Ryder Cup Confidential: Storylines to watch, predicting MVPs, who wins and more
The 44th Ryder Cup kicks off Friday at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside of Rome, with the Americans hoping to pick up where they left off after their 19-9 blowout victory at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in 2021. Problem is, the U.S. hasn’t won on European soil since 1993. So let’s start there: what is holding the Americans back overseas?
Ryan Barath, senior equipment editor (@RDSBarath): I think the one thing holding back the American team the most is the 13th man for Europe — momentum. For some reason at venues outside of the U.S. there is an unmeasurable intangible that seems to click for the Euros and gets under the skin of the Americans. Similar to the recent Solheim Cup, the U.S. team started out with a dominating performance but the Europeans clawed their way back on Saturday and Sunday as the pressure ramped up, and I think we could see something similar in Rome.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): Pick your sports cliche. Home cooking. Team cohesiveness. Playing with a chip on your shoulder as the underdog, etc. Maybe those were factors. But more than anything, I think we are dealing with the law of small numbers and the way we draw big conclusions from limited sample sizes. In the early decades of the Cup, when the Americans won everything on both sides of the Atlantic, there really were big differences between the teams. You could have run simulations of them and the U.S. would have continued dominating. In more recent times, not so much. Many of the matches have come down to little more than a coin toss. We try to assign meaning to this in retrospect but my guess is that if you ran 10,000 simulations of these teams, the record would be pretty close to even.
Sean Zak, senior writer (@Sean_Zak): They need more chances! It’s been six Cups over here, which is one helluva losing streak. But it’s not like they play home and away every year. I say this a bit in jest, but the Americans are basically due to win one over here, out of sheer randomness. Unfortunately for them, they’ll have to wait four more years until it happens.
James Colgan, news and features editor (@jamescolgan26): The thing holding the Americans back has been … everything. Bad play, unfriendly setup, bad breaks, weak roster construction, poor pairings. The good news is, they seem to have rectified a handful of those issues in the last 24 months, and they certainly don’t have the bravado they did in ‘19. The bad news is that the Euros have all the things they did in ‘19, and lots more top-end talent. They’re a legit threat.
Marco Simone Golf and Country Club will make its debut as Ryder Cup host. What do fans watching at home need to know about this year’s venue?
Barath: I think the mix of drivable par-4s is going to be the key to success for whatever team comes out on top. Although the Americans are thought of as the longer team, the stats show that head-to-head driving distance and accuracy is almost a complete wash. Plus, with Hovland and Rory leading the way, those drivable holes could make all the difference in tight matches.
Sens: I recommend the carbonara. Beyond that, like a lot of Ryder Cup venues, this one isn’t going to be all that memorable from a design standpoint. The pins will be set up for birdies and match-play drama, and the winner will be the team that putts the best.
Zak: Fans watching at home will love the 16th hole. It’s a downhill, drivable par-4 that every single player is going to go for. Essentially, it’s the same length as one of those brutish par-3s we saw at LACC during this summer’s U.S. Open. Which, on one hand, will prove to you that par is irrelevant. But this week it’ll mostly just offer some fantastic shot-making during the waning moments of these matches.
Colgan: Marco Simone is not essentially European in any way that matters, meaning the tall, wispy grass and brutish winds will not be the factor they usually are. To me, the course honestly looks like it’d be just as comfortable in about 27 U.S. states. The rough will be thick, and the fairways will be tight, but it’s also a Ryder Cup in Europe — if you weren’t expecting that, what were you thinking?
Can the Americans break the away-game slump? Will Justin Thomas find his former form? Those are just a couple of the talkers we’re monitoring. What’s your No. 1 storyline for Ryder Cup week?
Barath: There is no doubt that Justin Thomas’ game will be a focus right from the start of play, but I think the real story lurking in the background is about Scottie Scheffler’s putting. He has not had a great year with the flatstick, and when the chips are down and his opponent is making him finish out a testy three-footer, how Scottie holds up could determine the outcome of more than one match.
Sens: Brooks Koepka, the man cast as one of the villains for his LIV defection, runs the tables and is anointed the new Captain America.
Zak: It has to be Thomas. From the sounds of it — more interview scoops from Fred Couples — Thomas might be set up to play five matches this week. That’s one helluva risky strategy. If Thomas can earn two points this week, his reputation will be cleared. If he ends up with anything short of that, it might become a tricky story for him and captain Zach Johnson to handle.
Colgan: There are bigger stories, but I have a sneaky suspicion a whole lotta golf fans are gonna leave this week knowing Ludvig Aberg’s name. Really excited to see the Swedish Sensation get to work.
Let’s get into some predictions. Who is your MVP pick for each team?
Barath: Viktor Hovland for the Euros and, as an out of the blue pick for the Americans, I’m going with Brian Harman.
Sens: Jon Rahm. As Carlota Ciganda reminded us this past week, the Spaniards just seem born for this fiery team match play stuff. And Koepka for the Americans, because the irony of a LIV defector carrying the team just seems too rich for it not to happen.
Zak: Justin Thomas earns 3.5 points, playing all five matches, and Ludvig Aberg earns 3.5 as well, but from four matches.
Colgan: Rahm. These are the weeks he lives for, and his swagger on the 16th on Wednesday afternoon was … noticeable.
Two years ago, Scottie Scheffler was ranked 21st in the world and hadn’t won on Tour. Yet in his Ryder Cup debut he won 2.5 points at Whistling Straits and took down Jon Rahm in singles. Eight Ryder Cup rookies will suit up this week (four from each side). Who is your pick to turn heads from that group?
Barath: To go along with my prediction of MVP, I think Brian Harman is going to show a lot of people just how great of a player he can be during match play. His game pairs up well with a lot of other players on his team and his putting is rock solid. If he’s hitting a lot of approaches into greens first, it will put a lot of pressure on opponents to match, and that could lead to mistakes.
Sens: Ludvig Aberg. Big-hitting Swede. Former top-ranked amateur who shined in college and has been tearing it up since turning pro. He’s been great on every stage he’s stepped on. Look for more of the same.
Zak: Sens is right. This course is set up to show off his skillset much more than, say, Matt Fitzpatrick. The Euros will win and they’ll count Aberg as an eight-time Ryder Cupper before he even finishes the week.
Drumroll, please. Who wins the 2023 Ryder Cup and why?
Barath: The streak will continue and the Europeans will take back the Ryder Cup come Sunday.
Sens: The bookies have this close for good reason. You could make the argument that the Europeans are stronger in the top seven or eight. But I’d say the U.S. has more depth and that will be the difference in Sunday singles. The Americans win this in a photo finish.
Zak: Europe wins 15-13 in the closest Ryder Cup in more than a decade. Matt Fitzpatrick holes the winning putt. We have a lot to write about.
Colgan: USA in a 14 tie. Americans retain, Euros rage about “antiquated” nature of ties; the golf world wins in an absolute slugfest.