What the Ryder Cup interview schedule could reveal about potential pairings
7 Min Read
Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
There will not be a Tiger in Rome, but there is one way that Ryder Cup golfers emulate another predatory feline.
Like lions, they travel in packs. Because of the tournament’s team element, Ryder Cup practice rounds are not devoted solely to learning the intricacies of the host venue. Players also must familiarize themselves with their potential partners, learning about their games, their tendencies, preferred shots and even their golf ball (though that last item has become less impactful because players can switch balls after each hole in Foursomes).
The ”pod” system has become a staple of U.S. teams since Paul Azinger successfully implemented it at the 2008 Ryder Cup. Europe often uses a similar strategy, and that is why the Ryder Cup’s pre-tournament interview schedule, which was released Friday, could provide some insight into potential pairings at Marco Simone.
There is one key difference between the two teams, however. The United States will conduct its interviews in groups of four, while Europe is giving its interviews in two six-man groups. The increased size of Europe’s interview pods makes it more difficult to discern potential pairings.
Pre-tournament interviews at Marco Simone will occur in blocks on Tuesday and Wednesday, with each player appearing in the interview area for 15 minutes.
Both teams, which have already made scouting trips to the venue, are scheduled to play 18-hole practice rounds on Tuesday followed by nine holes apiece on Wednesday and Thursday (the Ryder Cup is a three-day event that begins Friday).
That is prudent considering Marco Simone’s hilly terrain. U.S. Captain Zach Johnson called it “a brutal walk.” One of his vice captains, Stewart Cink, said it was the most physically demanding Ryder Cup course he’d ever seen.
“I think guys are going to be happy to probably rest,” he said.
If fewer players compete in all five sessions, that could add some complexity to lineup construction.
With that said, here are the three U.S. “pods” for pre-tournament interviews and notes about each group (all times ET):
TUESDAY, SEPT. 26
8:45-10 a.m.: Patrick Cantlay-Xander Schauffele-Justin Thomas-Jordan Spieth
No surprises here. Cantlay-Schauffele and Thomas-Spieth are the United States’ two “plug-and-play” pairings. We may not see any cross-pollination among this pod, as both teams played exclusively with each other in last year’s Presidents Cup. Thomas and Spieth went 4-0-0 as a pair at Quail Hollow, while Cantlay and Schauffele went 2-1 (they also partnered to win last year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans). These teams have been stalwarts for the U.S. in the past several Cups, though it also should be noted that Thomas and Cantlay teamed together to tie a Four-ball match in 2021.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas' Round 4 Four-ball highlights from Presidents Cup
7-8:15 a.m.: Wyndham Clark-Rickie Fowler-Max Homa-Collin Morikawa
Cowboys and Bears, oh my! They attended college at different times, but these potential teams still bond over their shared alma maters. Clark and Fowler are two former Oklahoma State Cowboys, while Homa and Morikawa both played at Cal. Fowler even inspired Clark’s successful switch into the counterbalanced Odyssey Versa Jailbird putter. Clark made the change after trying Fowler’s in a casual round in Jupiter, Florida. It led to the first two wins of Clark’s career, at the Wells Fargo Championship and U.S. Open (where he played with Fowler in Sunday’s final group).
“He's always sent me notes of ‘good playing’ or even some tournaments he would tell me, 'Hey, I think this is a better play to play off the tee,'” Clark said about Fowler at this year’s U.S. Open. “Rickie is a class act and a great Cowboy, and fortunate to have him as a friend.”
Homa, who’s making his Ryder Cup debut this year, paired with Morikawa at this year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans (they missed the cut). Homa said this about Morikawa while Morikawa was still in college: “His ball striking is so good. He’s basically a robot. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him hit a bad shot.” The golf world soon learned that Homa’s assessment was accurate.
This pod may not produce the assumed pairings, however. Morikawa has always been paired with a long hitter in his two national team appearances and has only played Foursomes. He went 2-0 with Dustin Johnson at Whistling Straits and 1-1 with Cameron Young at Quail Hollow in last year.'s Presidents Cup Clark ranked 11th in Driving Distance this year. Could Homa and Fowler, who both rank in the top 10 in Birdie Average this year, be a potential Four-ball pairing, as well?
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 27
8:15-9:30 a.m.: Sam Burns-Brian Harman-Brooks Koepka-Scottie Scheffler
The Burns-Scheffler buddy film continues. The Schefflers and Burnses are often roommates on the road, and they played three sessions together in last year’s Presidents Cup (going 0-2-1). Burns’ biggest strength, his putter, will be especially handy this year, compensating for Scheffler’s struggles with that club this year.
Scheffler leads the TOUR in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green this season, and now he can rely on Burns to cash in on those opportunities. Harman and Koepka seem like a Foursomes match made in heaven. Two gritty competitors – and 2023 major champions – with complementary skill sets.
Sam Burns and Scottie Scheffler’s friendship
Not only would Koepka give Harman added length off the tee in Foursomes, but Harman is a straight driver and good putter who could set the stage for Koepka’s irons to shine. Harman is 11th in Driving Accuracy and 21st in Strokes Gained: Putting.
Koepka-Scheffler could be a potential high-octane pairing for Four-ball, similar to the Bryson DeChambeau-Scheffler team that went 1-0-1 at Whistling Straits. Burns and Harman could work in that format, as well. Marco Simone is not overly long, and Burns and Harman have similar personalities, similar off-course proclivities (hunting) and are two of the TOUR’s top putters, potentially rolling in plenty of birdies.
Here is a look at how Europe scheduled its press conferences, though less can be discerned from the two groups of six:
TUESDAY, SEPT. 26
10-11:30 a.m.: Tommy Fleetwood-Sepp Straka-Ludvig Aberg-Shane Lowry-Jon Rahm-Viktor Hovland
The first potential pairing that stands out is Hovland and Aberg, who also partnered in the Europeans’ practice session at Marco Simone. They’re two of the best drivers in the world, and they bond over a shared language (Hovland, of Norway, can also speak Aberg’s native Swedish). They seem like a great Four-ball team, pounding fairway after fairway to give themselves plenty of birdie opportunities.
Fleetwood and Hovland paired twice in Four-ball at Whistling Straits, and they seem like a team that would work well in any format. In fact, they’re the only team that Europe used multiple times at Whistling Straits that it could re-create this year. The other potential reunions from Whistling Straits -- Rahm-Hatton, McIlroy-Lowry and Lowry-Hatton -- are split among Europe’s two interview groups.
The four teams from 2021 that Europe could re-create this year were all used exclusively in Four-balls two years ago, as well. Foursomes is generally an area of strength for Europe but this year's team is missing several of the veterans that were key to success in that format.
It’s interesting that Lowry is in a separate group from both of the players he paired with at the 2021 Ryder Cup. Lowry was a rookie at Whistling Straits. Now as a veteran leader, perhaps he and Sepp Straka could form a volatile Four-ball team, one that could potentially make birdies in bunches. Straka is below-average in Driving Distance (98th) but ranks 21st in Driving Accuracy and 16th in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 27
2-3:30 a.m.: Matt Fitzpatrick-Tyrrell Hatton-Nicolai Hojgaard-Robert MacIntyre-Rory McIlroy-Justin Rose
Like the other group, this is a mixture of the team’s veteran leadership and new faces, so perhaps mixing youth and experience was Europe’s first priority. There’s a good chance McIlroy will pair with a rookie in the less-stressful Four-ball format. Perhaps Hojgaard, the team’s youngest player, or Aberg, who McIlroy told in the team’s scouting trip that he was excited to play with him. Three of the team’s four Englishmen – Fitzpatrick, Hatton and Rose – also are in this group.
The six-man groups are harder to discern, but it wouldn’t be the Ryder Cup without incessant overanalysis. We’re off to a solid start.
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Sean Martin is a senior editor for the PGA TOUR. He is a 2004 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Attending a small school gave him a heart for the underdog, which is why he enjoys telling stories of golf's lesser-known players. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.