The U.S. Ryder Cup Team Has Arrived in Rome, and the Most Pressing Question Didn’t Take Long

Captain Zach Johnson looks at the 30-year U.S. road drought as an ‘opportunity’ his team is ready to embrace.

The U.S. Ryder Cup team arrived at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club on Monday afternoon perhaps a bit groggy but nonetheless ready to get a lengthy week of preparation under way before the competition against Europe beginning Friday.

Several players were at the course including one of Zach Johnson’s captain picks, Justin Thomas, who was on the putting green working with his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay.

They arrived via charter from Atlanta—Brooks Koepka arrived before the rest of the team after taking separate transportation from Chicago where he competed in a LIV Golf League event.

It didn’t take long to get to a question about the Americans’ lack of success in Europe over the past three decades. It was one of the first queries lobbed at Johnson during a joint news conference with European captain Luke Donald to kick off the week.

Johnson is the captain of a U.S. side hoping to win an overseas Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

“It’s hard to win outside of your comfort zone,” Johnson said of the U.S. struggles in Europe. “It’s hard to win against a team that’s always been very, very formidable. It’s really just that simple.

“The European teams have been very stout, very good, very deep, and this year is no different. It’s just difficult. I know what history says. I’m very aware of that. But at the same time I can speak confidently, and talking to my team, these guys are ready and want to embrace that difficulty and want to just look at this as a great opportunity.

“The teams of the past are teams of the past. This is a new team with a new opportunity.”

The U.S. last won in Europe in 1993, when several members of the U.S. team were not even born. Since then, the Americans have gone to Spain, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France, and been unable to win. Three of those results were not very close.

One aspect that makes winning on the road difficult is the course and the setup. Marco Simone is not overly difficult, but it’s unfamiliar to the Americans. Nine members of the team came here two weeks ago for a two-day practice session. But several European players have competed in the DP World Tour event that is staged at the course.

And then there is the ability for the home team to set up the course to its liking. That typically means making the fairways narrower, adding rough and slowing down the greens.

“Yes, it presents a challenge,” Johnson said. “I think it presents a challenge to both teams. I think the beauty of Marco Simone is that it already has a canvas that is really, really good, and so whatever Luke and his team decide to do to it, probably only enhances that.

“The course, the grass, is extremely healthy and very pure. The greens are fantastic. I mean, I’m very confident in saying that. I haven’t been on them this week, but they were really good two weeks ago. I can only imagine what they are like right now. The rough is penal. It’s very difficult. But we’ve experienced that before. We’ll experience that again, whether it’s a tournament in the States or one over here.

“It’s going to present a challenge. I think you have to have your entire arsenal working, and I think that’s a great test.”

The course is listed at just more than 7,100 yards and par 71. The 5th (302 yards), 11th (329) and the 16th (303) are potentially drivable par-4s. The course has three par-5s, the 9th, 12th and 18th, which is 596 yards.

The U.S. can boast having won two of the past three Ryder Cups, including a 19–9 victory two years ago at Whistling Straits.

“I certainly have a lot of belief in my team,” Donald said. “I know it’s going to be a difficult next few days. The U.S. team are very strong. We know that. We are coming off our worst defeat ever in a Ryder Cup. U.S. players are strong, high up in the world rankings and they have some great partnerships and have had a lot of success.

“We have our work cut out, but as I said, you have to have belief in your team that you’re going to get them into a place where they are going to be successful. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds over the coming days.”