Ryder Cup: Tuesday Recap
Why foursomes first? Plus, more on Marco's rough approach, extensive and enlightening Quotables, R.I.P. Michael Bonallack, This, That and Reads.
Jordan and Annie Spieth did not actually time their second child’s birth to arrive before the Ryder Cup!
Captain Donald dares to suggest the numbers did not favor a Justin Thomas pick!
Rory holed out a wedge and drove a par 4 with a 5-wood!
Sepp Straka is really from Georgia and could be a Task Force plant!
Europe is already winning!
I kid the crumbseekers looking for something to pass the time before their next order of carbonara.
But in our defense, everyone knows from past Cups that innocuous-at-the-time early week details sometimes reveal fissures in the vaunted team bonding and data-driven scripting.
On Wednesday we’ll get an answer to Harman’s lone wolf range setup after he speaks to the press. But don’t get your hopes up. He was likely either (A) paying homage to old Roman flanking tactics, (B) thought it’d be fun to turn the Champion Golfer of the Year’s back to the Europeans as an intimidation ploy, or, (C) did not want to grove some bad habits because of a crosswind and having a lefthanded swing. Or, all of the above.
Meanwhile, Spieth answered questions in far more interesting fashion than most during his Tuesday press session, as did the normally-dry Tommy Fleetwood, who sure seems primed to rekindle his epic 2018 Ryder Cup week.
All of that are addressed in today’s roundup, including a pretty rationale for Europe’s riskiest decision (so far) this week...
Captain Donald switched up the session order by kicking off Friday and Saturday play with foursomes (alternate shot). Given Europe’s run of six straight victories on home soil, it’s reasonable to ask why he would change anything. I happen to think the morning foursomes move is brilliant for a few simple reasons:
The Americans come in as the rustier team and starting the day with the most difficult format may further expose the month off some players have enjoyed.
America has captured just three points in the last two foursomes sessions on European soil and just 9.5 points to Europe’s 22.5 points in the last four Ryder Cups.
The European team is composed of several fast players while Team USA is loaded with turtles. Translation: the blue and yellow may enjoy a better rhythm to their days by starting with a faster format before the slog that is four-ball play.
Asked Tuesday why he switched up the format, Donald pointed to the analytics (without denigrating the opponent).
“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. We feel like we are just slightly stronger statistically in foursomes to four-balls.”
Donald also said a fast start—in terms of points and not pace of play—influenced his thinking.
“You want to get off to an early lead,” he said. “It was decided amongst myself and the vice captains that that was the best way to go, to open with foursomes, and simple as that, really. I think we have an opportunity to send out four very strong pairings and hopefully grab an early lead.”
Quotable, Europe Edition
Luke Donald on the USA selection of Justin Thomas. “We certainly, between myself and Edoardo and the vice captains, we kept track of all their stats, including the U.S., and they certainly could have gone a different way in terms of statistics. But Justin Thomas has played two Ryder Cups, and obviously they feel like, despite some inconsistent play, which he would say he had, that he brings a lot to the team room. Again, Zach obviously knows what he's doing.”
Donald on playing all 12 players before Sunday singles. “That is the plan.”
Donald on Sepp Straka of Austria and Athens (GA). “He might have an American accent and lives in Georgia, but there's a few of us that live in America and a few of us that are married to American girls. It's just the way it is. We are all Team Europe this week.”
Sepp Straka on the rough. “It's very thick, and especially out of the fairways, the blades are really thick and it's very different than anything you see almost anywhere. The ball comes out pretty slow most of the time, and so yeah, you definitely want to spend a lot of time especially around the greens, getting the feel right, and kind of, you know, preparing for that.”
Straka on favorite holes, starting with the the 302 par 4 fifth shortened for the matches. “I think it's a really cool reachable par four. The finishing stretch is great. 16, 17, 18 is great. Three incredible holes. That's probably my favorite stretch on the course.”
Tommy Fleetwood, asked if new leaders need to replace the missing stalwarts of yesteryear. “I don't think anybody really has to step up in particular or talk about it or take it upon themselves to do anything different. I think it's just a natural cycle of what happens in those teams and the Ryder Cups. We still have a couple of current legends in the Ryder Cup in Justin and Rory, and a few of us that are hoping to follow in their footsteps and make our own legacy over the next era of Ryder Cups.”
Fleetwood on the rough’s impact on aggressive driving. “There's a lot of doglegs on the golf course, and I think it's easy to try and be very aggressive or find yourself being aggressive, and I don't think you're not going to get away with it every shot. So I don't think the course lends itself to that very much. It's not going to give you many favors and it's not going to give you much luck. But it's just a demanding tee-to-green course, it really is.”
Fleetwood on friend and short game guru Phil Kenyon also working with USA’s Scottie Scheffler. “Phil is there, supporting them in their careers. Playing a team event this week, I would never wish poorly on anybody, and I'm glad that Phil has the opportunity to work with someone like Scottie and help him along in his career. Hopefully [Scheffler’s] putting takes another week to really get hot.”
Viktor Hovland on his improved game since the last Ryder Cup. “Even if I don't have my game or I don't hit it as well as I would have liked, I still feel like I can win or get up-and-down from a terrible spot. It's not like, oh, I have to be in the perfect spot to have a chance to win the match. There's a belief and a confidence that I can get myself out of any situation, and I think that's a huge turnaround from last time.”
Hovland on improving his wedge play around the greens after working with Joe Mayo. “He basically just explained the physics of why I didn't have a great short game before. It wasn't because I wasn't talented enough or I didn't have the, quote/unquote, ‘hands to do it.’ I was essentially just getting a little too shallow into the ball and getting way behind it.”
Hovland on the motivation for his team. “We want to win for Europe. Obviously we want to beat the Americans. We enjoy that. But it's not because we hate the other team. It's because we love Europe and we want to do well for the people that support us.”
Jon Rahm on rookie and surprise pick Ludvig Aberg. “He's good. He's quiet, like I think everybody is in the first Ryder Cup. I didn't say much either. In his case, he hasn't even been a pro for that long, so a lot of us haven't had a chance to create that relationship with him. But it's pretty incredible what he's done right out of the gates, having a great Sunday in Crans and a really strong performance in Wentworth. Clearly he has the potential.”
Rahm on Europe’s streak of winning six straight at home. “It's a big deal. You want to stretch the streak as much as possible. Hopefully we can get into the 30s of years of Europe being undefeated here at home.”
Shane Lowry on criticism of his selection. “I think even with my year that I've had, statistically it's better than some of the people that you were talking about that should have been picked ahead of me. Statistics don't lie. That's the reason I'm here.”
Lowry on a possible pairing with Rory again. “We'd love to go out there at some stage. We probably feel like we didn't do ourselves justice in four-balls at Whistling Straits. We'd like the opportunity to go at it again and try and win a point this time. But I honestly don't know what's going to happen on Friday or Saturday yet. We haven't been told.”
Ludvig Aberg on making the team. “If someone would have told me a couple months ago that I would be here playing a Ryder Cup, probably wouldn't believe them. It's really cool and it's a dream come true for me to be here.”
Aberg on the key to his success. “It's all about staying in the moment. I feel like if you get too stuck in the past, it's going to affect you. If you get too stuck in the future, it's also going to affect you. I do feel like a lot of the good players, they have a tendency to stay in the moment quite well.”
Aberg on his preferred shot shape. “I like to keep it a pretty neutral flight. I don't like to curve it too much. Sometimes you get too stuck on one side where you draw it too much or fade it too much…Hitting the center of the face was a big thing for me. Hit it hard but keep it in the center of the face, and then take it from there.”
Quotable, USA Edition
Zach Johnson on the weather. “The forecast is pretty consistent. Does not feel like a normal weather Ryder Cup week at all. But it's spectacular, so thank you, Italy.”
Johnson on how the team is approaching the week despite a wide mix of predictions on who might win. “Our backs are against the wall, and that's the way we are going to approach it.”
Jordan Spieth on America’s drought overseas. “We've been made very aware of how long it's been….over half the team wasn't born yet the last time we won over here. It's not something we really care about, to be honest.”
Spieth on the timing of his second child with wife Annie. “I guess we were safe but I don't really want to get personal. I was not prioritizing my child's birth to happen at a certain time because of the Ryder Cup, but we knew it was going to happen because of certain reasons. But yeah, everything has gone really well and they are both doing great, and our son has been awesome. It's been great.”
Patrick Cantlay on what his reaction would be to fans getting on him about his pace of play. “It would be great. I don't mind. Any of that stuff I think is just in this format, really, makes it what it is. I mean, you want people to care and try get under your skin in this tournament, so I'm looking forward to it.”
Cantlay on his later arrival and lack of experience at Marco Simone. “I had a personal matter, conflict on the schedule. And yeah, we went out last night, even though we traveled and got here in the morning on the red-eye, Xander and I took a cart and went and saw the front nine. Not too different than any other week when you haven't seen a golf course, and given that we have an extra day this week, it starts on Friday, we should be good to go.”
Cantlay on Marco Simone the golf course after his cart tour. “It's definitely the best course I've ever played in Italy, hands down.”
Xander Schauffele on how moods impact his golf. “I've said before in the media room that I don't play my best golf when I'm angry. I usually play my best golf when I'm having fun. I think just the week, being with the team and having the captains around and everyone sort of being on the same page, is really fun and very different.”
Schauffele on Marco Simone. “I'm not sure if there's a course on the PGA Tour that plays to this sort of style. The greens are really pure. There's a couple forced sort of lay-ups on certain holes, unless you're trying to hit driver into an eight- to ten-yard window. There's a few guys that may try it on our team, but I'm not sure. Doesn't seem to be like anything I've played.”
Justin Thomas on his state of mind. “I'm just in a good head space, and that's -- for me what's most important. I've said it in other times in the media. I've won golf tournaments without my best stuff, and I take a lot of pride in that and I have taken a lot of pride in that in the past. I did not feel like I could win golf tournaments this past year with the state that I was in mentally.”
Thomas on whether he’s “keeping receipts” tracking his naysayers. “I definitely haven't kept the receipts. I don't feel like there is any good that can come from that. After I was picked from the team, doesn't matter what it is, especially when it comes to people and stuff online, everybody's got an opinion and theirs is right and everybody else's is wrong, at least that's what generally seems to be. So for that exact reason, I stayed away from social media and stayed away from stuff online because I knew nothing good was going to come from it.”