While the vast majority of Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup six wildcard selections picked themselves, Europe’s skipper has ensured he will lead a balanced team in the quest to win back the trophy in Italy.
The youthful verve of 23-year-old Swedish sensation Ludvig Aberg and Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard, 22, is counterbalanced by the canny knowhow of Justin Rose and Shane Lowry.
Tommy Fleetwood was always going to be in the side and likewise Sepp Straka after the Austrian’s runner-up finish at The Open last July. They complement powerhouse figures such as Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland.
But the recent form of Lowry and Rose is a concern. The Irishman has not posted a top 10 since finishing fifth at the Honda Classic in February while Rose missed cuts at the US and Scottish Opens as well as The Open at Hoylake.
The Englishman said he has proved he is Ryder Cup ready but knows he needs to be “Ryder Cup-winning ready” for what will be his sixth appearance.
Lowry aims to ‘show people what I’m made of’ at Ryder Cup
“It’s really the start of the mission,” Rose said. “I’ve always really tried to, and enjoyed, the process of trying to prepare for major championships, trying to peak at the right time and that’s my challenge now.
“As a player, it’s just what can I do over the course of the next three weeks to be winning point ready. Just to go out and put myself with the best opportunity to win a point, which is why you’re on the team.”
Happily, from a European point of view, Rose usually delivers when wearing European colours. He boasts an enviable record of 13 wins, eight defeats and two halves in his five appearances to date.
He has been particularly impressive in fourball play and, after being left out of the 2021 defeat, could prove a valuable foil for one of the four rookies included in the European team when play gets under way on 29 September at the Marco Simone Country Club near Rome.
Lowry’s Ryder Cup experience is more limited. He made a passionate debut at Whistling Straits two years ago but posted only one point out of a possible three as the United States romped to their record 19-9 victory.
The 36-year-old has struggled on the greens for much of this year, but sometimes matchplay – where often there is less concern over a potential follow-up putt – can unlock a freer and more effective stroke.
Donald insists that Wisconsin defeat means his team should be considered underdogs, never mind that they are unbeaten at home for the past three decades.
And in Aberg he has what he describes as a “generational talent” at his disposal. A prodigious hitter, the Swede seems to have that X-factor of being able to seize the moment when most needed.
His surge to victory at the European Masters on Sunday clinched his spot on the team in ruthless fashion. Stepping up to Ryder Cup level so soon after becoming a professional is an extraordinary elevation.
“He turned pro in June and it felt like we started talking about Ryder Cup in July,” Rose observed.
“So the fact that he has almost played 75% of his professional career with the pressure of trying to make a Ryder Cup team is quite impressive.
“And then on the final day of the campaign, he makes it a bit of a no-brainer for the captain.”
Aberg is the first golfer to play in the Ryder Cup with zero major experience. But everything about his career to date suggests he will be inspired rather than inhibited by the gladiatorial cauldron of this biennial dust-up.
“These are the events that you want to be a part of,” Aberg said. “You want to have that shot; you want to have that putt to get a point.
“And I’ve been fortunate to be a part of these team events with the amateur events, which is on a completely different level, and I understand that. I’m super excited to get to Rome.”
The golfing world should be equally thrilled to see such a prodigious talent on the biggest stage for the first time. Aberg’s fellow rookies are Hojgaard, Straka and Bob MacIntyre.
The left-handed Scot edged home in the qualifying table at the expense of Poland’s Adrian Meronk, for whom there should be considerable sympathy. To have come so close to one of only six automatic berths and ultimately not play on the course where he won the Italian Open in May is a bitter pill to swallow.
MacIntyre brings infectious enthusiasm and character to the European team room and has the potential to make a telling debut. He is popular with his colleagues and there will be plenty who would welcome him as a fourball partner.
But ultimately, so much will depend on how the big guns perform. Rahm, McIlroy and Hovland are leaders and 2022 US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick will be looking to break his duck having been badly underused in his two appearances to date.
Bookmakers have the US as slight favourites but skipper Zach Johnson, who also has four rookies in his 12-man team, is also keen to harness underdog status.
He will be looking for his side to follow in the spike marks of the country’s amateurs, who staged a fine comeback win to retain the Walker Cup against Great Britain and Ireland at St Andrews last Sunday.
For the Ryder Cup, both teams look well balanced and evenly matched. It could be a very close contest, something we have not seen since Europe’s one-point win in the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ more than a decade ago.