It's the end of an era for Team EuropeJune 4, 2018 Golf News
Thomas Bjorn has chosen his Ryder Cup vice-captains for Le Golf National. But should some of them be playing? Dan Murphy assesses how a new-look European team is shaping up
Robert Karlsson, Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood as Ryder Cup vice-captains I was ready for. But the news that Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald will, in all likelihood, not be bringing their clubs to Le Golf National in September was sobering. Instead, all five will be assisting Thomas Bjorn when hostilities are resumed.
At 40 and 38 respectively, and despite six and four years having passed since their most recent playing appearances, I still harboured hopes of McDowell, especially, and Donald rekindling past glories.
McDowell, remember, was imperious alongside Victor Dubuisson at Gleneagles. They won both their foursomes. Then McDowell took down none other than Jordan Spieth in the top singles match.
Luke Donald is unbeaten in his four appearances, having won 10 and halved another of his 15 games.
It feels to me that an era has now ended. It was one that saw first Colin Montgomerie and Harrington and then the likes of Westwood and Clarke take us from the first glorious European wins of the 1980s and start beating the US on a very regular basis.
McDowell and Donald were very much part of that too, except that we hoped they might still be going strong now. That would have ensured the European core remained strong while new talent was blooded.
In one regard, it shows the increased strength in depth these days. We no longer cling quite so desperately to the past glories of our biggest names.
Perhaps, too, Bjorn is mindful of Westwood and Martin Kaymer’s struggles at Hazeltine. The pair earned only a single point from seven matches between them. The Ryder Cup these days is no place for even a past major champion who is playing from memory.
In the light of this, and with several of Europe’s favoured sons no longer at the peak of their powers, there is something of a void.
That was certainly the case at Hazeltine, when Darren Clarke either couldn’t or wouldn’t trust several of his rookies.
Once the Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson axis failed to deliver, Europe had nowhere to go.
Yet Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick each played only once before the singles.
The two notable European successes of that week were Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Right now, both are relying on wild cards for Le Golf National. While Cabrera Bello, at 25 in the world rankings, is close on both lists, Pieters, who has slipped to 67, is anything but.
The Belgian has only had two top 10s in the last 12 months. The most recent of them was back in January.
Last seen snapping a 9-iron over his neck at Wentworth, without a significant change of form, Pieters will not be alongside Rory McIlroy in France, a partnership that harvested three points from as many games at Hazeltine.
In fact, of the European team two years ago, only McIlroy, Rose, Stenson and Sergio Garcia can currently be sure of their places in France.
And that’s what makes it all the more of a concern that at least some of our newly minted Ryder Cup vice-captains should still be on the fairways rather than alongside them.
There is some brighter news, though, in the form of four rookies who are highly unlikely to be passengers.
They are led by Jon Rahm, World No. 4, with Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren and Tyrrell Hatton also all inside the top 25.
Meanwhile, in line for a welcome return to European colours are Paul Casey and Francesco Molinari. They have three and two previous appearances respectively. Remarkably, it is 10 years since the former’s most recent appearance. While the latter has not been seen since Medinah in 2012.
Both will give the team some much-needed ballast, especially on the opening day.
Captain Bjorn has, as expected, decided that we will open up with fourballs on Friday morning. This has become traditional in Europe’s home matches.
Four months out, our opening pairings might look something like this: Rose/Stenson, McIlroy/Fleetwood, Casey/Noren and Garcia/Rahm.
Not exactly weak.
But then again, just look at the opposition.
As Bjorn announced his Ryder Cup vice-captains at Wentworth, he will have been aware that the Americans currently hold all four majors as well as the Ryder, Walker and Solheim Cups.
Reports of the long-term demise of American golf a few years ago were, it seems, greatly exaggerated.