(Photo credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports)
The United States has sent a strong contingent of golfers overseas, and the goal is clear: win the country's first Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993.
Amid a backdrop cherished for its history of gladiators and an erstwhile empire, the U.S. Team will do battle with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Team Europe in the 44th Ryder Cup beginning Friday near Rome.
Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, a par-71 course measuring 7,181 yards, will host the three-day contest. Team Europe and captain Luke Donald arranged another challenging test with narrow fairways and penal rough after the U.S. Team had difficulties under similar conditions in 2018 at Le Golf National in Paris.
"I think it presents a challenge to both teams," U.S. captain Zach Johnson said. "I think the beauty of Marco Simone is that it already has a canvas that is really, really good, and so whatever Luke and his team decide to do to it probably only enhances that."
The U.S. Team dominated the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, winning 19-9. It brings back seven players from that roster, including close friends and match play experts Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. Cantlay and Collin Morikawa each won 3.5 points for the Americans in 2021, while Schauffele won three.
"Hopefully it's possible to carry momentum two years out," Cantlay said.
Joining those three for the U.S. are Scottie Scheffler, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, plus four Ryder Cup rookies. Wyndham Clark (U.S. Open) and Brian Harman (Open Championship) won majors this summer, Sam Burns won the PGA Tour's match play event and Max Homa has catapulted to No. 7 in the world rankings.
Faced with that collection of talent, Rahm, the two-time major champ from Spain, insisted Team Europe is the underdog this week.
"We love being underdogs," Rahm told Golf.com. "Especially the way I've been playing lately, I usually see myself pretty high in the odds most of the week so to be in one of those where you're not, it's a nice change of pace."
Rahm and Northern Irishman McIlroy spearhead a group that can no longer rely on Ryder Cup legends Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter, who were not chosen after joining LIV Golf.
Team Europe also sports four rookies and a young roster overall. Rising star Ludvig Aberg of Sweden (23 years old) was a captain's choice thanks to a fast start to his professional career. Robert MacIntyre of Scotland, who qualified on points, and Denmark's Nicolai Hojgaard, a 22-year-old captain's pick, won the Italian Open at Marco Simone in 2021 and 2022.
Rounding out the team are rookie Sepp Straka of Austria; Englishmen Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Justin Rose; Shane Lowry of Ireland; and Norway's Viktor Hovland, who was the hottest golfer on the planet a month ago when he won the PGA Tour's final two playoff legs to claim the FedEx Cup.
On Friday and Saturday, teams of two will be sent out for four four-ball (best-ball) matches and four foursomes (alternate-shot). Sunday will see all 12 players from each side paired up for singles. The first team to 14 1/2 points wins outright, and in the event of a 14-14 tie, the U.S. will retain the cup.
Donald and his vice captains chose to lead off Friday and Saturday mornings with foursomes, considered the more difficult of the two formats.
"It's really just a deep dive into statistics of the team," Donald said. "Within our team, we feel like we have some very strong foursomes pairings, potential pairings. We feel like we are just slightly stronger statistically in foursomes to four-balls. You know, in Ryder Cups, you want to get off to a fast start. You want to get off to an early lead."
For the American TV audience, the first foursome matches Friday and Saturday go out at 1:35 a.m. ET (USA Network, Peacock), with the four-ball matches teeing off at 6:25 ET and on. Saturday's coverage will shift to NBC starting at 3 a.m. ET. Sunday's singles matches begin between 5:35 and 7:47 a.m. ET, all on NBC.
--Field Level Media