Ryder Cup Pairings Preview
The long-awaited Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, Italy kicks off Friday
The United States will attempt to snap a 30-year losing streak on European soil, and luckily Momentum is on their side following a 19-9 rout at Whistling Straits in 2021. Both teams look different than they did two years ago, and we will dive into the schedule of events as well as the potential pairings in both foursomes and fourball.
The action will commence Friday morning with four matches of foursomes -- commonly referred to as alternate shot. Whichever player tees off on the first hole will hit the tee shot on every odd hole, while his teammate will start on the even holes. Friday afternoon will conclude with four matches of fourball, also known as best ball. Each player will play his own ball and only the best score on each hole is used. The same rotation will be used Saturday, and then all 12 players will play singles matches Sunday. With 28 points up for grabs, the Europeans will need 14.5 points to win the cup.
Which players are best suited for which format, you ask? In general, golfers that are more apt to make birdies fit fourball well, because pars aren't often going to be good enough to win holes. Conversely, bogey-makers aren't hurt by the fourball format as much, as it's unlikely both players will bogey. If the first player is in trouble off the tee, his teammate can play safer. In foursomes, the strategic play is to go with steadier players with all-around games and pairings that complement each other well.
It's important to note that Marco Simone features a lot of elevation changes, making it a difficult course to walk. Thus, it wouldn't be a surprise to see every player rest for one session to keep everyone fresh. Don't be surprised to see every player take the course Friday.
U.S. Team Breakdown
One of the ways we can try to determine potential pairings is by looking at the press conference schedule. The U.S. side has broken up into three media sessions with four golfers apiece: Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas; Wyndham Clark, Rickie Fowler, Max Homa and Collin Morikawa; and Sam Burns, Brian Harman, Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler. The Americans have previously used a pod system consisting of three pods with four golfers, forming combinations between those groups. Based on these media sessions, it seems likely that these are the three pods.
One of the key pairings on the U.S. side over the last couple of years has been the duo of Cantlay and Schauffele. Captain Steve Stricker paired them together in both foursomes matches in the 2021 Ryder Cup, where they wrapped up each match before the 18th hole, including a 5&3 trouncing of Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter. They followed it up by going 2-1 at the Presidents Cup, and have also played together in the Zurich Classic's team event, winning in 2022 and finishing T4 this spring. Both players feature strong all-around styles of play and can be paired together in either format.
Another widely-used duo in the team format is the combination of Spieth and Thomas, and the pair went a perfect 4-0 together at last year's Presidents Cup. Thomas is one of the players to keep an eye on with some questioning his selection as a captain's pick following a disappointing season. I would expect them to be paired together in the morning session Friday, and how well Thomas plays will likely play a large role in how much -- or little -- he plays thereafter.
How about the top-ranked player in the world? Scheffler played only with Bryson DeChambeau at the last Ryder Cup, but the latter isn't on the team this time around. Scheffler struggled with Burns at last year's Presidents Cup, as the duo went a surprising 0-2-1. One would think the captains will want to mix it up, but will they? The two are very close friends and it's certainly possible that Scheffler had an influence in Burns receiving a captain's pick. Scheffler's woes on the greens can also be aided by Burns, who is one of the best putters on Tour.
In search of a new partner is Morikawa, who went 3-0 with Dustin Johnson in 2021 before switching to Cameron Young at the Presidents Cup. Neither is on the team this time around. A fit that makes a lot of sense is Homa, who is also looking for a new partner after getting his first taste of team play at the Presidents Cup, in which went a perfect 4-0 with wins alongside Tony Finau and Billy Horschel. Morikawa and Homa also have California roots and both played collegiately at Cal.
Brooks Koepka will be the lone LIV participant in this year's Ryder Cup, and he played with a variety of players -- including Finau, Spieth, Johnson and Daniel Berger -- over the last two editions of this event. He could be a potential partner for Ryder Cup debutant Harman. Koepka's length and ball striking contrasted with Harman's accuracy and short game could make for an excellent fit in foursomes.
Two players unlikely to make the team at the beginning of the year, Clark and Fowler, made it following remarkable seasons. Clark stormed onto the scene with two wins, including his first major victory at the PGA Championship. Meanwhile, Fowler had a resurgent 2023 and snapped a four-year winless drought. Neither player has much of a weakness in his game and can be used in either format, but I think they're slightly better suited for fourball, as both players rank top-15 in Birdie or Better Percentage this season.
Team Europe Breakdown
The pairings are going to be much more uncertain on the European side, as the team features four players who haven't been involved in team play previously. In addition, they don't participate in the Presidents Cup, so they don't have the same opportunity to build pairings and team chemistry as the Americans do. Veterans Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Poulter were fixtures on the team over the last decade, but they aren't on hand this time, so some pairings will certainly be shaken up. In fact, none of the pairings the Europeans used in foursomes in 2021 can be recreated this year. Things are going to look much different this time around. The Europeans broke down their press conferences in two groups of six: Tommy Fleetwood, Sepp Straka, Ludvig Aberg, Shane Lowry, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland; and Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Nicolai Hojgaard, Robert MacIntyre, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. I'll assume that pairings won't be mixed between the two groups.
The star of the European team is McIlroy, who primarily played with Poulter over the last two editions of this event. Lowry is the only other player he was paire with during that span, and a 4&3 loss to Finau and Harris English doesn't instill a lot of confidence in that pairing. The Europeans experimented in 2018 by putting McIlroy with rookie Thorbjorn Olesen, and that didn't work out either, so I'd expect the captains to give him a more experienced partner. Putting McIlroy with a major champion in Fitzpatrick would create a formidable duo, one that would work well in foursomes given Fitzpatrick's elite short game. Rose also makes sense, as his long-time partner Henrik Stenson is no longer on the squad, and the two would bring plenty of Ryder Cup experience to the table.
Rahm picked up 3.5 points at Whistling Straits, with all three of his wins coming alongside Garcia. With Garcia ineligible for this year's team, Rahm is also in search of a new partner. Could Fleetwood be the answer? He went 0-1-1 with Hovland in 2021 but was the star of the team at Le Golf National, going 5-0 and winning all four of his pairings alongside Francesco Molinari.
Aberg will have a much-anticipated debut in Rome. A somewhat improbable selection after turning pro this summer, he has quickly established himself as one of the best drivers in the world. Expect the European squad to pair the newcomers with those who have Ryder Cup experience. Aberg and Straka are the best of the newcomers, and it seems to make more sense to put them in foursomes, where there will be more pressure to perform. Hovland's superior iron play makes him a good fit with Aberg, while Straka could potentially fit with Lowry, who went 1-2-1 as a rookie in 2021.
The other question is what to do with Hojgaard and MacIntyre. The two weakest players on the team will likely only be used once or twice prior to singles, and their strength -- making birdies in bunches -- makes them best suited for fourball. They also don't have to be relied on as heavily, as it's easier to expose a weaker player in foursomes. It's difficult to say exactly who they will play with, but I think Fitzpatrick and Hatton make the most sense.