US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer, one of six rookies on The European Team (Getty Images)
Rookies to bring ‘experience’ to European cause
Europe may have the most rookies in the team since 1999 but the six debutants will bring a wealth of experience to the cause.
By Steve Todd, europeantour.com
Colin Montgomerie’s European Team might contain a six debutants, the second highest in the competition’s history after 1999, but the rookies will undoubtedly bring a wealth of experience to The Celtic Manor Resort.
Whereas there has often been a temptation in past Ryder Cups to break rookies in gently, Montgomerie need have no concern about blooding any of his “newcomers”.
Ross Fisher, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and the Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco, are all inside the top 40 on the Official World Golf Ranking and have all performed with note on the global stage.
Indeed, US PGA Champion Kaymer is the first rookie to tee it up for Europe in The Ryder Cup as a Major winner since Seve Ballesteros travelled to The Greenbrier as Open Champion in 1979.
His triumph in the KLM Open on Sunday was his seventh success in just four seasons on The European Tour, and the 25 year old already has many of the hallmarks that made his compatriot Bernhard Langer – the only other Germany to have played in the competition – a Ryder Cup legend.
Kaymer’s nerveless putting at Whistling Straits, both in regulation play and the three-hole play-off with Bubba Watson, gave an insight into a man whose temperament would seem ideally suited to the pressure-cooker environment of The Ryder Cup arena.
If the Majors are the ideal preparation for a Ryder Cup debut then McIlroy will take confidence from his performances in The Open Championship and the US PGA Championship, after finishing tied third in both.
Like Kaymer, the Northern Irishman has also tasted success on American soil this season, memorably firing a majestic 62 in the final round of the Quail Hollow Championship to add a maiden US PGA Tour victory to his European Tour win in the Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy, who has previously represented Europe in the Junior Ryder Cup in 2004, would appear to be the perfect Ryder Cup partner for his compatriot and close friend Graeme McDowell, the US Open Champion.
The pair impressed together in last year’s Vivendi Trophy presented by Seve Ballesteros and again at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, where they shot an opening round 58 to finish joint runners up.
It was the Molinari brothers from Italy who denied them victory on that occasion and, similarly, Edoardo and Francesco would seem a natural pairing in Wales, when they will become the first brothers to have played in the same match since Bernhard and Geoff Hunt in 1963 and the first Italians since Costantino Rocca (1993, 1995 and 1997) to play in The Ryder Cup.
As the younger of the two siblings, Francesco has acquired a reputation as one of the most consistent players on The European Tour, finishing 14th in The Race to Dubai last year.
The 27 year old won the Italian Open in 2006 and has come close to adding to that success on several occasions since. He played alongside Edoardo in the final round of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and so witnessed his brother capture his second victory of the season and earn a wildcard pick.
Montgomerie was so impressed by Edoardo’s magical hat-trick of birdies on the closing three holes at Gleneagles that the European Captain said it was the best finish he had seen in his time as a player on The European Tour.
Perhaps even more remarkable though has been Edoardo’s meteoric rise from World Number 652 at the start of 2009 to his current position of 15, and his journey from the European Challenge Tour last season to a Ryder Cup rookie.
The 29 year old was not even on The European Tour when the Ryder Cup points race began last September but after winning the Challenge Tour Rankings with record earnings, and then the World Cup and the Dunlop Phoenix in the Far East, Edoardo has carried forward his stunning form into 2010.
Victory in the Barclays Scottish Open was followed by his win at Gleneagles and, like his brother, he has added consistency to his game with seven top five finishes this season, to occupy sixth position in The Race to Dubai.
If Molinari Snr faced intense pressure to earn his Ryder Cup debut, the same could be said of Peter Hanson who changed his schedule at the last minute to enter the Czech Open 2010 and duly won.
The Swede had finished in a share of eighth place in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and after making the cut in the US PGA Championship he asked for a sponsor’s invitation to the Czech Republic where, knowing his Ryder Cup place could depend on it, he sank a pressure putt on the second extra hole to capture his second title of the season and fourth of his European Tour career.
Hanson, who captured the ninth and final automatic spot, carries on the proud tradition of Swedes playing in The Ryder Cup, with at least one of his compatriots making the European Team in seven of the past eight encounters.
Finally, Fisher sealed his place in Montgomerie’s Team with a magnificent victory in the 3 Irish Open, which continued his run of winning in each of the last four seasons.
The Englishman demonstrated his aptitude for The Ryder Cup format when he won the Volvo World Match Play Championship last October, defeating one of the American stars of Valhalla, Anthony Kim, in the final.
Fisher also led all four Major Championships at one stage in 2009, emphasising how comfortable he feels on the world stage.
That is a trait common to all six rookies, as perhaps best explained by Montgomerie himself.
He said: “A lot has been made of the fact that half of my team in Wales will be rookies. I cannot deny that fact as it is there on paper but, what I will say, is the fact that that word tends to be associated with inexperience. However, it is impossible to categorise any of my ‘first timers’ in that manner.
“They are certainly not like I was when I made my debut at Kiawah Island in 1991. I was very new to the whole thing and playing alongside giants of the game in our team that year such as Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer. Remember also that I had hardly played much competitive golf in America either by then – so how can you compare that to the likes of the ‘rookies’ I have in my team?”
There have been some memorable performances by rookies in the history of Ryder Cups – including Justin Rose winning three points at Valhalla two years ago – and this year’s crop would appear better equipped than ever to create a lasting legacy of their own.