The 41st Ryder Cup will take place at Hazeltine, Minnesota, at the end of this month. Despite Europe’s recent success in the competition, the USA will start as favourites, but how will the European team line up?
Europe have won the last three tournaments, including the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012, and their comprehensive victory over USA at Gleneagles two years ago.
Their captain, Darren Clarke, has plenty of Ryder Cup experience, having played in five consecutive Ryder Cups between 1997 and 2006.
Clarke’s vice-captains, too, are well-equipped to the Ryder Cup environment, with 16 Ryder Cup appearances between them. Thomas Bjorn and Ian Poulter played at Gleneagles in 2014, with Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie and Sam Torrance all Ryder Cup veterans.
Europe’s line-up, however, features six debutants to the tournament. Of the automatic qualifiers for the team, only Sergio Garcia had featured more than three times.
Captain’s pick Lee Westwood adds some much needed Ryder Cup experience to the side, but it is still a team that is relatively new to the Ryder Cup environment.
The team does feature a number of major winners. Former world number one Rory McIlroy was a shoo-in for automatic qualification, despite his poor form with the putter.
Masters champion Danny Willett has been rewarded for his fantastic form of late with a spot in the side, having missed out on making the team in 2014. Open champion Henrik Stenson, making his third Ryder Cup appearance, has been in scintillating form of late, and qualified automatically for the side.
The man who beat him to Olympic gold, Justin Rose, is also there, along with the evergreen Garcia.
From the captain’s picks, the aforementioned Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer add experience to the side, with a combined 12 Ryder Cup appearances between the pair.
Should they fail to make the team in 2018, there is every suggestion that a role as vice-captain could be in the works.
The rest of the side, however, are debutants. Chris Wood burst onto the scene as an amateur when he tied for third at the 2009 Open, and after a few solid seasons he has finally made the Ryder Cup team.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello has been a stalwart of the European Tour and follows up another good season with a spot in the team. Cabrera-Bello made the cut at all four majors this year, and whilst he didn’t trouble the top of the leaderboard, three top-40 finishes is testament to the improvement he has made in his game over the last few years.
Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick make up the rest of the automatic qualifiers. At just 22 years of age, Fitzpatrick is the youngest member of either team this year. Both will take this tournament as a learning curve, and an opportunity to seal their place in the side for 2018.
Thomas Pieters was chosen as a captain’s pick after a very good year on the European Tour circuit. The Belgian picked up his first European Tour win in August 2015, and has won three tournaments in total, including the “Made in Denmark” championship just a few weeks before the Ryder Cup begins.
Europe’s side is relatively inexperienced, but with the influence of the likes of Stenson and McIlroy, will they be able to overcome the Americans? This year’s tournament will certainly be a cracker.
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