Luke Donald calls on Europe’s ‘fearless gladiators’ to write own Ryder Cup history

Team Europe Captain Luke Donald holds the Ryder Cup trophy during a team group photo at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, Rome, Italy, ahead of the 2023 Ryder Cup
Can Luke Donald lead Europe to regain the Ryder Cup after their humbling at Whistling Straits two years ago? - PA/David Davies

Luke Donald has instructed his “fearless gladiators” to march out into golf’s most intimidating arena on Friday and “ write their own history”.

At the same time, the Europe captain is desperate for his team to stop the Americans from penning a new chapter in the record books, with their first win on foreign soil in 30 years.

‌“Yes I would say they’re very fearless,” Donald said, after being asked if his 12 men were gladiators . “I’m excited for the guys just to take this all in, enjoy it, and try and write their own history this week.”

‌The 44th Ryder Cup will begin on Friday morning with the foursomes, the first time the alternate-shot format has been used first in a Europe match in 26 years. Donald flipped the running order after a “dive into the statistics”.

‌In recent tussles, the Americans have badly struggled in foursomes in away matches and Donald is aiming for a fast start.

‌Three years ago in Paris, Thomas Bjorn’s suffered a 3-1 reversal on the opening morning and although they whitewashed the visitors in the afternoon, Donald does not want to gift Zach Johnson’s men any momentum as the Starred and Striped set out to end the drought.

‌The morning match-ups are intriguing with Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton – AKA “Team Angry” – taking on world No1 Scottie Scheffler and his close friend Sam Burns in the opener. “Jon feeds off a playing partner with similar kind of fire and passion,” Donald said. “He wants to feel like he’s out there with a team-mate that’s really engaged with him. Tyrrell really fits that bill.”

Jon Rahm of Team Europe reacts on the eighth hole during a practice round prior to the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on September 28, 2023 in Rome, Ital
Jon Rahm will lead Team Europe off alongside Tyrrell Hatton - Getty Images/Andrew Redington

‌The best game, however, is probably the last on the course in which Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood tackle the crack US duo, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, who have a 5-0 scoreline in the foursomes over the last two Presidents Cups and the 2021 Ryder Cup.

‌McIlroy knows the potential importance of the encounter, but sounded confident as he greeted forging the new partnership with the Englishman, who famously won four out of four in Paris in 2018 alongside Francesco Molinari. They were nickamed “Moliwood” and McIlroy welcomed the moniker coined by Telegraph Sport earlier this week when predicting the pairing – “Fleetwood Mac”.

‌“America are a strong team and they have a lot of really tough partnerships and we are going up against one in Xander and Patrick,” McIlroy said. “They have got an incredible record but I just hope I can live up to Francesco in Paris. If I can live up to him, I think we will be just okay.”

‌It is understood that the pairing has been long in the forming – “our games gel well, we get on very well, and I cannot wait to play with him tomorrow,” Fleetwood said – and that Donald tried to find one of Johnson’s strike duos in the blind draw. He succeeded.

‌Donald recognised that the opponents could boast pairings with “astronomical win percentages” but he would have been surprised that Johnson benched Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Instead Johnson insisted he had no hesitation in pairing two rookies in Max Homa and Brian Harman in the second match against Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, the 23-year-old who only turned professional four months ago.

“The gist of it is we have only 12 guys and unfortunately I can’t play all 12 each session so at some point someone has to sit,” Johnson said. “It’s a course which demands a lot out of you physically, I think it’s an ideal situation where you don’t necessarily play everyone all five sessions.

“The eight guys I have down on paper I feel put us in the best position to get us off to a great start. There is a lot of things I’d like to keep internal, but I have the utmost confidence in these eight and the utmost confidence in Jordan and Justin. It’s not about their form, they are playing great, it is really just a mater of trying to dissect all five sessions.”

Team USA have been the overwhelming favourites since the record 19-9 victory in Wisconsin two years, but in the last few days the bookmakers have installed Europe at the top of the market. As well as the bias of home advantage – with Donald emulating his predecessors ensuring there is thick rough and slow greens to hamper the Americans – there has been recent and rousing up tick in the form of the blue-and-gold brigade. “I’m very happy with the progress of my team,” Donald said. “They seem to have come into a lot of form the last few months and they’ve continued that in big tournaments.”

The last day of practice featured Hovland – the Norwegian who won the $18 million (£14.75 million) FedEx Cup in Atlanta last month – make a ‘hole-in-one’ with a three wood on the 305-yard par-four fifth. Their followed the glitzy opening, with flypasts by the Italian airforce, the obligatory captain’s speeches, the introduction of the teams before the unveiling of the first pairings.

‌There were a few boos when Brooks Koepka, the only member of LIV Golf League playing here, was announced, but the mood was otherwise wholly positive despite the warnings of unruly fan behaviour.

‌There remains a danger of that over the next three days. The rise of LIV has been a constant backdrop to this match, with the defection of original captain Henrik Stenson last summer forcing Europe to appoint Donald as an emergency replacement.

‌“It’s been an amazing journey and I couldn’t be more excited and happy for these 12 guys to go out and enjoy this week because I remember I had so many fond memories as a player and a vice-captain,” Donald said. “As a captain it’s a little bit more of a stressful job, but I cant wait to get to that first tee.”