammate Ludvig Aberg of Team Europe plays a shot from a bunker on the 18th hole on 26 September 2023 during a practice round prior to the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome. (Photo: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images)

Respect between Donald and his US counterpart Zach Johnson is clear, as it is between players on both sides. But there are wounds to heal and historic scores to settle.

Worst defeat 

Europe suffered their worst defeat at Whistling Straits two years ago —  a 19-9 drubbing that left some of their players, including talisman Rory McIlroy, in tears. 

Meanwhile, the high-powered US team is trying to put to bed the idea that the Americans do not really fancy it much on European soil, having not won away for 30 years. 

The Covid-19 pandemic meant the 2020 clash was postponed for a year and hardly any European fans were present at Whistling Straits as Padraig Harrington’s team succumbed meekly in a whooping and hollering mass of stars and stripes.

ryder cup homa

Max Homa of Team United States tees off on the tenth hole during the European team portraits at the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on 26 September 2023 in Rome. (Photo: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

It will be a different story in Rome with about 45,000 fans expected each day, the majority backing Donald’s dozen.

“Having that support, it picks up your energy as a player and you can feed off it,” Donald, who was part of three victorious European teams as a player, said on Monday.

“It was certainly lacking a lot because of Covid two years ago; hopefully that is something that will be in our favour.”

New page

This week’s match feels very much like a new page for Europe. Ryder Cup icons Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are all absent having resigned from the DP World Tour after joining the breakaway LIV Golf. 

The 43-year-old Justin Rose returns after missing out in Whistling Straits while world number two Rory McIlroy, third-ranked Jon Rahm and number four Viktor Hovland will be expected to shoulder a lot of the burden for Europe.

ryder cup rose

Justin Rose of Team Europe tees off on the eighth hole during a practice round on 26 September 2023 before the Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome. (Photo: Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

Donald’s six picks include crowd favourite Tommy Fleetwood and former Open champion Shane Lowry, but all eyes will be on Sweden’s debutant Ludvig Aberg, who only turned pro in June and is the first Ryder Cup player not to have contested a major.

Aberg is one of four European rookies, while Johnson’s team also contains four first-timers, although Brian Harman won the Open at rainy Royal Liverpool in July, Wyndham Clark triumphed at this year’s US Open and Max Homa is the world number seven.

Five-time major winner Brooks Koepka, one of Johnson’s six captain’s picks, is the only player from either side who played LIV Golf.

Others who defected, such as Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson, will presumably be watching from afar, even if a peace of sorts has broken out between the rival organisations in recent months.

Even without those big guns, the US team still looks stronger on paper, with 15 combined majors to Europe’s nine and an average ranking of about 12 compared to Europe’s 30.

But the dynamics of Ryder Cup golf usually mean the form guides can be shredded once battle commences on Friday. DM, Reuters

US Ryder Cup team 

SAM BURNS
Age: 27
World ranking: 20
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: None

Burns brings solid match play experience to Rome having won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play event in March for his fifth career PGA Tour title. 

PATRICK CANTLAY
Age: 31
World ranking: 5
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 1, 3½

Cantlay did not find the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour this year, but possesses a well-rounded game and has been inside the top 10 in the world rankings since June 2021. 

WYNDHAM CLARK
Age: 29
World ranking: 10
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: None

Clark enjoyed a breakout season during which he notched his first PGA Tour win in May followed by his US Open triumph in June at Los Angeles Country Club to become the second player to automatically qualify for the US team. 

RICKIE FOWLER
Age: 34
World ranking: 25
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 4, 5½

Fowler, one of the most experienced members of the US team and also one of the sport’s most popular personalities, snapped a four-year winless drought in July and returns to the Ryder Cup after not making the 2021 squad. 

BRIAN HARMAN
Age: 36
World ranking: 9
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: None

The reigning British Open champion is one of four rookies in the US squad but is no stranger to match play, having played on the winning side of the Walker Cup amateur team competition in 2005 and 2009. 

MAX HOMA
Age: 32
World ranking: 7
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: None

After losing his PGA Tour card twice, Homa has shown he is not one to give up, and will undoubtedly draw on the experience he gained from the 2022 Presidents Cup where he went 4-0-0 on his debut. 

BROOKS KOEPKA
Age: 33
World ranking: 17
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 3, 6½

The only player from LIV Golf competing at this year’s Ryder Cup, Koepka won his third PGA Championship, and fifth major, earlier this year at Oak Hill Country Club.

COLLIN MORIKAWA
Age: 26
World ranking: 19
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 1, 3½

The twice major champion made a stunning Ryder Cup debut in 2021 when he earned the decisive half-point in a runaway victory and became the first US rookie to go 3-0-0 or better in foursomes and fourballs combined since Larry Nelson in 1979.

XANDER SCHAUFFELE
Age: 29
World ranking: 6
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 1, 3

The final automatic qualifier on captain Zach Johnson’s team, Schauffele boasts a well-rounded game and went 3-1-0 as a Ryder Cup rookie in the US team’s 19-9 triumph in 2021. 

SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER
Age: 27
World ranking: 1
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 1, 2½

World number one Scheffler enjoyed one of the more dominant periods in recent history this year, at one point earning seven consecutive top-five finishes. However, his putter has not been anywhere near as sharp as his tee-to-green game. 

JORDAN SPIETH
Age: 30
World ranking: 12
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 4, 9½

Spieth has never won a Ryder Cup singles match but is one of the most experienced members of the US team and has competed in 18 matches since 2014, second only to Europe’s Rory McIlroy (19) over that time. 

JUSTIN THOMAS
Age: 30
World ranking: 24
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 2, 6½

Thomas endured the worst season of his PGA Tour career this year but the winner of two majors still boasts a prodigious match play pedigree and was the US team’s emotional leader at the last two editions of the Ryder Cup. 

Europe Ryder Cup team 

LUDVIG ABERG (Sweden)
Age: 23
World ranking: 80
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: None

Only turned professional in June and won the European Masters this month to virtually assure himself a pick from captain Luke Donald, who describes him as a “generational player”. The first player to play in the Ryder Cup having never contested a major. 

MATT FITZPATRICK (England)
Age: 29
World ranking: 8
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 2, 0

The 2002 US Open champion has a lamentable Ryder Cup record having lost all five matches he contested in two appearances, both in the US. If his putter is hot he should finally deliver. 

TOMMY FLEETWOOD (England)
Age: 32
World ranking: 13
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 2, 5

Hugely popular with European fans, Fleetwood needed a captain’s pick and Donald will hope he can produce the kind of inspirational play that saw him take four points with Francesco Molinari as Europe prevailed in Paris in 2018. 

TYRRELL HATTON (England)
Age: 31
World ranking: 11
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 2, 2½

Seven top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this year ensured Hatton qualified for his third appearance on merit. His feisty nature has mellowed a little, but he will be fired up in Rome. 

NICOLAI HOJGAARD (Denmark)
Age: 22
World ranking: 82
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: None

Back-to-back top-five finishes in the final two events of European Ryder Cup qualification earned him a surprise pick. Won the Italian Open on the Marco Simone course in 2021. 

VIKTOR HOVLAND (Norway)
Age: 26
World ranking: 4
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 1, 1

Played in every session at Whistling Straits and battled hard for two halves in a losing cause. Renowned as a clean ball striker who keeps calm under pressure. Three wins this year and not a single cut missed. 

SHANE LOWRY (Ireland)
Age: 36
World ranking: 34
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 1, 1

The 2019 Open champion has struggled this year with only one top-10 finish and some questioned Donald’s decision to select him. Will be eager to prove the doubters wrong. 

ROBERT MACINTYRE (Scotland)
Age: 27
World ranking: 55
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: None

The left-hander’s consistency earned him the last automatic spot on the Europe team, although he said the battle to do so was “hell”. Won the 2022 Italian Open at Marco Simone. 

RORY MCILROY (Northern Ireland)
Age: 34
World ranking: 2
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 6, 14

If Europe are to regain the trophy much will depend on the four-time major champion, who has become the talisman of the side. Endured more major frustration this year as his nine-year drought continued after a runners-up spot at the US Open and tied for sixth at The Open. 

JON RAHM (Spain)
Age: 28
World ranking: 3
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 2, 4½

Expect roars of “Rahm-bo” across the fairways this week as the big-hitting Spaniard takes the fight to the Americans. The reigning Masters champion has the game to tame the Marco Simone course and should thrive in the soccer-style atmosphere.

JUSTIN ROSE (England)
Age: 43
World ranking: 37
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: 5, 14

The “veteran” of the team, Rose missed the cut at two of the year’s four majors, but will relish pulling on the Europe colours again for the first time since 2018. His impact in the team room will be as vital as his displays on the course. 

SEPP STRAKA (Austria)
Age: 30
World ranking: 22
Previous Ryder Cup appearances/points: None

Picked up two points in the Hero Cup playing for Continental Europe against Britain and Ireland, won the John Deere and was tied for second at The Open. One of the longest hitters in the team, he is the second Austrian to play in the Ryder Cup. DM, team profiles by Reuters

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