Europe captain Luke Donald has made a bold call by choosing foursomes as the format for the opening session of the Ryder Cup on Friday here in Rome. It is an aggressive move; foursomes is far tougher than fourballs, because if you mess up a hole your teammate can’t save you.
I opted for fourballs in the first session when I was captain in 2002, partly because I wanted to settle down players who had been picked on the form of 12 months earlier, only for the 9/11 attacks to delay the match for a year.
Donald, then, is showing a lot of confidence in his team. He’s saying “my guys are ready” and I like it.
Only Luke and the players will know which pairings he has in mind; that side of the Ryder Cup is very cloak and dagger. I never spent any time watching the Americans practice because I wanted to focus completely on my team. If you try to second-guess the US team and you are wrong you can end up looking silly.
For me, the opening session should be about picking your strongest players, trying to get in front and then putting your foot down. But that still leaves a decision about whether to put your best men, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, together or split them up.
My dad used to say “never weaken your strength to strengthen your weak”. If Donald follows that line of thinking we could see McIlroy and Rahm in one pairing and Viktor Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton in another. We have no idea yet but all will become clear when the captains show their hands on Thursday evening.
Ryder Cup roar is an advantage for Europe
Europe haven’t lost a home Ryder Cup match for 30 years, but what’s gone is gone. I think their minds will be more occupied with making amends for the record-breaking thrashing they got from the US at Whistling Straits two years ago.
Playing at home can be a burden because there is extra expectation, but the players can’t be getting into that. It will all be decided by what happens on the course over the next few days, not what went before. Don’t overthink it. It’s a round of golf, so stay in the moment. You can only win your own match.
One advantage for Europe is that they will know when one of their teammates has holed a putt in another match because the roar will be extraordinary. That lifts you and means that you don’t need to worry about looking at the scoreboard.
Three of Donald’s team have won strokeplay tournaments at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, and that is nice to have up your sleeve. While this course is all new for the US team, Hatton, Bob MacIntyre and Nicolai Hojgaard have all come down the stretch here before and won, and that will be fantastic for their confidence this week.
For half of Zach Johnson’s side, this will be not just a new venue but a new experience altogether. On one hand the six US rookies won’t have any scar tissue from previous defeats in Europe, but on the other you don’t know how they will take to the competition: they will either love it or hate it.
The US team has definitely been weakened by the absence of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson as well as Talor Gooch and Lucas Glover. I think that having six captain’s picks also caused some confusion, but Johnson still has a very strong group and they might all play brilliantly.
Solheim Cup shows momentum can change quickly
For all the rivalry between Europe and the US, there is also a lot of respect. Both sides are looking for a great match, so may the best team win and there is absolutely no call for any needle. It’s a bare-knuckle fight; let’s go.
The course is looking fantastic and is set up with very heavy rough in the second cut, about 10 yards off the fairway. It’s designed for the Ryder Cup, with plenty of risk and reward. The atmosphere is sure to be incredible; I am expecting a repeat of Paris five years ago.
In my experience, the days before play starts go by in a flash. It’s so exciting, your time is filled with practice rounds and very enjoyable team dinners, and then all of a sudden it’s Friday and you’re out there competing.
Twelve Ryder Cups as a player, captain and vice-captain taught me never to get ahead of myself, whatever the score, because it can swing in the blink of an eye. Look at the Solheim Cup last week, where Europe produced an extraordinary comeback after losing the first session 4-0 to tie the match and retain the trophy.
Momentum is great but the scoreboard changes very quickly. That’s why you don’t look at it and just listen for the roar.
Sam Torrance OBE is a former Ryder Cup-winning captain and one of Europe’s most successful golfers. Follow him @torrancesam