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European captain Luke Donald has wasted no time in springing the first surprise of Ryder Cup week.

As home captain, the Englishman gets to choose which format opens this week’s match at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club: fourballs and foursomes.

To the surprise of many, he has plumped for the latter.

Why is that a shock? Simple: Europe hasn’t opened the Ryder Cup with foursomes since 1993… which also happens to be the last time the US won the famous gold trophy on European soil.

Not that Donald is concerned.

“It’s pretty simple really,” he reasoned. “We feel like as a team, statistically, we are stronger in foursomes within our team than we would be in fourballs.

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“Why not get off to a fast start? That’s it.”

Whilst Europe has been marginally stronger in foursomes than fourballs in recent times – since 2008, they’ve won 25 matches compared to the USA’s 24, with both teams winning six sessions apiece – Donald’s decision has caught many by surprise.

The US typically prefers to start its home matches in the Ryder Cup with foursomes and has done so to terrific effect in recent times.

In 2021, they won the opening session 3-1. It was a 4-0 whitewash at Hazeltine in 2016. The points were split 2-2 at Medinah in 2012. And in 2008 at Valhalla, Paul Azinger’s men dominated 3-1 to kick-off proceedings.

The last time Europe won an opening foursomes session, indeed, was back in 1999 at Brookline – but they went on to lose the Ryder Cup that year.

For Donald to dispense with recent tradition is certainly a bold call and one that Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee is surprised by, particularly as it relates to the bigger picture.

“It is very important to win the first session from a momentum standpoint,” he said, “but it’s significantly more important to lead after the first day. If you go back to 1997 to present, starting with fourballs allowed them to end with a strength on the first day, and mostly they’ve dominated in the foursomes.

“If you win the first session, you win the Ryder Cup about 60% of the time. But if you win the first day, you win 70% of the time. So in one fell swoop, he’s potentially thrown away a 10% chance, which is a monumental advantage given to the European side, and I think that’s a mistake.”

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Paul McGinley, who captained Europe to victory at Gleneagles in 2014, believes that there may be method to Donald’s apparent madness – and added that he, too, had wanted to start with foursomes when he was skipper.

“One of the challenges you have as a captain is blooding rookies and bringing them in. I wanted to play everyone the first day and the easiest place to blood a rookie is the fourballs, not foursomes.

“I had the idea that I’d put my strong foursomes pairings out in the morning and Stephen Gallacher was the guy I had in mind to play in the afternoon session. He’d have got his feet under the table at that stage, watch the first tee in the morning, and then he could elevate to the fourballs in the afternoon.

“But then it was outlined to me that, wait a minute Paul, since 1993 we’ve always started the opposite way. So I said okay, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I ended up having to adjust, which was not ideal, but I did it because we had been so successful.”

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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