On the outskirts of the Eternal City, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald has a simple message for his players: This is your time.
It is written, in their native language, on the wall in their personal area in the team’s dressing room, which also features a space dedicated to the late Seve Ballesteros – Europe’s long-time talisman in the biennial contest.
On their way to the first tee at Marco Simone, the last thing the players will see is a large image of Ballesteros, designed by local art students, bearing the Italian phrase: “Per sempre nei nostri cuori” – Forever in our hearts.
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 26, 2023
Donald has unashamedly cranked up the emotion in the build-up to Europe’s attempt to regain the Ryder Cup, bringing his players to tears with messages from family and friends and in Rory McIlroy’s case his caddie, Harry Diamond.
“Previous Ryder Cups we’ve gone pretty light-hearted at the start of the week and then we get hit with an emotional bomb before we go play Friday,” McIlroy said.
“It’s a little different this year. It flipped a little bit and I think that was part of Luke’s plan and strategy.”
McIlroy, of course, was famously emotional at the end of the previous Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, the four-time major winner feeling he had let his team down by suffering three heavy defeats before beating Xander Schauffele in the opening singles.
“I just can’t wait to get another shot at this,” McIlroy said in between sobs and, after a tumultuous two years in men’s professional golf, he will finally get his wish.
Joining LIV Golf in June 2022 and subsequently resigning from the DP World Tour meant that Ryder Cup stalwarts Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood were ineligible for Donald’s team, although whether the ageing trio would have qualified or been selected anyway is up for debate.
US players remained eligible through membership of the PGA of America, but captain Zach Johnson made it clear he had zero interest in performances in the LIV Golf League and only US PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka was selected after narrowly failing to qualify.
That meant no place for the likes of Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, who garnered seven and a half points from eight matches in 2021, yet the visiting team can still boast three of this year’s major winners, six of the world’s top 10 and all 12 players ranked inside the top 25.
Europe have five players outside the top 30, including three of their four rookies, but can call on the world numbers two, three and four in McIlroy, Masters champion Jon Rahm and FedEx Cup winner Viktor Hovland.
They also have home advantage in a contest which has seen just one away victory in the last eight, namely the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012 when Jose Maria Olazabal’s side recovered from 10-4 down to pull off an incredible win.
That also remains the last close contest and the United States have not won on European soil since 1993, a fact their players have been keen to play down.
“We have so many guys that have not played a foreign Ryder Cup, an away game, if you will. I think that ignorance is bliss in my opinion,” US Open champion Wyndham Clark said.
“We have guys like Scottie Scheffler and Max Homa and Collin Morikawa and myself that have played on Walker Cup and Palmer Cup teams where we dominated and all we know in our years is how to win, both away and at home.
“Then all we’ve ever seen and watched is that we lose on the road for Ryder Cups and so I almost feel like we have a little added chip on our shoulder.
“A lot of us played other sports and we all love that it’s an away game. We feel like we can quiet the crowd and it would be even more fun and more enjoyable to win on the road.”
Clark also said he wants to face McIlroy in the singles to prove he is the better player and that Europe’s team could be “leaking oil” on the final day. Whether he is sipping champagne or eating humble pie on Sunday will be fascinating to see.