Friday, July 1, 2022

Ryder Cup captain Stenson seeks gladiator spirit in Rome

GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy ( Associated Press) — Europe’s Ryder Cup teams typically rely on teamwork and unity to challenge the powerhouse American team.

For next year’s edition on the outskirts of Rome, European captain Henrik Stenson may also use history – ancient history – for inspiration.

On his first visit to Italy since becoming captain two months earlier, Stenson had the Colosseum opened just for him, allowing him to recreate actor Russell Crowe’s trademark line from the film “Gladiator” when he wrote “Will you Aren’t you entertained?” for an empty field.

“I’ve been outside several times before, but never seen it from the inside and getting the full VIP experience was something else,” Stenson told the Associated Press on Monday. “When you walk in you feel the history. We’ve all seen ‘Gladiator,’ right? So you know what was taking part and what was happening there years ago.”

Can Stenson impart some gladiator spirit to his team?

“We got a lot. We got 12 of them,” he said, referring to the number of players to be picked in his squad.

The Marco Simone club will become the third place in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup after Valderrama (1997) in Spain and Le Golf National (2018) in France.

The club is owned and operated by fashion designer Lavinia Biagiotti Signa.

“You can come here to watch the match and spend a few extra days in Rome,” Stenson said. “This will be the ultimate Ryder Cup golfing experience.”

Stenson and vice-captains Thomas Bjorn and Edoardo Molinari – who were announced on Monday – spent hours observing the course under a baking sun.

“It’s going to be a great test. I think it’s going to be a great viewing point for the spectators,” Stenson said.

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Stenson said he and his team are trying to change course in favor of the European player’s strength.

“It will be risky and rewarding golf where you have to hit good shots to get a birdie,” he said. “And if you don’t hit those shots we’re there to make sure you’re going to pay the price for it.”

Björn praised the downhill flow of the driveable par-4 16th and 18th, saying those holes are “going to be significant.”

Molinari thought Stenson was joking when he offered him one of the vice captain’s jobs.

“We’ve known each other for so many years and he’s always been someone who jokes a lot,” Molinari said. “For an Italian player, however, it is beyond any dream. When I started playing golf I never thought I would reach this point.

Molinari and his younger brother, Francesco, were part of the European team that won the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales. Old Molinari will be the specialist in statistics and analysis for Stenson.

“He’s Italian, it’s obviously an added bonus, but that’s why he’s sitting here,” Stenson said during a news conference when Molinari was introduced. “It’s down to their skill set.”

However, Francesco Molinari has been more successful than his brother in terms of skill.

In 2018, Francesco Molinari became the first European and second overall in the competition’s current format to lead 5–0 in the Ryder Cup by securing a deciding point over Phil Mickelson. He missed a loss to the US last year at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin after suffering back problems.

This being Italy, Stenson was asked if Francesco Molinari was also involved in his plans.

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“If you look at what Francesco did in Paris, that’s certainly the case,” Stenson said. “We have not started the qualification process yet and it has a long way to go. But all those players who played in the Ryder Cup in the past and who want to play in the future are clearly on our radar, and certainly Francesco is one of them.

Stenson said he and the European Tour plan to announce qualification criteria and the number of wild cards “within two to four weeks”. He won’t really look into how a Saudi-funded league that has fragmented the golfing community can influence team selection.

“I didn’t know anything. And I’m not going to speculate on that,” Stenson said. “That’s a question that I will refer to the tours and decision-makers there.”

Stanson was more concerned with how to get an American team to pass the biggest route Europe has ever taken, 19-9 in the Whistling Straits, behind a team that had youth, talent, appetite and little attitude.

“Looking at it statistically over time, Europe has been the underdog at times,” Stenson said. “But we have overcome this by having great team spirit and playing for each other and really coming together, especially in home matches with home fans.

“The thought of playing in front of a home crowd gives me goosebumps. … It’s going to be great to play here in front of passionate Italian fans.”

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More Associated Press Golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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