European Ryder Cup team is perfect blend of world's best and fresh faces at end of Westwood, Garcia and Poulter era
There may be no Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood or Ian Poulter – ostracised in the LIV Golf civil war – but in their place come a host of exciting youngsters ushering in a new generation.
Not least Ludvig Aberg, an unknown Swedish player at the start of the summer who has adapted to life as a professional so comfortably that when the chips were down and he needed to win on the DP World Tour in Switzerland over the weekend to force Donald’s hand, he duly did so, overhauling major winner and now a European team-mate in Matt Fitzpatrick in the process.
How about that for the type of nerve you need in a Ryder Cup?
Joining him is Nicolai Hojgaard of Sweden who won the first Italian Open at Rome’s Ryder Cup venue Marco Simone in September 2021 and was fifth in the same event this year, and Sepp Straka, the Austrian, who is built like Westwood in his heyday but crucially has as many wins in America in the last 12 months as the durable Worksop man managed in his entire career – two.
Not to downplay Westwood’s record. He was a talismanic member of Europe’s Ryder Cup picture from 1997 to 2014, and as powerless as the rest of his team-mates to stop the United States winning on home soil in 2016 and in record-breaking fashion at Whistling Straits two years ago.
That 19-9 win in Wisconsin has America as favourites going into the 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club at the end of this month, even if they are chasing a first win in Europe since 1993.
Two years ago they appeared unstoppable and with the end of the glorious era of Westwood, Garcia and Poulter, looked like embarking on their own period of dominance.
But there is renewed hope for Europe. In Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland they have the second, third and fourth best players in the world respectively; two of them multiple major winners and Hovland the freshly-minted FedEx Cup champion after producing 11 successive rounds in the 60s to win twice in the last month.
Throw in another major winner in Sheffield’s Fitzpatrick, who must surely shed his unwanted record of never having scored a point in his two previous Ryder Cup appearances, and Europe has a strong core.
Tyrell Hatton is a warrior, as are Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood, who will have been the first two names on Donald’s six wild card submissions. Fleetwood’s performance alongside the sadly out-of-form Francesco Molinari five years ago in Paris will go down in Ryder Cup lore.
Another wild card was Justin Rose who brings vast experience to the Ryder Cup team room. In winning at Pebble Beach on the PGA Tour earlier this year, he showed his desire to get back on the team at 43.
Joining the three wild card rookies of Aberg, Hojgaard and Straka is Scotland’s Robert McIntrye, whose achievement in being one of the six automatic qualifiers alongside the bigger names emphasises just how strong a season the left-handed Scot has had. That rainbow of Swede, Dane, Austrian and Scot underlines the shift in the tectonic plates that operate underneath the European Ryder Cup team.
New leaders in Rahm and McIlroy, new talismen in Fleetwood and Hatton, new blood in Aberg and Straka. The European team is set.