Continental Europe triumphed at the inaugural Hero Cup, defeating Great Britain and Ireland, 14½-10½, with a performance fuelled by an unbeaten quartet composed of the Italian duo of team captain Francesco Molinari and Guido Migliozzi plus Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard and France’s Victor Perez (the four earned 3½ points apiece from the four sessions of play).
But the real winners of the week at Abu Dhabi Golf Club were Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, who oversaw the contest and considered it an invaluable learning curve, and the continent’s morale, which had been crushed by Team USA’s 19-9 victory at Whistling Straits in 2021 and further demoralised by the ongoing LIV Golf dispute with significant members of the generation that made Europe the dominant team in recent Ryder Cup history.
It would be remiss to suggest that the result did not matter, with Poland’s Adrian Meronk securing the clinching point in the middle of the singles draw. What happened on the course was, quite clearly, significant, but it was always the nature of the action rather than who actually lifted the trophy that was going to measure the success of this revived warmup for the biennial tussle with the Americans.
Donald headed into the match critically aware that his Ryder Cup team needs strong on-course leadership, and he will have been delighted with the efforts of the two captains. Molinari appeared revived amid talk that he has the bit between his teeth following a winter of hard work, while England’s Tommy Fleetwood emulated the Italian in sharing top-scorer honours on his team; the pair, thrilling and unbeaten in combination at the 2018 Ryder Cup, led from the front in the team room and also with clubs in hand.
Europe’s skipper will have been desperate for evidence of hunger, passion and a lack of fear from the many youngsters who were previously untested in team events at the professional level. In addition to the trio of Continental European tyros who tied Molinari’s haul, the new skipper will have been delighted that Robert MacIntyre equalled Fleetwood’s three-point tally for GB&I. Placed alongside the Scot’s victory in the Italian Open at Ryder Cup host Marco Simone four months ago, it makes his case for inclusion this September, form between now and then notwithstanding, a strong one.
Europe, of course, never has been shy of turning to its heroes for inspiration, and the week duly began with presentations to the 20 competitors from past Ryder Cup-winning captains Paul McGinley, José María Olazábal and Thomas Bjørn. As always, their words proved to be motivational, but it was striking that Ewen Ferguson told The Scotsman that the Dane “effectively said to us, ‘We’re done. We’ve taken this tour to where it is now, and now it’s your turn to take over the mantle.’ ” It not only felt like a shrewd tweak to the narrative, but it also appeared to make a significant impression on the players. The spirit, so often Europe’s secret weapon but flat in 2021, felt revitalized.
Make no mistake, the long-term task for Donald and his team remains an imposing one, but the success of Continental Europe last week undoubtedly has raised home hopes that the combined continent can regain the Ryder Cup in the Eternal City in eight months’ time.