Ryder Cup captain Stenson seeks out gladiator spirit in Rome
GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — Europe’s Ryder Cup team usually relies on teamwork and unity to challenge the powerhouse American squad.
For next year’s edition on the outskirts of Rome, European captain Henrik Stenson might use history — ancient history — for motivation, too.
On his first trip to Italy since being named captain two months ago, Stenson had the colosseum opened just for him, allowing him to re-create actor Russell Crowe’s trademark line from the film “Gladiator” when he bellowed “Are you not entertained?” to the empty arena.
“I’ve been outside a couple of times before but never seen it on the inside and to have the full VIP experience was something else,” Stenson told The Associated Press on Monday. “You kind of feel the history when you walk inside. We’ve all seen ‘Gladiator,’ right? So you kind of know what was taking part and happening there many, many years ago.”
Might Stenson impart some gladiator spirit onto his team?
“We got plenty. We got 12 of them,” he said, referring to the number of players that will be selected to his squad.
The Marco Simone club will become the third venue in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup after Valderrama in Spain (1997) and Le Golf National in France (2018).
The club is owned and run by fashion designer Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna.
“You can come here to watch the matches and spend a few extra days in Rome,” Stenson said. “It will be the ultimate Ryder Cup golfing experience.”
Stenson and vice captains Thomas Bjorn and Edoardo Molinari — who was announced to the post Monday — spent hours inspecting the course under a baking sun.
“It will be a great test. I think similar to what we had in Paris with the high banks on the side of the course,” Stenson said. “It’s going to be great viewing points for the spectators.”
Stenson said he and his team are trying to tweak the course in favor of the European player’s strengths.
“It’s going to be risk and reward golf where you have to hit the good shots in to get birdie,” he said. “And if you don’t hit those shots in we’re there to make sure you’re going to pay the price for it.”
Bjorn admired the driveable par-4 16th and the downhill flow of 18, saying those holes “are going to be pivotal.”
Molinari thought Stenson was joking when he offered him one of the vice captain jobs.
“We’ve known each other for so many years and he’s always been a person who jokes a lot,” Molinari said. “For an Italian player, though, this is beyond any dream. When I started playing golf, I never thought I’d get to this point.”
Molinari and his younger brother, Francesco, were part of the victorious European team at the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales. The older Molinari will specialize in statistics and analytics for Stenson.
“That he’s Italian is obviously an added bonus but that’s not why the main reason for why he’s sitting here,” Stenson said during a news conference when Molinari was introduced. “It’s for his skill set.”
In terms of skills, though, Francesco Molinari has been more successful than his brother.
In 2018, Francesco Molinari became the first European, and second player overall in the competition’s current format, to go 5-0 at a Ryder Cup by clinching the decisive point over Phil Mickelson. He missed last year’s loss to the U.S. at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin after struggling with back issues.
This being Italy, Stenson was asked if Francesco Molinari figures in his plans, too.
“If you’re looking at what Francesco did in Paris, certainly so,” Stenson said. “We haven’t started the qualification process yet and it’s a long ways to go. But all the players that played in the Ryder Cup in the past and the ones who are wanting to play in the future are obviously on our radar, and of course Francesco is one of them.”
Stenson added that he and the European Tour plan to announce qualifying criteria and the number of wild cards to be awarded “within two to four weeks.” He wouldn’t really go into how a Saudi-funded league that has fractured the golfing community might affect team selections.
“I got no idea. And I’m not going to speculate on that,” Stenson said. “That’s a question I will pass by to the tours and the decision makers there.”
Stenson seemed more concerned with how to overcome an American team coming off the largest rout ever over Europe, 19-9 at Whistling Straits, behind a team that had youth, talent, hunger and a little attitude.
“Looking at it statistically over time, Europe has been underdogs many times,” Stenson said. “But we’ve overcome that with great team spirit and playing for each other and really coming together, especially on the home matches with the home fans.
“I get goose bumps just thinking about playing in front of the home crowd. … To play here in front of passionate Italian fans is going to be spectacular.”
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