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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Nick Rodger

Nick Rodger: Europe proving they have strong foundations ahead of Ryder Cup

ONE thing this correspondent is not very good at is... oh, hold on a minute, I may have to rephrase that sentence in the interests of accuracy. Among the many things this correspondent is not very good at is admin. I mean, I’m genuinely hopeless at it. My filing system, for instance, is so chaotic, it resembles a cabinet that was ransacked during the bloomin’ Watergate break-ins.

I’ll jot important contact details down on spare bits of paper that are strewn about in wild abandon then use those same bits of paper to scribble together a shopping list. The result is a slightly abstract canvas upon which the mobile number for a Scottish tour player of high standing could be partly obscured by the name of a squirty household cleaning agent that’s good at removing stubborn limescale.

As for the annual palaver of completing the tax return? Well, it’s such an arduous, groan-inducing burden, it actually feels like every hole on the form has to be filled in with a shovel. All of this, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with golf. But then, when have the opening meanderings in this column ever had anything to do with golf? Like my admin, it tends to be a riot of confusion.

Talking of confusion, golf’s world rankings can often leave folk scratching their head like Stan Laurel trying to get through to the HMRC customer helpline.

Despite reeling off his third victory in his last five starts with a thrilling win at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, Jon Rahm remains anchored to No.5 on the global order. The anomalies, quirks and curiosities of the official rankings system have irked the Spaniard for a while now. In his own eyes, however, he knows where he should be on that particular order of merit. “I feel like since August I’ve been the best player in the world,” he declared with justifiable confidence.

After the first hole of the final round on Sunday, Rahm trailed runaway leader Collin Morikawa by nine shots. Golf is a strange old business, though. With the kind of rampaging assault that could’ve been accompanied by mounted cavalry, Rahm galloped home with a 10-under 63 while Morikawa, who led the field by six after 54 holes, stumbled over the line with a bogey-riddled finish that was as messy as this scribe’s drawer of crumpled receipts.

It was terrific stuff from Rahm. We often say that when Rory McIlroy is in full flight, there’s not a finer spectacle in golf. When Rahm is on a rousing raid, though, it makes for a pretty captivating sight too as he unleashes booming drives, conjures dinky chips and dunts in putts with clinical gusto.

He will, all being well, be a linchpin of the European Ryder Cup team for September’s tussle in Rome. This weekend in Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, a host of hopefuls will get the opportunity to display their Ryder Cup credentials in the new Hero Cup, a team event between GB&I and the Continent of Europe. It’s basically a rehashing of the old Seve Trophy – not keeping the name “Seve” in it has gone down like a sack of spanners in certain quarters – and it is being viewed as a valuable addition to the Ryder Cup build-up.

Plenty have said it – former European skipper Paul McGinley for one – but the lack of another team contest for potential European Ryder Cup players to be blooded in became a void of growing concern.

When, for instance, the EurAsia Cup -- a match in non-Ryder Cup years between European and Asian players -- was quietly discontinued back in 2019, another important cog in Europe’s Ryder Cup preparation was lost.

Prior to the EurAsia Cup, the aforementioned Seve Trophy and the Royal Trophy both provided worthwhile platforms but they would eventually wither on the vine. In many ways, these events all served a valuable purpose in terms of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal and were viewed as part of the successful formula that helped create European cohesion and continuity.

They all offered possible Ryder Cup players a flavour of the team room environment, of playing in the foursomes and fourballs format and generally gelling with their colleagues.

As a breeding ground for prospective European captains, meanwhile, the dry run of a Seve Trophy or a EurAsia Cup was hugely beneficial. McGinley never under-estimated its worth. “I wouldn’t have been [Ryder Cup] captain without the ability to prove myself in the Seve Trophy,” he said of those stints leading GB&I in 2009 and 2011 before his triumphant Ryder Cup captaincy in 2014.

In this year of transition for Europe, Luke Donald, the continent’s Ryder Cup captain, was keen to revive such an outing and the weekend’s affair, which features Scottish duo Ewen Ferguson and Robert MacIntyre, will offer him a fuller picture of the emerging talent at his disposal in a team setting.

Donald has the strong foundations of his side for Rome – McIlroy, Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick et al – but this early opportunity to cast a close eye over the prospects who could also qualify, or nab a couple of his six wildcard picks, will provide plenty of material for his burgeoning Ryder Cup files.

I’m assuming Donald is better with admin than yours truly.

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