Haircuts, Tiger and tie-dye: 6 lingering questions about the Ryder Cup
We have officially arrived at the waiting game portion of the Ryder Cup calendar. There was the months of qualifying, the weeks of captain’s picks angst, each team’s scouting trip to Rome and now, the waiting game. For this week and next, questions persist, as a few American team members compete on the West Coast, and while every European teammate plays at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
While you wait out this section of the calendar, might we first suggest diving into the Solheim Cup, which kicks off next week in the south of Spain. That competition might be even tighter than what we see in Italy. But for the Ryder Cup-inclined, the waiting game is a time of questions, some of which will and won’t get answered over the next 20 days or so. Here are six such questions lingering in the background ahead of the Cup:
How many 5-match horses are there?
Can you imagine telling Jon Rahm he needs to sit a match? During the year of our lord 2023, in which he won the Masters, played better golf than 99.9999% of pro golfers ever have, and surely will waltz to the Player of the Year award on the PGA Tour? That’s the thing — you can’t.
Rahm is one of the European horses whom you can count on playing five matches. Rory McIlroy is, too … probably? He sat for the first time in his RC career during the Saturday afternoon session in 2021. Viktor Hovland is surely a 5-match guy, but after those three are there any guarantees? Likely just Scottie Scheffler on the American side. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, if they win their foursomes match 5&4 on Friday morning, will likely become 5-match horses. But the American depth doesn’t make it obvious.
Having horses is important, but only three players played every match at the 2021 Cup: Dustin Johnson, Rahm and Hovland. Then-Euro captain Padraig Harrington believed it was important to not have many players involved in every session, to help save their energy for the Sunday singles. But, again, are you going to tell Rahm he needs to sit? We could be in store for a Cup that mimics 2018, when six players played every session.
Who will get a haircut?
This is more important than you think, given a good part of Europe’s roster insist on going hatless during this event. But early content from the team practice sessions in Rome show some ‘dos that I could certainly do without. And it makes me wonder if there are any adjustments in the works. Because the Ryder Cup is not too different from weddings. There are three-piece suits, gala gowns, a ceremony, the after-party, cigars, champagne — the list goes on. As a result, there are many, many photos. The kind that live on forever.
Brooks Koepka has clearly gone months without a haircut, and we’ll allow that mostly because he and his wife just welcomed newborn baby Crew to the world. I trust BK will trim the hedges before the massive photoshoot that is the Ryder Cup, if only for the reason that of the few podcasts Koepka has appeared on, one was with his barber. Brooks enjoys his hair.
Sam Burns gets less of a pass. It may not be a full-blown mullet that he’s rocking right now, but it’s certainly mullet-adjacent. And the truth is, we’ve already got enough mullet in pro golf. Here’s hoping Sammy gets it clipped neatly before arriving in Rome.
Will Brooks Koepka play well?
Speaking of Koepka, it is not outrageous to wonder how he’ll play. He made this American team on the back of performances in April and May. We’ll toss in his top 20 at the U.S. Open in June (at a course he didn’t prefer) for good measure. But ever since July started, there have been many more average rounds than great ones. The sample size of performances is small, to be clear, but August Koepka was decidedly worse than world-beating, April Koepka.
So, what does late-September Koepka look like? Probably still pretty good, I’d think. He calls LIV events “tune-ups” for the bigger tournaments, and coincidentally has a LIV event the week prior to the Ryder Cup in Chicago. If that doesn’t go well, we’ll have much more to talk about.
Why the tie-dye?
The uniforms Team USA has made public are, in a word, typical. They are very similar to uniforms of the past — there’s a hoodie, dark blue polos with big stripes and hats with dominant U.S.A. lettering. The white, knit sweater with red and blue bordering stripes has great potential. Especially if worn in a particularly baggy way by swashbuckling shot-maker Scottie Scheffler. (Say that five times fast.) But besides that, the uniforms leave plenty to be desired. And that vibe was only made worse when Zach Johnson debuted a tie-dye hat during his team’s initial visit to Marco Simone.
This ain’t it. It’s just not. Tie-dye is great for summer camp creations and maybe NBA pre-game entrance fits. But the Ryder Cup? The premier event in the entire pro golf world? Where pros and their partners get dolled up in formal attire for opening ceremonies? We don’t need tie-dye. We don’t want tie-dye.
Take one look at the European unis, debuted a few days after the Americans. White on white on white. With some auburn accents, if anything. Simple and clean and classy. Exactly what the Ryder Cup needs. Here’s hoping the tie-dye gets left behind.
Is Tiger in the group chat?
Barring a wild surprise, Tiger Woods will not be at the Ryder Cup this year. He wasn’t at the last one, either. But he was with the American team…digitally. It became clear via Xander Schauffele that Woods was actively communicating with members of the team via text, offering encouragement from his couch in Florida.
“We had a nice message from Tiger last night, and obviously not going to reveal what it said, but Pat and I know,” Schauffele said after another victory with Patrick Cantlay. “We referred to it a few times today, and we knew what we needed to do.”
We’ve seen group chats band Ryder Cup teams together in the past, but is there an American chat that Tiger Woods is getting involved with? One step further, will he be calling in pairing suggestions to captain Zach Johnson?
“He is, for lack of a better term, on call with us,” Johnson said. “He is very much in the know as to what we’re trying to do.”
How long is too long for a gimme?
This is my favorite game that apparently Justin Thomas and Shane Lowry love playing, too. How many feet for a gimme putt is too many feet? Recall that one of the official distinctions handed out at this event is the Nicklaus-Jacklin Award that goes out to a player on each team who best demonstrates sportsmanship and “embodies the spirit of the Ryder Cup.” It was inspired by the famous concession between Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin in 1969, wherein Nicklaus conceded a two-footer to Jacklin on the 17th hole at Royal Birkdale, ensuring the final match would reach the 18th.
For better or worse, the understood — or misunderstood! — length of a gimme putt has become a headline-making machine in recent team competitions. Look no further than the 19-9 beatdown at Whistling Straits, when Thomas, Lowry, and even Bryson DeChambeau all used their putters as measuring devices near the hole after being forced to make short(ish!) putts in 2021. Lowry talked about it afterward, acknowledging the chippiness lingering in the air during tense matches.
“For a start Bryson Dechambeau’s putter shaft is about four feet long so it was definitely not a gimme,” Lowry said. “Justin Thomas did the same thing and then I did the same thing but purely because Justin Thomas did it. They made me hit a putt from literally 18 inches on the 1st so I did the exact same thing as Thomas did just because I was annoyed with the picture I’d seen of him that morning.”
Thomas was involved in similar mocking efforts at the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia, as well as during his singles match at the 2022 Presidents Cup in North Carolina. That’s three-straight team events for J.T.’s antics. Is he playing mind games? Will we get him to finally clarify how long a gimme putt should be? Maybe we’ll get an answer by the end of Rome, but I’m not counting on it.