Ryder Cup Rome – Battle in the Boot

The biennial Ryder Cup matches begin this Friday as the event comes to Rome, Italy for the very first time.

Though the US team still retains the overall lead in this series 27-14 (with two ties), the European team has not lost a match on their home turf in the past thirty years!

The last time the Ryder Cup was held in Europe was five years ago this week in 2018.  The matches were played on a golf course near Paris, France.

As usual, the US team was favored.  The American squad featured eleven of the top 17 golfers in the world at that time.  Long-bombers like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Tony Finau planned to overpower the golf course with their 320+ yard drives.

The Americans forgot one thing in 2018.  The Ryder Cup is a team competition.  When your partner bombs his golf ball a long way but into the deep rough or the trees or a water hazard off the tee, your team will lose a lot of holes.  The four long-driving American golfers totaled just two points over three days of competition in 2018 as the Europeans soundly drubbed the US team 17 ½ to 10 ½.

The final tally wasn’t as close as the score indicated.  A better title might have been, “A Ryder Cup Butt Kicking in Paris.”

The Euros won Friday’s Day One team events 5-3.

The Euros won Saturday’s Day Two team events 5-3. (Notice a pattern yet?)

The Euros won Sunday’s Day Three individual matches by a 7.5 to 4.5 count.

Game, set, and match!

Tiger Woods went 0-4 during the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris.   Phil Mickelson went 0-2.  Despite their greatness in individual tournaments, these two World Golf Hall-of-Famers have become, sadly, America’s biggest Ryder Cup “Hall-of-Shamers” by holding the top two spots for most losses by US Ryder Cup golfers.

Mickelson has racked-up 22 Ryder Cups losses to go with his 18 wins to post a 45% winning percentage.  Tiger Woods’ losing record now stands at 21 losses vs. just 13 wins (a surprisingly weak 38% winning percentage).

Arnold Palmer (22 wins vs. 8 losses and 2 ties) remains the “King” atop the all-time US Ryder Cup players.  Sergio Garcia of Spain is now the top overall winner in this event.  The European golfer has a sterling record of 25 wins vs. 13 losses and 7 ties (a 63% winning percentage).

The winner will pass the chemistry exam!

Team chemistry on the golf course is vital to success during the first two days of Ryder Cup competition.  The first two days of competition are worth a total of 16 points.  On the final day, the golfers are finally matched against each other one-on-one and compete for 12 points.

The pairing of poorly matched partners has been a recurring problem for the American squad in several recent Ryder Cup events.

Look no further than the pairing of Tiger and Phil as teammates during the 2004 Ryder Cup matches held outside of Detroit.  US Captain Hal Sutton figured that the world’s top two players would send an intimidating message to the European team that week.   Instead, the top two golfers struggled to hit the fairway and put their partner in trouble regularly.  The European team obliterated the US squad 18 ½ points to 9 ½.

The Ryder Cup matches are a true team competition.  A pairing of golfers with complementary skills and personalities usually results in your best chance to win during the first two days.

Italy’s first time to host the Ryder Cup!

This year’s golf course (the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club) just outside of Rome is relatively short by PGA Tour standards.  The par-71 layout is “only” 7,181 yards in length.  The rough, though, has been grown sufficiently gnarly to cause wayward (aka “American”) tee shots a much more difficult second shot into the greens.

The golf course is set-up exactly the way the European golf squad desires this week.  Statistically speaking, the team leading coming off the 13th green has an 84% chance of winning their match.  It won’t be easy to come back.  The 509-yard 14th hole and the 479 yard 15th at Marco Simone are perhaps the two most difficult par-4 holes on the entire golf course.

If any US team survives long enough to play #18 with a chance to win or tie, this 600-yard hole has a wider-than-average fairway which will tempt golfers to take a chance for the green on their second shot.  However, there is a well-positioned lake on the left side of the green.  Don’t forget about the thousands of cheering Italian golf fans surrounding the green, too.  Pressure, anyone?

The American team

Led by US Captain Zach Johnson, the American squad features the following automatic qualifiers:

Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark, Brian Harmon, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, and Xander Schauffele.

Zach Johnson selected the following six golfers to be his “Captain’s Picks”:

Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Collin Morikawa, Sam Burns, and Justin Thomas.

The European team

Led by Captain Luke Donald, the Euros feature the following automatic qualifiers:

John Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Tyrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Robert MacIntyre.

Captains’ picks for the Euro team include these six golfers:

Tommy Fleetwood, Sepp Straka, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry, Nicolai Hojgaard, and Ludvig Aberg.

On paper, the American squad has more experience.  However, the Europeans have won an incredible six straight times on their side of the Atlantic Ocean.   With a rowdy crowd of Italian fans cheering on the European team, the US team must stay close until the final day to have a chance to win this year’s event.

Television Coverage

Since the matches will be played in Italy, the “live” coverage will occur during the overnight hours in the United States.  NBC holds the television rights and will spread the coverage around on both the USA Network and NBC with Golf Channel providing hours of pre-game and post-game coverage, too.

Friday – USA Network – 12:30AM – 11:00 AM (CDT)

Saturday – USA Network – 12:30AM – 2:00 AM

Saturday – NBC – 2:00 AM – 11:00AM

Sunday – NBC – 4:30AM – 12 Noon

Prediction – “Fairways and Greens”

This golf course is set-up to tempt the long-driving American golfers to take out their drivers and challenge several of the par-4 and par-5 holes.  If you watch the video flyovers of each hole at Marco Simone on the Ryder Cup website, players missing the fairways on this golf course will lose an average of .4 shots per hole.  If you miss the fairway and find either the deep rough or numerous bunkers at Marco Simone, you will find plenty of trouble.

To win, the US team must play this golf course more like their team captain, Zach Johnson.  He was notoriously conservatively off the tee and allowed the other golfers to make the big mistakes during his two major championship victories.

Will the US team do the same thing and finally beat the Europeans at their own game at this year’s Ryder Cup matches in Italy?

Recent history says that they won’t.  It should be fun to watch – if you can wake up early enough starting this Friday!