You may not yet know much about the setup for next week’s Ryder Cup at Marco Simone. But know this: It’s going to be hilly.
“It’s a brutal walk,” U.S. captain Zach Johnson said last week, after his team’s scouting trip.
“It’s so hilly and the temperature could be pretty hot, too, that I think guys are going to be happy to probably rest,” added assistant captain Stewart Cink. “There’s not going to be a lot of disappointment for not playing.”
On an NBC call previewing the Cup on Thursday, Paul Azinger called it “a bit of an endurance test.”
“If somebody plays all five matches, I think it’s going to be tough on ’em,” his colleague Curt Byrum added.
You get the idea. Marco Simone is a straight-up hike.
But these guys are used to walking. They’re used to heat. And they’re used to hills. No big deal, right?
According to the captains, it actually is something of a big deal. The condensed nature of the event — two sessions Friday, two sessions Saturday, singles on Sunday — mean that top players could trek five full rounds in just three days. Temperatures are expected to creep into the upper 80s in Rome next week. And this is the Ryder Cup, which involves a higher preparation-to-play ratio than any other event in professional golf. Many of these guys rarely have coaches at golf tournaments, after all — now they have a captain plus a bevy of assistants to stress the small stuff.
So there are unique preparations underway.
Fred Couples revealed on his SiriusXM radio show on Thursday that Johnson introduced a lighter, more slender golf bag to the lineup in a nod to the demands of Marco Simone.
“Zach has small bags for the caddies,” he said. “That’s how hilly and tough this course can be.”
As for European captain Luke Donald? He’s been making plans, too.
“It is a possibility that some guys who are used to playing five might not play five,” he said at the BMW PGA Championship. “You want some freshness, it is going to be a tiring golf course, it could be quite warm. We’ll have to make those decisions based on play on Friday and Saturday. They all want to be out there and play as much as they can but they understand the rationale behind it.”
That all makes sense. But he also hinted towards another concept we’ve not seen in my Ryder Cup memory: pooled caddies. Some players might make the trek but their bagmen might need accommodations.
“For the caddies, we have enough people there to fill in if someone can’t do 36 holes,” Donald told the Express. “That has all been thought about.”
The course measures just more than 150 feet from its low point to high. The 18th hole alone drops more than 100 feet from tee to green, which suggests you will have done some climbing to get there. That’s a number that pales in comparison to Kapalua, the toughest walk on the PGA Tour, where the number is more like 500. But nearly half the holes feature blind approach shots, which means hill climbs to elevated greens. Add in long rough, the extra stressors of match play and the X-factor of jet lag and you’re talking about stress-testing players’ legs.
U.S. players appeared to take carts during its scouting trip, which Wyndham Clark told Sports Illustrated was “like college golf on steroids.” The European team was there, too, ahead of the BMW PGA Championship. “It was amazing,” Rory McIlroy said. “I’m sort of surprised it’s the first time we’d ever really done it.”
That doesn’t mean everyone was crazy about the golf course.
“It’s very blind. And for a stroke-play event, I was not a big fan,” Viktor Hovland said. “This time around when I played it, I still don’t think it’s an amazing stroke-play event, or golf course, but for match play, I think it’s going to be super-exciting because there’s a good mix of the holes that are easy that you can make birdies and you can make eagles, but there’s also some extremely difficult holes where if you make a par, you could win the hole.”
Win the hole — and walk to the next one.