The race to qualify for the European team for the 2018 Ryder Cup got underway last week at the niftily named D+D REAL Czech Masters, played over the Albatross Golf Resort in Prague. The outcome? Victory for a South African, Haydn Porteous. Sometimes it will surely go more smoothly than that…
Next year’s Ryder Cup will be held at Le Golf National course just outside Paris. The European captain will be Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, who made his playing debut in the first – and so far only – match to be played on the continent, at Valderrama in Spain in 1997. The victorious captain on that occasion was, unforgettably, the late and great Seve Ballesteros. One has to go back to 1993 to find the last time Europe lost on home soil but for sure Bjorn and his merry men will have a fierce struggle on their hands as they attempt to wrest possession of the trophy from the American team led by Jim Furyk, for whom 1997 was also his first Ryder Cup appearance.
Bjorn said recently: “From now on it is going to be a lot more concrete as you start to see who is playing well and who isn’t. So far there has been a lot of planning but now all my focus turns to the 12 who are going to play, which is by far the most important thing. I am so close to a lot of the players, many of them are great friends of mine, and I am trying to balance the captaincy with those friendships.”
It was announced earlier this year that there will be a greater weighting for points earned in tournaments in the latter stages of the qualification process in order to make it more likely that the European team reflects the players in form nearer the time of the match. The qualification campaign will conclude with the Made in Denmark tournament, staged at Bjorn’s home course, Silkeborg Ry Golfklub, after which the first four players from the European Points List, followed by the leading four players from the World Points List, will automatically make it on to the team.
Bjorn will then have four wild cards at his disposal, as opposed to the three available to Darren Clarke last year and the two José Maria Olazábal had in 2012. The top-12 Europeans home in Czecho were Lee Slattery, Tom Lewis, Pontus Widegren, Eddie Pepperel, Oscar Lengden, James Morrison, Lee Westwood, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Matteo Manassero, Scott Henry and Callum Shinkwin. In fact there are only 11 names there, all in a tie for 13th or better, but you get the gist: let’s see how many of that lot will be in the side in a little over a year from now. Whatever, I think it’s safe to suggest that competing against a team that will include Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson, Bjorn will need to have his best players on duty. That will surely include rookies like Jon Rahm, veterans like Sergio Garcia, and (who knows?) maybe even a returning Paul Casey. Time will tell.
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