Ryder Cup Monday: Captain's Speak, Monty Surfaces And Some Weird Props
It was a quiet opening day with the Captain's (sadly) circumventing controversy. Plus, some twists surface on expected Friday and Saturday duos, Monty's delivers the comic relief and a bleak prop bet.
We’ve long heard how the course really doesn’t matter at a Ryder Cup. That view is usually wheeled out as a European excuse for selecting the highest bidder no matter how bad the layout appears. But as most of us with a few grey hairs know, the design and setup can make a huge difference in who wins or whether the matches are any fun to watch.
The setup, a unique element of the Ryder Cup given efforts to create a bias, dictates lineups, moods and play.
A design can quickly turn some players off, excite others and throw in a few half-par holes (as Marco Simone has), and the architect can provide an above average stage. Some sort of sound combination of those two prevailing forces, with a few manspats and heroic fits of shotmaking thrown in, are likely to determine how fun the matches will be to watch.
So as the march to Friday’s opening session commences, we begin the biennial hunt through player and Captain comments to see who may have the upper hand this week. I’m already on the record in believing the Marco Simone’s design offers a little something for every shot shape and distance. Such neutrality would be fantastic since it almost guarantees a close contest, particularly with what seems like a surprising amount of diverse playing styles on each team.
Monday we got an early answer about the design and course setup from Zach Johnson. He said his team really liked the course after the recent practice session, while confirming social posts highlighting plans for thick rough. It seems Europe is moving ahead with a similar template to 2018 at Le Golf Nationale, where harvested hay became the defining trait of those matches. As players begin to speak in press conferences, we should be able to pick up more signs of who is embracing the old school U.S. Open setup approach and who is not really digging what the DP World Tour team has cooked up to help get the Cup back.
I have a hunch the silly rough setup may backfire on Europe this year since several of their best players love hitting driver and seem to gain momentum—or mojo as Johnny would say—from using the big stick. And Team USA has more than its share of players who are not bothered by a plodding, patient form of golf.
Again, we’ll see in the comments when the guys step up to the mic.
Speaking of press conferences, Captain’s Johnson and Donald made their first of daily appearances and, well, these two will never be fondly remembered as raconteurs or stand-up worthy. Humor and bold takes will be at a premium all week, if not totally missing from their sessions. And that’s why the big news Monday consisted of understanding why Brooks Koepka did not fly with the team (coming from the LIV Chicago event and still arrived before Team USA’s charter from Atlanta), and why Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau received zero pick consideration (membership issues after their LIV defections, as we knew).
Nonetheless, we’ll kick off with highlights from the opening press session before beginning to understand which duos are likely to be playing the first four sessions of foursomes and four-balls. Then Monty—yes, that Monty—brings the intentional, sponcon comic relief to kick off Ryder Cup week, as do the prop bet makers (with a dark twist).
Before we get there, a head’s up on the latest McKellar pod previewing the Cup with Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. Also, I’ll be on the DP World Tour’s Betting Tips pod today and we’ll open up the mailbag, so if you have questions for me or Ben Coley, throw them in the comments below.
Best Of The Boring Captain’s Press Conference
These two probably won’t be commissioned to do some TikTok’s on the history of Rome even though it’s what the kids (apparently…ish want). I’ve tried trimmed all the Mutual Admiration Society stuff to squeeze what I can out of Monday’s first press conference featuring USA’s Zach Johnson and Europe’s Luke Donald. I may or may not interrupt with some seasoning salt. And if you’re looking for a nice afternoon siesta, you can experience it all here on YouTube.
Zach Johnson on the trip to Rome. “The journey in the last 24 hours was really, really easy…The guys are ready -- well, I shouldn't say that, it's partially a lie. They are exhausted but they will be ready, but they are ready to compete.”
That’s why you stay at a Waldorf, besides the obvious sponsor tie-in because it sure isn’t a quick commute to the course.
Johnson on whether how being a captain is far more difficult than being a player. “A player, you do this day-in, day-out. This is a new experience for both of us to be able to manage a team, to be able to manage different characters. To come up with ideas that you think will help your team; it's been a labor of love in a way but a really fun one. I've tried to enjoy the journey as much as possible.”
Luke Donald on the Solheim Cup outcome. “Certainly a lot of the guys were talking about it. A lot of the guys were posting stuff on their social, and you know, I think that's only good inspiration for our team going forward for this week.”
I’d run through a wall for this guy with inspiring words like that!
Johnson on Europe seeming to show more passion in prior matches. “Well, if you're comparing routine, as you said, clinical, pragmatic work to passion, I think we -- I think Team USA has incorporated both. I'm confident saying that.”
Phil was passionate in that 2014 presser and PReed sure was too when talking to the New York Times after 2018!
Donald, asked about starting out with foursomes play instead of four-ball, as been prevalent in recent European Ryder Cups. “Pretty simple really. We feel like as a team, statistically we are stronger in foursomes within our team than we would be in four-balls. Why not get off to a fast start? That's it.”
Johnson on his job this week. “My role is to give them access to anything and everything they need, whether it's personnel, or you know, specifically a gym or recovery, their bed, whatever it may be. That's my role to kind of remove the clutter so they can go be who they are.”
So if their mattress is too soft and their pillow too fluffy you’re on it? These Captains!.
Donald on Jon Rahm lamenting Sergio Garcia’s omission from Ryder Cup consideration. “He resigned his situation five months ago, and once that happened, he was ineligible for me to even consider him. I know there was some stories about him trying to pay off some fines and stuff. Obviously we know what the DP World Tour rules are, and once you resign, can you not reapply for membership until the following year. Again, those things will be decided in the future. Right now I'm just concentrating on my 12 guys that I have this week.”
Johnson on his team’s bond. “These guys want to be around each other. They are getting their tissue work done and they are all -- they have got music going with each other. They are in the ice plunge, not together, but they are doing all that they need to do so that they can be ready come Friday. That's all I ask.”
Glad we got that ice plunge seating chart clarification.
Johnson on using analytics in decision-making. “We have had a group of individuals help us navigate the numbers and stats and data, if you will, since 2014 or 2015. It's just one element of how we organize our system so yeah, you chew on it and you kind of ingest it, and you kind of figure out whether it's worthy of some of the numbers, and I guess you'd say results are worthy of implementing. But it's not the only -- we deal in the objective and subjective.”
Luke Donald on picking Ludvig Aberg. “We just kept an eye on him. It was a long-shot, it really was. He was going to be in college through the beginning of June. He was obviously doing some amazing things…Then he turned pro and we just kept an eye on him. He had some great results. I played with him in Detroit. He was 9-under through 16 holes, which was pretty impressive when he knew I was watching him. He seemed to be very unfazed. He didn't finish that weekend off well but he's obviously young and a little bit raw.”
And he’ll be Viktor’s new buddy if all goes well.
Johnson on Tiger’s role. “Tiger will not be joining us in Italy. He's got a lot on his plate.”
Do tell! Naybe’s he’s too busy trying to ne-gosh a new PE deal free of the bonesaw one?
Johnson on the impact of 2014’s loss at Gleneagles. “I applaud The PGA of America for allowing myself and some of my peers before me to have direct ownership in how we navigate Team USA. I think it's in a better place, and I think it's all because of that collaboration between us players, The PGA of America and some of the other powers that really know what's going on because we are passionate about this very Cup. You learn from things. You learn from defeats probably more so than wins.”
And you’ve had plenty of those to choose from over in Europe since 1993.
Johnson on the course setup. “The course, the grass, is extremely healthy and very pure. The greens are fantastic. I mean, I'm very confident in saying that…The rough is penal. It's very difficult. But we've experienced that before.”
Yes, last time when it was laying over and capable of stopping a train in its tracks.
Perhaps sensing this session could be fed to insomniacs as precisely the digestivo they need to finally get some rest, Golf Digest’s Shane Ryan ended the session with a lively query:
Q. So because we are in Rome, obviously this is the site of a famous historical empire that never lost at home until some serious internal divisions weakened them and then the barbarians were at the gates and they took over. This may be a jet-lag question; I desperately need sleep but Luke, do you worry that you're something like the last Roman emperor? And Zach, do you ever think of yourself as a Visigoth dressed and ready bear furs ready to attack?
LUKE DONALD: Well, history is always important. We know that, and hopefully the beginning of the history of the Roman Empire will be kind to European golf this week.
ZACH JOHNSON: Wow.
LUKE DONALD: Keep my answer short.
ZACH JOHNSON: I do love history and I do appreciate certainly what this country is about, and specifically this city.
I mean, Luke and I had the pleasure, I would even say distinct honor of walking the streets of Rome in Europe a year ago and actually hitting a ball by the Colosseum and the ruins and whatnot. I don't take that for granted, whether you're talking empires, biblical importance, whatever it may be, I mean, this history, the history of Rome, I mean, it's the eternal city.
All that being said, this is golf. I mean, this is sport. I'm going to keep it pretty simple. That's the way I operate. I'm going to let whatever drama you're trying to get into, I'm going to let that happen inside the ropes with our golf balls. Cheers.