Europe not underdogs in Rome, insists US captain Zach Johnson

USA captain Zach Johnson, left, and Europe captain Luke Donald with the Ryder Cup during a 2023 Ryder Cup press conference in Rome. Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Brian Keogh

US Ryder Cup skipper Zach Johnson will have Tiger Woods in Rome “in some capacity” but he’s having none of Luke Donald’s claim that Europe will be underdogs next year.

While the USA crushed Pádraig Harrington’s Europe by a record margin at Whistling Straits and recently batted away a spirited International team in the Presidents Cup, Europe hasn’t lost a home Ryder Cup since 1993.

“I fully expect us to be underdogs despite that home percentage of wins over the last 30 years,” Donald said. “But again, my job is to try and get the team to a place that will give them the highest chance to succeed, and it’s nice to be a home captain.

“But no doubt we are going against a very, very strong opponent. I think the US Presidents Cup team was the strongest they have ever been on paper, World Rankings. They have some phenomenal teams that seem to be tough to beat.”

Johnson described the Ryder Cup course as being hillier than Augusta National and hinted that players might struggle to play in all five sessions.

But are Europe underdogs?

“No,” Johnson said. “They are not underdogs. They are on their home soil. You hear the notion of, ‘Well, on paper.’ Well, I understand that but on paper can be subjective as well. I don’t think it’s all that objective in my opinion.

“But, at the same time, there’s something to be said about having confidence and momentum where you’re comfortable, and evidently, they have been very comfortable over here for 30 years. So, no.”

Donald has six picks that will allow him to combine a strong, experienced vertebral column with new faces and he was thrilled to see Shane Lowry win the BMW PGA from Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm.

“I couldn’t be more happy to be honest,” the Englishman said of the start to the qualifying campaign. “And then the last few weeks, Bob MacIntyre winning around Italy in a play-off against Matt Fitzpatrick, another guy that’s played a couple Ryder Cups. Guido (Miggliozi), obviously the Italian connection.”

With players like Sepp Straka and Séamus Power inside the world’s top 50, Donald is keeping his fingers crossed that the likes of Francesco Molinari can return to form alongside a player like Miggliozi.

“Obviously my goal is to have the best 12 players to come next year,” he said. “But I would dearly love there to be some Italians on that team.”

As for the presence of Woods, still recovering from his car crash, Johnson said: “I don’t know if he will be here next year but he will be a part of this team in some capacity. He already is, frankly.”