The greatest show in golf gets underway in 18 days’ time when Europe try to win back the Ryder Cup from the USA at Rome’s Marco Simone Golf & Country Club. The Americans were dominant when the two teams last met at Whistling Straits two years ago, recording an emphatic 19-9 victory to wrestle the trophy back off the Europeans.
That was a bitter pill for the visitors to swallow, but Luke Donald is captaining the team on home soil this time round and hopes are high that the misery of 2021 can soon be forgotten and that the 44th edition of the competition will see the cup stay on the east side of the Atlantic.
Zach Johnson took his US team to the eternal city on September 8 for a practice and bonding session as preparations for the adrenaline-pumping matchplay event start to gather pace.
Express Sport take a looks a some of the key talking points from inside the Team USA camp as anticipation begins to grow…
Tiger Woods ‘on call’
A notable absentee from the USA team is Tiger Woods. The legendary former world No 1 may be one of the greatest golfers of all time but injury has ravaged his season and it is difficult to imagine that he will ever appear in another Ryder Cup team again.
However, his love for the tournament is not diminished and Zach Johnson revealed this week that although Woods will not be in Rome, he is still very much in contact with the team.
Johnson told the Associated Press: “Tiger is very much a part of Team USA and has been for years. He is, for lack of a better term, on call with us. He is very much in the know as to what we’re trying to do.
“We’re going to utilize his wisdom and he’s passionate about the Ryder Cup. He wishes he could be here, but it’s just not in the cards for him physically. And that’s fine. I mean, he is with us. He’s just not here physically.”
Woods is said to have been an inspirational figure for the USA during the last Ryder Cup. After the Americans opened up a significant lead on Europe during the Sunday Singles, he sent captain Steve Stricker a text message that said: “Now step on their necks.”
Koepka welcomed back into group
PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka is the only player from the LIV Golf tour to have made it into either side. But it has emerged that the USA’s six automatic Ryder Cup qualifiers demanded that the 33-year-old was included in the team, according to Johnson.
Doubts had been raised about Koepka’s inclusion after he dropped out of the automatic qualification places a week before the deadline. But the likes of world No 1 Scottie Sheffler and Xander Schauffele have welcomed him back into the fold.
Johnson said: “The only thing that was said about Brooks with the guys – specifically the top six that made the team on their own merit – was, ’We want Brooks Koepka to play for Team USA.'”
Three players missing
Not everyone from Team USA was in Italy at the weekend. In fact, Johnson had three key players missing from his ultra-talented squad, with the US skipper citing family commitments as the reason for the absence.
As per Golf Magic, he said: “Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay have family matters that definitely supersede what we’re doing.”
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Stewart Cink shows off incredible calves
Team USA posed for a team photo while they were in Rome, putting on a united front. But the most notable takeaway from the group snap was the size of vice-captain Stewart Cink’s incredible calves.
Boasting legs that appear to be twice as broad as any of the actual team players, it’s fair to say that no one will be messing with the 2009 Open champion in Rome.
Americans like Rome course
Early indicators suggest that the USA team is impressed with the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club course and are looking forward to playing on it.
Johnson said: “The common sentiments that I heard on the golf course was they really liked it, which is awesome, and I knew they would because Marco Simone is very, very good.
“The rough was very thick. That was the other nugget that we talked about a lot. The putting greens were very good, very true, very nice.
“The fairways were awesome. It’s a great test and it’s a really, really good matchplay golf course. So the guys are excited about the competition.”
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