Even now, four full weeks after it ended, the afterglow of the Ryder Cup is powerful. Go to a golf club and listen in on conversations in the bar and on the course, and the words “Ryder Cup” and “Rome” will pop up quickly and repeatedly in conversation. The 44th Ryder Cup is the fire that won’t die out completely. Twenty-nine days later, the embers of that victory still smoulder.
Guy Kinnings, the DP World Tour’s deputy CEO, travelled to France to see England play South Africa in a semifinal of the Rugby World Cup on 21st October, and even there, in a Parisian stadium filled with rugby fans, many wanted to talk to him about golf.
“I’ve been involved in the Ryder Cup since early 1990 as a player manager and now an official, and I’ve never known a reaction like the one there has been to Rome,” said Kinnings, who is also Europe’s Ryder Cup director, his words tumbling out so fast that they stumbled over one another. “Weeks later, and people are still buzzing. People haven’t stopped smiling. They are still feeling euphoric.”
Why did this Ryder Cup create such lasting interest among those of a European persuasion? One answer is because the manner of the success in Italy, by five points, helped eradicate the memory of the heavy 19-9 defeat by the U.S. in Wisconsin two years ago. Another is that so little went wrong. Transport, weather and course setup are all potential problems, the weather particularly at an event the size of a modern Ryder Cup, but for the 271,191 spectators from 100 countries who were in the Eternal City for the match that week, every day seemed God-given.
Another reason: the ebb and flow of the match. Viktor Hovland’s chip-in on the first hole at Marco Simone in the first morning’s second foursomes sent a signal that something special was in the air. That Europe did not lose one of the eight matches on Friday and needed only four points from Sunday’s singles to guarantee victory helped enormously.
The letter “D” features strongly in his life, and not just because it is the first letter of his last name and that of both names of Diane, his wife. Luke is deep, dogged, determined and has an eye for detail that is exceptional.
Luke Donald, Europe’s outstanding captain who deserves and received so much credit for this victory, had made his men play three-hole money matches to help them get off to a fast start, and that Europe did not lose one of those Friday matches might have been a faster start than even he could have dreamed of.
Inevitably there came a fightback by the U.S. to ensure a nervous 90 minutes on Sunday. That only added to the excitement. Had the U.S. comeback been successful, it would have been the best ever.
But then, as if scripted, it fell to one of Europe’s most loved players, Tommy Fleetwood, to guarantee Europe a tie, at least, by going dormie on Rickie Fowler on one of the best holes on the course, the risk-and-reward downhill 16th. This hole highlighted how good it was for match-play golf, as were, for that matter, the short 17th, and the downhill par-5 18th which was reachable in two. Good as the last three holes at Le Golf National near Paris were in the 2018 match, Marco Simone’s last three exceeded them because so many spectators could follow the play with little movement.
Donald’s captaincy was immense. The letter “D” features strongly in his life, and not just because it is the first letter of his last name and that of both names of Diane, his wife. Luke is deep, dogged, determined and has an eye for detail that is exceptional. In the build-up to the match, during it and particularly in its aftermath one lost track of the number of times a player or an official would highlight the captain’s meticulous nature. He has been moulded by his father, his dad (another D), who deliberately put him in uncomfortable situations when he was growing up to prepare him for such situations later in life. In a household of women, Donald recently acquired a fellow male, a devoted (D again) friend, a dog (and another one) an Australian labradoodle named Archie.
The treatment of the European players and caddies may have reached new heights of thoughtfulness and finance in Rome. So, the players, their wives and caddies were showered with presents, one from Luke and Diane being a pair of customised Air Jordan basketball shoes from Luke’s friend Michael Jordan, a neighbour in Florida. Thoughtful touches such as “dad jokes” were placed on each player’s pillow daily for them to read upon returning to their rooms. The European team rooms, in their hotel and at Marco Simone, were both brilliantly illuminated by messages from previous players, inspirational sayings by Seve Ballesteros, individual photographs with extensive captions of each player’s success – and much the same about their caddies. Anything to build the morale of the team.
“The players are the stars of the show, so the least we could do for them was make sure their experience was exceptional,” said Kinnings, justifying the considerable expense of a home Ryder Cup by saying how important victory is to the DP World Tour. “Success breeds success. The commercial revenue from Rome was three times that from Paris.”
Bernard Gallacher, Europe’s captain in 1991, 1993 and 1995, had the privilege as a past captain of staying in the team hotel in the centre of Rome and watched the players being whisked to and from Marco Simone in cars accompanied by motorcycle outriders. “It was a great Ryder Cup both on and off the golf course,” Gallacher said. “They took a chance with Rome, got the course right, and it had a wonderful last three holes.
“One advantage was handed to them by their opponents: the absence of Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau [who had defected to LIV Golf]. If I had been [Europe’s] captain, I would have been ecstatic. They are great players. DJ won five points out of five at Whistling Straits, and DeChambeau played three times and got 2½ points. These are big players and big points. At the end of the day, the U.S. team was weakened without these two.”
Europe’s recent home victories linger in the mind’s eye. Remember “Moliwood,” the pairing of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood that went viral on social media during the 2018 match? Remember stories of the influence of Sir Alex Ferguson on Paul McGinley’s team at Gleneagles in 2014? Remember the sight and smell of a Celtic Manor course that was savaged by the elements in 2010? Remember Europe’s captain Ian Woosnam swigging champagne so fast that it came out of his mouth and nose after the 2006 event?
But none of these quite matched what took place in the hills outside Rome on a series of golden days in the autumn of 2023. That Ryder Cup was special. That was the week that was.
TOP PHOTO: RICHARD HEATHCOTE, GETTY IMAGES