The U.S. Ryder Cup team is headed to Italy early, but this is no site-seeing trip.
U.S. Captain Zach Johnson and his 12-man squad flew to Rome on Friday to get an early look at Marco Simone Golf Club, site of the Ryder Cup, which begins Sept. 29, and experiment with possible pairings that could play a role in retaining the Cup and winning on foreign soil for the first time in 30 years.
“I think that trip right there is going to be crucial. That’s a strong word, but I think just key for a number of reasons,” Johnson said during a press conference at the PGA Championship in May. “Certainly chemistry and camaraderie and all that good stuff inside the locker room. But more than that, we all know that – those that have played – we all know Monday through Thursday is pretty trying. There’s a lot that goes on. And if we have any weather issues or just things get really congested and difficult and tight, they’ve already experienced it, so they don’t have to push themselves immensely.”
The U.S. Ryder Cup team won’t make the same mistake twice. At the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, Europe held a distinct advantage as Le Golf National had been the site of the DP World Tour’s French Open for years. Then U.S. Captain Jim Furyk led a trip there ahead of the British Open in July for potential team members, but only Justin Thomas competed in the French Open that year and he ended up with the best record among the Americans, who were routed 17½ to 10½.
“They had us over a barrel in Paris because we didn’t have enough practice rounds at (Le Golf National),” Davis Love III, former two-time captain and a vice captain in 2018 and again this year, told Golfweek in 2021. “The other team knew the golf course way better.”
That could be the case again but to a lesser extent: the last three Italian Opens have been held at Marco Simone. Love noted that Tiger Woods helped shape Team USA’s approach to preparing for a course.
“He said, ‘Let’s talk to the head pro, the best caddie, the top players among the members,’” Love said. “We learned a lot of why he beat us all those years.”
It’s not unusual for a U.S. Ryder Cup captain to host a reconnaissance session, but it has become an official part of the U.S. formula. Love recalled Dave Stockton suggesting he play Kiawah in 1991 in case he picked him – he didn’t. In 1995, Lanny Wadkins organized a side trip to play Ryder Cup site Oak Hill during the week of the B.C. Open. Other…