Luke Donald said when making his picks for the European Ryder Cup team that he was fine with the mix of veterans and rookies.
“We have plenty of experience where we have some great youth as well, and building for the future,” he said in his announcement of picks for the team. “I think these kids, these young kids are ready. They are fearless, and they are excited to get to grips with experiencing what a Ryder Cup is.”
This week, he gets to preview how some of the match-ups might work. That’s because the DP World Tour always allows Ryder Cup captains to put groupings together for the tournaments. As it happens all 12 members of the European Ryder Cup team are playing this week in the BMW PGA Championship. So are most of the Vice Captains.
It should give everyone an idea of possible pairings for the Foursomes and Four-Ball matches over the first two days of the contest. It could determine who might be paired with whom.
As an example, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland are playing with rookie Ludvig Aberg. Whether that means one will play with him in Four-ball and that Viktor and Rory will pair up for alternate shot, we just don’t know yet. But that’s one way to look at these groups.
The other groups are equally interesting.
Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry are playing with Ryder Cup rookie Sepp Straka. Obviously, Straka is not a PGA Tour or European Tour rookie, but this is his first Ryder Cup. The question is, who would be best with Straka in either alternate shot or better ball? The Captain, Luke Donald and his assistants will have to make the decision.
Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton are playing with Nicolai Højgaard. Both Rahm and Hatton are fiery players who aren’t afraid to show their emotions on the course. So, they may be great together so long as someone has a fire extinguisher handy. But here’s the real question: Will Nicolai’s identical twin brother Rasmus be hanging in the wings to step in in case Nicolai has a problem? Would anyone ever know if he did? Both are winners on the Euro circuit.
It may be that both Rahm and Hatton will fight over Højgaard because he’s second in scoring average and strokes gained off the tee, and fourth in total strokes gained. A great choice to have in a partner.
Veteran Justin Rose is playing with Matthew Fitzpatrick and Robert MacIntyre. MacIntyre was leading the Genesis Scottish Open in the final round until McIlroy came from behind and snatched the victory away from him. The 27-year-old won at the Marco Simone course in 2022 for his second DP World Tour title, so perhaps he can show Rose and Fitzpatrick how to play the course.
Rose and Fitzpatrick are both U.S. Open champs, so it would not be unreasonable to see them together in alternate shot (Foursomes).
In addition to the competitors playing the course, Donald and several of his Vice Captains will also participate. They may be doing part of the field a favor as it’s unlikely most of them will make the cut, thereby leaving more money on the table for the rest of the field.
Two Vice Captains, Thomas Bjorn and Nicolas Colsaerts, are playing with the 48-year-old Scottish professional, Stephen Gallacher, who perhaps has some inside knowledge on MacIntyre.
Donald will play alongside the Italian brothers Francesco Molinari and Edoardo Molinari. The Molinaris are an interesting duo. Francesco was supposedly not as talented as his brother Edoardo, who won the U.S. Amateur. But as time went on, it was Francesco who won the British Open, although both brothers are winners on the DP World Tour.
Edoardo Molinari also received some recent acclaim when Hovland revealed that Molinari’s stats were one of the keys to his improvement this season.
So, will the Vice Captains talk stats or strategy or just grind it out to the finish? Certainly, they will be discussing the performance of the groupings containing the team members.
Jose Maria Olazabal, one of the great Ryder Cuppers from the past who was Seve Ballesteros’ partner, will sit out the BMW, but he will bring his expertise to Rome. He is also a Vice Captain.
Recapping, here’s what to look for when the Ryder Cup begins:
1. Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland playing together or one of them with rookie Ludvig Aberg.
2. Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry pairing up for some matches together or one or both of them partnering with Sepp Straka.
3. Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton playing together or one of them with Nicolai Højgaard.
4. Justin Rose playing with Matthew Fitzpatrick and/or Robert MacIntyre.
Remember the format will include both Foursomes (alternate shot) and Four-ball (better ball) on the first two days. Then it’s singles on Sunday to determine the winner.