We sat by the road waiting for a ride that wasn’t coming, the victims of “burocrazia”. Bureaucratic inefficiency is a way of life in Italy, the upshot of a slow, redundant and cumbersome political structure. It can turn the simplest task into the impossible. Wednesday morning in Rome, this meant a shuttle service intended to take a heroic group of writers to the Ryder Cup was not to be, leaving said scribes stranded at their hotel. While one cannot control the consequences of a knotted administrative system, the individual does have authority over his/her reaction to the situation. In this case, the stereotypical incompetence is charmingly part of the experience, like falling in love in Paris or finding water at the 17th at Sawgrass.
It also gives appreciation to things that are orderly and effective, like, say, the European team, who have won seven of the last 10 and nine of the last 13 Ryder Cups. This year is expected to be no different, with the Europeans favourites to come out on top at Marco Simone. As we attempted to make our way to the course on Wednesday, we jotted down seven reasons why Europe will win the 2023 Ryder Cup.
Jon Rahm is dependable, unlike shuttle drivers, who according to a very polite liaison at the hotel, had gone radio silent and apparently took the rest of the day off. The likely PGA Tour Player of the Year, Rahm was the leading Euro points-getter at the last Ryder Cup, a byproduct of his partnership with Sergio Garcia and the fact he was a tour de force that week at Whistling Straits. This course speaks even more to his skill-set — Marco Simone demands power and creativity around the green, sure, but also a need to be plodding. Rahm’s game is so consistent and total it can be misconstrued as boring. But this week, plodding will be good. Don’t be surprised if he repeats as the team’s top scorer.
There’s clearly something to be said about knowing one’s surroundings, unlike our group of writers, who were able to find an Uber to the golf course but were then dropped off in a field that was definitely not the golf course. The Ryder Cup home team has won seven of the last eight matches and 10 of the past 12. Those matches haven’t been particularly close, with the home team winning by an average margin of five points. The lone aberration from this 19-year-stretch, the 2012 Ryder Cup, required an all-time European comeback — or US meltdown, depending on one’s perspective — to be the exception to the rule. The result has only become more exaggerated since the Miracle at Medinah, each of the last four matches constituting as blowouts with the home team winning by an average margin of seven points. The biggest reason for this phenomenon has to do with the control the home team has on the course set-up. Each side will cater to their strengths — or the others’ weaknesses — in ways that can be described as gamesmanship (although in other ways that can come off as contrived). We detailed the phenomenon in greater depth here.
It’s been said a thousand times already so let us be the 1,001st: The United States have not won on the road in 30 years. (Speaking of roads, one traffic marshal just yelled at us for walking in the middle of a dirt road after another told us that was the path we needed to follow.) Not to say it can’t be done, or that the streak will continue in perpetuity. But the assignment facing the Americans will be formidable.
Hatton does not have the best track record at big-time events, and that includes the Ryder Cup (2-4-1 record). Conversely, the Englishman is also playing the best golf of his career, ranking seventh on the PGA Tour in strokes gained, 12th in SG/tee-to-green and seventh in SG/putting. He also provided this gem during Wednesday’s press conference, which we missed, because the gate we eventually found is a gate that is on the other side of where we were supposed to be:
Q: Do you know any Spanish swear words?
TYRRELL HATTON: I think I’d do a pretty poor — I’d give it a pretty poor attempt. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself or to, yeah, just upset Jon [Rahm], I guess, in front of him. I think I would probably win in a swear-off. I’ve got everyone covered when it comes to that (laughter).
Q: An extensive repertoire?
TYRRELL HATTON: Yeah. Just any time of day, anywhere.
Q: No holding back?
TYRRELL HATTON: No holding back.
Q: Any circumstance?
TYRRELL HATTON: Doesn’t matter what we’re doing. I’m swearing. [Expletive] off (room erupts in roaring laughter).
That is a cat comfortable in his own skin, and not one to be, erm, trifled with.
Experience matters at the Ryder Cup, but golf over the past decade has transformed into a young man’s game. Europe had four players 40 and older in their record-setting defeat at Whistling Straits and just five players 30 and younger. This year’s team has nine players 32 and younger, with 34-year-old Rory McIlroy the third-oldest player on the team. And the dramatic topography of the property will require peak athleticism and thus favour younger, more fit individuals. We know this because we just had to traverse quite a bit of the terrain this morning when we finally arrived at the course, only to discover our media badges no longer worked at the gate, sending us 500 yards in the other direction to beg for new passes.
Few doubted the frontline firepower at Europe’s disposal, but in the months leading up to the event the roster’s backend was projected to be weak, similar to the internet signal in the Marco Simone box office, which is having the darnedest time pulling up our credential information. But the team here in Europe is certainly not short on depth. Among the captain’s picks are fledgling superstars in Ludvig Aberg and Nicolai Hojgaard, veterans Justin Rose and Shane Lowry, and 30-year-old Sepp Straka, who’s enjoyed a bit of a breakthrough on the PGA Tour the past two years. The Americans’ bench might be stronger, but the differences are nowhere near as dramatic as expected.
The emotional fulcrum of the sport, of his team, of this event. He’s had a rough go as of late at the Ryder Cup, losing seven of his last 10 matches dating back to the singles match at Hazeltine National in 2016. But the McIlroy that comes into Rome is arguably the most actualised version of McIlroy we’ve seen as a player (a whopping 2.60 strokes-gained total over the last six months, second only to Scottie Scheffler) and person (gestures wildly to the past two years of golf). Rahm may be the better Ryder Cup player, yet for Europe to win it will need McIlroy to deliver. And much like the angel sent from heaven who finally got us a working media pass and on to the course, McIlroy will rise to the challenge.
Main image: Richard Heathcote