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  • Alistair Tait

Can Hero Cup Provide Ryder Reality?

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

I hope this week’s Seve Trophy, sorry, Hero Cup provides inspiration for Europe to go on and win the Ryder Cup in September.

I’m not so sure.

The current fractured nature of European golf makes this week’s Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi a far cry from those warmup Great Britain & Ireland versus Europe affairs of the past when the name of Europe's greatest golfer, Seve Ballesteros, was attached to the match.

Let’s start with the positives.

European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald gets experience of watching players who’ll hopefully make his team to face the United States in Italy later this year. Young European Tour golfers like Bob MacIntyre, Sepp Straka, Rasmus Højgaard, Adrian Meronk, Guido Migliozzi, Ewen Ferguson, Thomas Detry, Seamus Power, Callum Shinkwin and Richard Mansell will get valuable experience in a team situation with fellow European Tour peers. All have a good chance of playing in this year’s Ryder Cup.

Said players get to mix with those who already have Ryder Cup experience such as European captain Francesco Molinari, and his Moliwood partner from the 2018 match, Tommy Fleetwood, the GB&I skipper. Throw in fellow former Ryder Cuppers in Shane Lowry, Thomas Pieters and Alex Noren and hopefully the September hopefuls will be imbued with enough Ryder Cup zest that making the team in September becomes an even bigger goal.

That’s the hope. However, imagine how much Ryder Cup spirit could have been injected into those team rooms in Abu Dhabi if the Tour hadn’t thrown a little PGA Tour inspired hissy fit over those so called “rebels” who’ve joined LIV Golf.

Isn’t it a shame Ryder Cup veterans like Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson couldn’t have been involved this week? These players not only provided the strength of so many European Ryder Cup teams over the years, they also embraced its spirit and passed that onto fellow team members. That’s an intangible that can’t be manufactured, no matter how hard Donald tries.

I hope Europe wins this year’s Ryder Cup. I hope the old adage that says anything can happen in 18-hole match play and probably will holds true and Europe upsets a stronger American side. I hope the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Lowry and Fleetwood can provide the sort of backbone, the heavy lifting, to carry Europe over the line. I hope Donald’s dozen are filled with the same team spirit of former European teams which carried so many European sides to victory.

That’s my hope, but I fear Europe’s chances have been irrevocably damaged because the European Tour has spit the dummy over Westwood and Co’s decision to join LIV Golf. I agree with veteran caddie Billy Foster who recently castigated the old world circuit’s actions when he told Golf Digest’s John Huggan the likes of Westwood and co…

"…should be welcome on this tour. I’d also have them available for Ryder Cup selection. And the captaincy. In contrast, too many players out here bring nothing to the party. The European Tour is dead. It’s on its arse. It has lost its heart and soul, which breaks my heart.”

Has the Ryder Cup lost its heart and soul too over Keith Pelley and the Tour’s petty decision to try to ban European stalwarts, a decision that will be reached in a courtroom next month?

By the way, Foster isn’t the only one who wants to see those so called “rebels” considered for selection. His boss Fitzpatrick has openly called for Garcia to be a consideration for this year’s match. So has Rahm.

Anyone who knows European Tour history realises the importance of the Ryder Cup match to the circuit Pelley now heads. For many years it has been the financial backbone that kept the whole circus afloat. Let’s not forget the marketing opportunities it provided too. Far easier to pitch to sponsors when you’re winning the Ryder Cup on a continuous basis than if Europe was getting trounced every other year.

During last year’s Open Championship, Daily Telegraph golf writer James Corrigan voiced his fears for the Ryder Cup when asked about LIV Golf’s impact on the professional game during a Sky Sports interview. But it’s not LIV Golf that’s threatened the biennial match, but Pelley and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan's reaction to LIV Golf. And Europe has far more to lose than its strategic alliance partner in this phone war.

I fear for the future of the Ryder Cup, too. This week’s Europe v GB&I match probably won’t give us much of an indication about what’s going to happen in September, but the bottom line in my book is that Foster’s correct when he says the tour is crazy to alienate guys like Westwood, Poulter and co from the game’s greatest team match. And all because, in Foster’s words:

“We’ve sold our soul to an organisation (the PGA Tour) that has done nothing but stamp its foot on us for the last 40 years.”

#JustSaying: “We’re struggling. The standard is dropping. And has been since the better players basically stopped competing here. You get better at golf by playing against better players. But if they’re not there, you’re not getting better.” Pete Cowen on the current state of the European Tour

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