The captain’s picks have been made, the teams are all set and the countdown to the Ryder Cup, which begins Sept. 29 in Rome at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, has begun in earnest.
In a little more than a week, 12 of the best players from both Europe and the United States will square off in the biennial bash as the Euros look to win the Cup back and continue their dominance at home.
Ahead of the 44th edition of the Ryder Cup, European stalwarts Jon Rahm and Matt Fitzpatrick and European Ryder Cup Captain Luke Donald participated in a wide-ranging Q&A through a partnership with Rolex that covered what makes this event so special to them as well as a primer on the course and more.
Q: After attending the 1997 Ryder Cup in Spain, your whole family took up golf. Is the Ryder Cup an event that allows you to reflect on your successes and golfing career?
JR: I actually spoke to my father recently about this and said: “What would have happened if the 1997 Ryder Cup did not take place in Spain?” That was the sole reason that my father started playing golf so I probably would not have been playing golf myself and do not know where I would be now.
The Ryder Cup event represents a lot for me. It is one of the main reasons why I am where I am today. The 1997 Ryder Cup was the spark that ignited my passion for the game. I cannot quantify or put into words how much it means but it is hugely important for me.
I think the Ryder Cup is also the biggest marketing tool that golf has. It is the biggest event that we have, by far. It is the one time that some of the best players in the world are not playing for themselves and instead come together to create what, on paper, would otherwise be an exhibition. Both teams always fight to the very end because of how much it matters to all of us. It is such a unique competition. Even if your team loses, it is still extremely fun and special to have been a part of it. It is the closest that us golfers will ever feel to what other sportsmen and women experience when playing in sold-out stadiums.
Q: Tell us about your experience playing for Team Europe at the 2018 Ryder Cup. Did your first experience of the unique team competition live up to expectations?
JR: In 2009, I was playing in the European Young Masters which is a nation’s cup in Europe for under 16s where the best two men and the best two women represent their country. When we were playing, I remember walking to the fourth tee, seeing a sign for the 2018 Ryder Cup and saying to myself: “I will be here in 2018.” To actually fulfill that and play for Team Europe at the 2018 Ryder Cup was a very surreal and amazing feeling. I was extremely proud of myself and all the memories of me playing as a little kid came flooding back. It was not my best showing but my performance on Sunday against Tiger Woods was my redemption.
To win that match and ultimately help Team Europe win the 2018 Ryder Cup was very special. It was nerve-wracking playing in my first Ryder Cup but it was much easier for me to confront those challenges when it was held at Whistling Straits in 2021. I was much more accomplished player in 2021. I was the U.S. Open champion and having experienced The Ryder Cup before made it much more comfortable for me.
Q: Did your first experience competing in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine live up to expectations?
MF: It was a difficult one for me to be honest. I wanted to play more than I actually did. Unfortunately, I did not get that chance. On the whole, it was definitely something that I have learned a lot from. It was an experience that allowed me to figure out what I needed to do next time, and identify what worked and what didn’t. In hindsight, I probably was not quite ready for the 2016 Ryder Cup but I was ready for 2018 and did not play. All in all, it was still a good experience and learning curve.
Q: What are you particularly looking forward to for the Rome edition?
MF: I think the atmosphere is going to be phenomenal. I really do. Rome is one of my favorite cities to be in and I think the people there are so great. I think the (soccer) heritage of the city and country contributes to that. There should be a lot of those fans so it promises to be an exciting spectacle.
Q: Having recently played at Marco Simone Golf Course at the Italian Open, can you tell us about the course? Do you think your game is well suited to it? Do you think it is well suited to a team competition?
MF: I think it is very much suited to a team competition. There are a lot of good holes for match play. It will be really exciting for the people who are watching as a lot of the holes have some water around them, and the course has amphitheatre greens. It will be an exciting golf course to play on.
Q: You represented Europe in the Ryder Cup four times as a player, being part of a winning team on all four occasions (2004, 2006, 2010, 2012). Can you describe the feeling of what it means to represent Team Europe? And how much do you enjoy being involved in the Ryder Cup?
LD: I have had a nice individual career; I have accomplished a significant amount as a player. My most special moments have been in the Ryder Cup editions, and being able to share that in a team atmosphere. This is what golfers do miss on a day-to-day and weekly basis.
During the Ryder Cup and in the lead-up to the event, the team comes together to start to build that unity and teamwork. This gradually forms from having everyone together. There are usually lots of dinners that take part during the lead-up to the Ryder Cup for the caddies, and players. This is to create that camaraderie, and unified team atmosphere — it makes the whole experience special.
As captain, you are able to put all those individual talents and egos into one umbrella to try and showcase our strengths. As a teammate, it is great to come and know that you may be paired up with the best driver in the world like Rory McIlroy or with the best putters in the world. Putting all those talents into one team and building on that is very special.
Q: In August 2022, you were announced as the Captain of the European Ryder Cup team. Can you describe what it is like to captain the team?
LD: It was a very surreal moment. It felt like a lifetime achievement award when I found out that I was given the honor and privilege to be nominated as captain. It is something that I do not take lightly. I think about it every day and more specifically around what we can do to give our team the best chance of success and to build that right culture and environment.
I think that it is going to be a great week for me, for my family and everyone who knows me. Everyone knows how special The Ryder Cup has been as part of my career and this is an opportunity of a lifetime. I am excited and engaged in every kind of possible way to provide the team with that edge over what will be a very strong U.S. Team. We had our biggest loss ever at The Ryder Cup in 2020. This is my opportunity to try and turn that around; it is a big responsibility but I am going to try and enjoy the journey.
Q: Do you think Marco Simone is well suited to the strengths of Team Europe?
LD: There is no surprise that in Team Europe when playing, we like to follow a template that has been successful for us; we like to make it reasonably challenging down the fairways. We have a deep dive into statistics on what our potential team does well and same with the potential U.S. team. It is important to do so as it gives one a slight edge which is very hard to do as players are very successful and accomplished. They are all amazing players. It is important to focus and do the little things that might give you a slight edge in the matches.