The Ryder Cup 2023 is fast approaching with The Open in the rearview mirror and team selections to be confirmed in the near future on the road to Rome.
The United States are big favourites to defend the trophy they claimed with a dominant victory at Whistling Straits in 2021.
But Team Europe, now led by Luke Donald after the farcical departure of Henrik Stenson, having defected to LIV Golf, will hope to harness home advantage in Rome after their iconic win at Le Golf National in 2018.
Here, Independent Sport examines who is already a lock and where Donald might find inspiration from a wildcard.
How is the team selected?
It was confirmed Donald will have six captain’s picks to go alongside six players who will qualify automatically (three via the world rankings and three via the European points list) – to take down the American behemoth. The final qualifying event is the European Masters, which finishes on September 3 – with Donald naming his six wildcards 24 hours later.
Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm have booked their spots, with Bob MacIntyre currently in position to secure the third automatic qualification spot from the European points list, while Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood would earn automatic selection via the world rankings as it stands.
Team Europe 2023
As McIlroy goes, Team Europe goes. If the Europeans are going to pull out a win against a star-studded American line-up, they need McIlroy – who mathematically secured automatic qualification with weeks to spare – to be the best player at the event. It will have to be the intimidating 2012, 2014 or 2016 version of Ryder Cup Rory, rather than the one-point McIlroy reduced to tears after feeling he let his teammates down that we saw in 2021. The Northern Irishman will be the emotional heartbeat of Donald’s squad but as he’s shown by putting himself front and centre during golf’s civil war between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, that’s a role he’s more than comfortable with. The wait for an elusive fifth major goes on but a Ryder Cup victory would go some way to assuaging that pain.
“Rahmbo” produced a devastating run of three victories in five starts to start the year, before brilliantly adding a second major to his CV by winning the Masters at Augusta and qualification for the Ryder Cup became a mere formality. A statement from the Spaniard and evidence that he would probably outlast Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler should all three of those who have claimed the world No 1 ranking this year perform to their potential. A 4-3-1 record in two Ryder Cup appearances, Rahm will be a cornerstone of European golf in this transitional period. Donald might just pencil him in for at least three points when plotting the blueprint to bring about the United States’ downfall.
Hovland had only just burst on to the golfing scene when he made his Ryder Cup debut at Whistling Straits two years ago. Despite his undeniable talent, and the fact he was actually Europe’s second-highest ranked player heading into the event, he looked every bit the rookie. Forced to play every session due to the Europeans’ lack of quality depth, the Norwegian could only muster half points from one fourballs session and his singles match against fellow greenhorn Collin Morikawa. With two years more experience under his belt, and on a European course, he should be set up for greater success this time round. He claimed a top 10-finish at the Masters, came agonisingly close to winning the PGA Championship while finishing tied for second and then nabbed a top-20s at the US Open and the Open to cement his place as a truly elite, top-five player in the world – although some questions still remain about his short game around the greens.
Transformed into an intimidating force off the tee, ‘Fitzy’ now has an aura around him after his 2022 US Open victory. Yet to win a point on golf’s biggest team stage (0-5-0), this is almost the last piece of the puzzle to make Fitzpatrick a transcendent player in European golf. Forced to sit throughout the entire day’s play on Friday in 2018, there will surely be no shortage of opportunities here to further bolster his reputation. While the driving has caught the eye in the last year or so, Fitzpatrick can be trusted to salvage a hole in matchplay based on his scrambling statistics, leading the PGA Tour last year in scrambling, scrambling from the rough and scrambling from 10-20 yards. Don’t count him out.
Could the Moliwood bromance return on Francesco Molinari’s home turf? The Italian has plenty to do, but Fleetwood will surely be a key cog in Donald’s European machine. After going 4-1-0 in 2018, Fleetwood mustered just two halves in 2021 and sits overall at 4-2-2. Fleetwood has been in flying form since March, even if the wait for a first PGA Tour title goes on. The Englishman is not just knocking on the door across the pond but absolutely hammering it, with a T3 at the Valspar, a T5 at Quail Hollow, a T3 at the FedEx St Jude Championship and an agonising play-off defeat at the Canadian Open, where he could not have come closer to ending his drought. A stellar major campaign also saw him follow a top 20 at the PGA Championship with a T5 at the US Open and a T10 at Royal Liverpool, where his charge for the Claret Jug fell away over the weekend. He is a man to be feared if this form continues all the way to Rome.
If ever there was a man made for matchplay, it was Shane Lowry. The Irishman made no secret of his desperation to play at the Ryder Cup ahead of his 2021 debut and he possesses the competitive drive, capacity to step up at the highest-pressure moments and the ability to thrive in raucous atmospheres that could make him a titan of the event. There’s more to come after picking up just a single point from three sessions at Whistling Straits and although he’s struggled to consistently recapture the brilliance that saw him win the Open at Portrush in 2019, performances such as finishing third at the Masters and winning the BMW PGA Championship last year demonstrate his capability to rise to the occasion.
Personality, passion and entertainment. Tyrrell Hatton is not to everybody’s taste, but he has undeniable quality, as proven while flirting once more atop the leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, eventually finishing in a tie for fourth, two behind Kurt Kitayama. A runner-up at TPC Sawgrass, Hatton set the table for his best year yet as further top-five finishes came at Quail Hollow, the Byron Nelson and the Canadian Open. An average Ryder Cup record at 2-3-1, yet Hatton is rounding into form nicely as he enters the prime of his career. Fourth on the PGA Tour last year in strokes gained putting, Hatton is lifting himself into that tier behind McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland.
Moved up to a lock with T4 at the British Masters, the former Olympic champion’s choice to resist LIV Golf was rewarded on the PGA Tour with victory at Pebble Beach back in February, snapping a four-year drought. He backed that up with a T6 finish at TPC Sawgrass. A stalwart of Team Europe across five appearances, totalling a 13-8-2 record, Rose has already done enough now to snaffle a wildcard spot despite his form dipping in recent weeks and his experience will be invaluable.
When he narrowly missed out on a Ryder Cup debut in 2021 as an ascendant talent just outside the world’s top 40, MacIntyre looked nailed on to make the team in Rome two years later. However, the likeable left-hander lost form at the worst possible moment for much of 2022 and the first half of 2023 to drop out of the top 100 before a well-timed resurgence solidified his hopes. In July, he was agonisingly close to securing a storied Scottish Open win on home soil, only for McIlroy to snatch the trophy away by a single stroke with scarcely-believable back-to-back birdies on the final two holes amid biblical rain. Finishing second hurt the Scot but provided a 50-place boost in the world rankings and he followed that with a made cut at the Open the following week to prove he had found a spark. He will try to defend the final automatic Ryder Cup spot from the European points list over the final three events but even if he misses out to a rival, has surely now done enough to earn a captain’s pick at least.
The Austrian put himself on the Ryder Cup radar last February with victory at The Honda Classic, edging out Shane Lowry for a maiden PGA Tour victory. There were also two play-off losses at the FedEx St Jude and Sanderson Farms Championships but when he went a little cold in mid-2023 to slip down the world points list, his Ryder Cup hopes looked to have gone. However, two weeks of scintillating golf in July put him right back in the mix as he won the John Deere Classic for another PGA Tour victory and then produced a career-best major performance by far to work his way into a tie for second at the Open at Hoylake. He’s making himself tough for Donald to ignore.
ON THE BUBBLE
A genuine wildcard option with supreme talent as the No 1 amateur in the world last year, while gaining invaluable experience on the college circuit at Texas Tech. No Ryder Cup experience, obviously, but the 23-year-old has played plenty of team golf in the junior ranks and has taken to professional golf in style with a series of impressively high finishes on the PGA Tour as a rookie. If Donald is looking for a spark, Aberg might just provide it. Broadcaster Nick Dougherty revealed a conversation between himself and Donald on Aberg: “He told me there have only been a few [players] that he’s played with for the very first time that have the ‘wow’ factor. One of them is Rory. Now he says Ludvig Aberg is one of those guys as well. He said his driver is a huge weapon, he makes the game look effortless. He added that as long as he continues to show form, he will definitely be considered for the [Ryder Cup] team. This guy is going to be a superstar.” There is also the added bonus of a potential mentor in compatriot Alex Noren, who is also in contention to feature in Rome.
If Donald wants a wildcard to rip it off the tee and provide an intriguing foil for a more accurate, shorter hitter in fourballs, then Adrian Meronk could be just the ticket. The Pole – who became the first man from his country to win on the DP World Tour with success at the Irish Open last July – finished second for strokes gained off the tee last season and has been around the top three once more. A win at the Australian Open in December 2022 didn’t hurt but the real kicker came when he won the Italian Open this year on the course at which the Ryder Cup will be played. Comfort with the course may prove enough to earn him the call.
Irishman Power is something of a late bloomer in golf but now in contention for a Ryder Cup debut. Waterford-born but based in the US since playing his college golf at East Tennessee State University, it wasn’t until 2021 when he stunningly won the Barbasol Championship as a 34-year-old that he made any real impression on the sport. That has given him all sorts of opportunities that he has seized – playing at all four majors in 2022, with three top-30 finishes, including T9 at the PGA Championship, winning a second PGA Tour event at the Bermuda Championship and climbing into the world’s top 30. With a solid all-round game, Power needs a bit of momentum down the closing stretch although a T13 at the John Deere Classic amid an otherwise barren run of form has at least given him hope.
Making a maiden Ryder Cup appearance after finishing third in the world points list in 2018, Noren went 2-1-0. After missing Whistling Straits, Noren quietly put together a fine 2022, displaying immense character and trust in his game to leave Scotland days before The Open, despite being first alternate, before finishing second at the Barracuda. Two more runner-up finishes at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the DP World Tour Championship, mixed in with fourth at the Houston Open and fifth in Abu Dhabi and the Swede could be primed to bring a veteran presence to this year’s team. Noren lacks a big performance in the majors this year, but T9 at Rocket Mortgage Classic certainly helps.
Capitalising on a fine run of form earlier this year, Yannik Paul is giving himself a chance of nabbing the third spot on the European points behind McIlroy and Rahm, although he now narrowly trails MacIntyre for that after the final major of the season. Another who will likely need a top-three place to play in Rome, but the system will benefit him should he contend on the DP World Tour in the final couple of events.
Looking to follow in the footsteps of Belgium’s former Ryder Cup players Thomas Pieters and Nicolas Colsaerts. The 30-year-old is one of the longer hitters on the PGA Tour, sitting 39th in driving distance (307.8 yards) in 2023. Combine that with his ability to heat up on the greens, sitting 13th for putts per round and 21st for one-putt percentage (42.52 percent), and you have a potential matchplay star. Detry narrowly missed the penultimate tournament of the FedEx Cup playoffs, to finish 55th in the standings after the St Jude Championship. Detry will hope a couple of promising performances at the right time, including T-13 at The Open and 21st at the Wyndham Championship, can persuade Donald to take a chance.
A classy golfer who has become a serial winner on the DP World Tour, Perez, based out of Dundee, could be the man to bring some continental European flavour to Donald’s team in Italy. His breakthrough came when triumphing at the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and it’s often the bigger events where he thrives, as shown by beating a stacked field to take the Abu Dhabi Championship earlier this year. A pretty pedestrian record since a T12 at Oak Hill in the PGA Championship has slowed Perez’s momentum and the compelling early case he made for himself has become an increasingly distant memory.
In a wildcard battle littered with inexperience, Olesen’s previous Ryder Cup experience may count in his favour. During the 2018 success at Le Golf National, the Dane raised eyebrows by demolishing Jordan Spieth 5&4 in the singles. Europe could certainly do with that sort of chutzpah in 2023. It’s easy to forget that Olesen is still only 33 years old, given he turned pro as a teenager and was winning on the DP World Tour at the age of 21 over a decade ago but his career was derailed after some idiotic behaviour on a British Airways flight resulted in sexual assault charges. He was cleared in court at the end of 2021 and, on the course, is now recapturing some form, having won the British Masters last year and the Thailand Classic this year. He’s a tantalising wildcard option given his talent but needs to pick up his form in the coming weeks.
The Hojgaard twins look set to be Ryder Cup staples in the future, although truthfully 2023 may come too soon for them. Rasmus is probably ahead of his brother Nicolai in terms of development and at just 21 years old could provide a genuine youthful fearlessness in Rome. He became the third-youngest winner in DP World Tour history when claiming the Mauritius Open in December 2019 at just 18 years and 271 days, before taking two more tournament victories in the years since. Would probably need another win or this summer to get the call but he undeniably has the talent to do just that.
A former captain returning to play in the Ryder Cup? That hasn’t happened since Arnold Palmer in 1973. But the Irishman has shown signs of life with T50 at Oak Hill and then T27 at Los Angeles Country Club in the US Open. Second at the Senior PGA Championship and the Senior Open also boosts his form to complement his vast experience and he has specifically chosen to come and play the final few DP World Tour events to try and snatch a wildcard from Donald.
If Donald wants a home favourite, then Molinari will be ideal and will hope to rekindle his form to show he can reproduce his historic ‘Moliwood’ partnership with Fleetwood. The mere possibility of another perfect record, having gone 5-0 in 2018, will appeal to Donald, but six missed cuts in a row through May and June is dismal form and has made him pretty much unselectable.
What about LIV Golf?
The ultimate wildcards in the race for a place in Team Europe are the defectors currently plying their trade on the breakaway Saudi-backed tour LIV Golf, including Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter. There is a glimmer of hope for these guys after the merger with the PGA Tour, but despite a route back to the DP World Tour and PGA Tour in the future, a potential reconciliation may have to wait until 2024.