GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — In the eternal city steeped in history, at a Ryder Cup packed with nearly a century of golf, European captain Luke Donald figures his best bet lies with modern-day statistical data.
As captain of the home team, Donald has the final say in how Marco Simone is set up and the order of play. Dating to 1997, Europe has started the Ryder Cup with fourballs.
This year, Donald is going with foursomes, the format toughest for scoring because players alternate shots. Coincidentally, the last time Europe began a home Ryder Cup with foursomes was in 1993. That was also the last time Europe lost at home.
“Pretty simple, really,” Donald said Monday. “We feel like as a team, statistically we are stronger in foursomes within our team than we would be in fourballs. Why not get off to a fast start? That’s it.”
And that was about all there was to say in an opening news conference of the captains, a day of light practice, rest for the Americans who flew overnight and high hopes for both teams.
Among the unusual sights was Scottie Scheffler working with putting guru Phil Kenyon. Scheffler’s putting has come under intense scrutiny over the last four months.
Eleven of the Americans gathered in Atlanta on Sunday evening for the overnight flight. The other was Brooks Koepka, the lone player from Saudi-funded LIV Golf who was playing in a tournament in the Chicago suburbs (he tied for 24th, eight shots behind Bryson DeChambeau).
“He actually beat us here,” U.S. captain Zach Johnson said. “But for him to fly from Chicago to Atlanta, and for us to wait to him, we would have gotten in a lot later. I don’t think it was even feasible. So he met us here.”
Johnson was quick to point out Koepka was part of the U.S. scouting trip to Marco Simone earlier in the month.
The disruption of LIV Golf is evident at the Ryder Cup, though it’s nothing new. Americans could earn their way onto the team based on their performance in the majors — Koepka won the PGA Championship and was runner-up in the Masters, enough to finish a fraction outside automatic qualifying and to make him an obvious captain’s pick.
DeChambeau won his second LIV event and said, “Given the way I played this week, I could have definitely racked up some points for Team USA.”
More disappointing to DeChambeau was not even getting a call from Johnson to tell him he was not getting picked. Johnson said he never considered him, only those from the top 25 in the final Ryder Cup standings.
DeChambeau missed the cut in the Masters, finished six back in the PGA Championship, 11 shots behind in the U.S. Open and 20 shots behind in the British Open. That put him at No. 54 in the Ryder Cup standings.
“It would have been nice to at least just have a call,” DeChambeau said at LIV Golf-Chicago on Sunday. “There’s numerous people that I think Zach should have called out here, and we didn’t get that.”
It’s a little more complicated with Europe because the European tour is in charge of the team. Players who joined LIV were suspended and fined, and most of them resigned. That includes Sergio Garcia, who has scored the most points in Ryder Cup history.
He also is close friends with Donald — they were 5-1 as Ryder Cup partners — and recently offered to pay all his fines and play however many tournaments were required to become eligible for the Ryder Cup. Garcia has never missed being part of Team Europe dating to 1999.
“He was ineligible for me to even consider him,” Donald said. “We know what the DP World Tour rules are, and once you resign, you cannot reapply for membership until the following year. … Right now, I’m just concentrating on my 12 guys that I have this week.
“My sole focus is dealing with those guys over the next six days and giving them the best opportunity for success.”
Also missing from the Ryder Cup to no surprise is Tiger Woods, who is recovering from ankle surgery. He wasn’t at Whistling Straits in 2021 but was in constant touch through texting, motivational messages to not let up as the U.S. romped to a 19-9 victory. Johnson said he leaned on him in the months leading up to formulating the team.
“He understands that now that our feet are on the ground, it’s probably kind of best that we navigate this ourselves,” Johnson said.
“When it comes to the week of the tournament, if you’re not in on it and inside the team room, inside the ropes, shoulder to shoulder with these guys, it’s not fair to ask him questions,” Johnson said. “He can give us insights — don’t get me wrong. At the same time, I don’t know if that’s proper and I think he would understand completely.”
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