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From The Ryder Cup: Scottie Brings In Reinforcements, JT Goes Zero-Dark Mode And A (Slightly) Gentler Setup

Patrick Smith. Getty Images.

ROME — Greetings from Italy, where we're already ready for this damn thing to start and we still have two preview days left. Anyhoo, here are some notes collected from the grounds at Marco Simone. 

The rough isn’t as penal as it was five years ago in France, nor are the fairways quite so narrow. But that’s a bit like saying a car’s not as fast as a Ferrari. Le Golf National was almost comically punitive, not just in the sheer length of the rough but in how close it was to the fairways. 

That setup made sense at the time—that European side had Ian Poulter, Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood in it. Those are all accuracy-over-power guys. None of them are here in Rome. That 2018 U.S. side had Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau and Bubba Watson in it, all bombers prone to the wide miss, none of which are here in Rome. The sides are, statiscally speaking, much more evenly-matched in how they play than they were five years ago. The rough surrounding the fairways this week is thicker than the average PGA Tour setup but not by much; it does indeed get juicy, but not until it’s a good 15 yards from the edge of the first cut, which borders every fairway. 

That’s not say the Europeans won’t have a slight home-field advantage. I walked for a bit with Tommy Fleetwood today and asked him which, if any, course on the PGA Tour he’s reminded of while walking Marco Simone. 

“None, really,” he said, also noting that the rough was shorter than when the European team had played its practice round here a few weeks ago. “It’s like a bigger version of the Spanish, or Italian, or Portuguese courses we see a lot of on the European Tour. Like, visually, it looks just like them.”

Xander Schauffele was asked if the course reminds him of any other he played. He paused, thought, and couldn’t come up with an answer. It’s a unique look. The Americans seem to like it, though. From U.S. captain Zach Johnson: 

“I think it's well-defined. I think it is for the most part, with a couple blind shots but that's Marco Simone. That's not the setup. I think for the most part, it's right out in front of you, which is all you can ask for in a test. And I think the most important factor that I'm confident in is my guys really like it. That makes it -- I mean, if you want to play it, that helps a lot.”

Scottie Scheffler has brought in reinforcements. A lot of you are probably thinking some version of about time. Scheffler enjoyed a historically good ball striking year only to finish outside the top 150 in strokes gained putting. Every week, it seemed like, he’d hit it well enough to have a chance but brick too many putts to win. 

Shortly after the Tour Championship he brought on British putting guru Phil Kenyon, who’s got a long line of A-list clients: Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Max Homa, Matt Fitzpatrick, etc. Now he’s working with the No. 1 player in the world. From watching a bit it seems they’re working mostly on alignment stuff—before, Scottie’s feet were closed (in relation to his line) and his shoulders were very open, and that makes it hard to see a straight putt and thus hit your lines. Kenyan’s got Scottie much more square and he’s gripping the putter further down the shaft, which in turn gets him more bent over with his eyes over the ball. 

"We changed aspects of his set up to help him release the putter better," Kenyon says."

—Both sides have all the data they could ever need. It’s entirely possible—probable, even—that diving into the numbers helped the Europeans gain an edge on the on-paper favored Americans in Paris. It’s why they set up the course the way they did; they knew the statiscal profile of their players and, just as importantly, the American players, and they leveraged that data. Luke Kerr-Dineen over at Golf Digest explained this really well in a cool video. 

That won’t be the case this week; both sides have employed a full stats team, and with this course having hosted three Italian Opens in the last three years, they have plenty of data to work with. 

Edoardo Molinari, a former Ryder Cupper himself who’s worked with Matt Fitzpatrick for a number of years, is the guy running the numbers operation for Team Europe. 

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“We’ve been able to gather quite a lot of stats on what works and what doesn't work around this golf course, and you know, again, he's a big part of hopefully of a successful campaign to win back the Cup.”

For the U.S. it’s a group Johnson affectionately calls the “Nerd Herd.” 

“It's just one element of how we organize our system so yeah, you chew on it and you kind of ingest it, and you kind of figure out whether it's worthy of some of the numbers, and I guess you'd say results are worthy of implementing. But it's not the only—we deal in the objective and subjective. There's numerous factors when it comes to how we are going to go about our week, tandems, formats."

JT’s not keeping the receipts. I thought he might, given how fiery (and sometimes petty) he can be. Surely he’d be bookmarking a few takes to fire back in people’s faces when he inevitably starts playing well again. Could even happen this week. 

Maybe back then, but not in-his-30’s JT. 

“I definitely haven't kept the receipts,” Thomas said. “I don't feel like there is any good that can come from that. After I was picked from the team, doesn't matter what it is, especially when it comes to people and stuff online, everybody's got an opinion and theirs is right and everybody else's is wrong, at least that's what generally seems to be. So for that exact reason, I stayed away from social media and stayed away from stuff online because I knew nothing good was going to come from it.

“The only thing that mattered to me was that Zach and the vice captains and the, I guess, at that time, other six guys on the team wanted me on the team. Zach and I had had discussions whenever it was before the picks, and that was kind of my -- what I told him, is I'm like, look, obviously, of course, I want to be on the team, yeah. I think that I can compete and that I can go out there and I can do great for the team. But at the end of the day, if the six guys in that room don't think that I'm what's best for the team, then I don't deserve to go.”

All signs point toward Thomas and Spieth running it back as a duo yet again. They played together alongside another no-brainer pairing in Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. 

—Same place tomorrow (and the next day). Then, finally, we'll get this show on the road.