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Talk of a so-called transition period through which the European Ryder Cup team is apparently going, triggered largely by that thrashing at Whistling Straits, has only been heightened by the absence of several stalwarts.

This is the first time since 1995 that this tournament hasn’t featured one of Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood or Ian Poulter. Their decision to try something new on the LIV Golf League and subsequent resignation from the DP World Tour means only the faint promise of peace talks will give the trio any hope of being involved in future.

Indeed, if you walk around Marco Simone this week, there is little evidence the trio that collectively contributed 67 points across the last 12 Ryder Cups ever pulled on the yellow and blue.

And the subject has raged on social media and beyond. Garcia, Europe’s all-time leading scorer, made a last-ditch bid to secure a spot in Luke Donald’s team, while his former caddie Billy Foster, himself taking part in his 16th Ryder Cup, told bunkered that they are “our next three Ryder Cup captains”.

We will never know if any of them would have been involved had Mohammed bin Salman never taken matters into his own hands. We would have had a different captain, that much is for sure, and it would be difficult to imagine Henrik Stenson wouldn’t have picked his pals – if not in a playing capacity then certainly in his backroom team.

But we deal largely in hypotheticals in sport – it’s impossible to get through any interview without them – and it’s the four names who will lead the European team into their next era who are left facing the sport’s biggest what if? since a fire hydrant derailed Tiger Woods’ bid to chase down Jack Nicklaus.

Ian Poulter

Tommy Fleetwood described it as “different”, before adding: “My generation of Ryder Cups has been those guys that were such huge presence on and off the course. It was honestly the most amazing experience seeing those guys in that team atmosphere and that team environment.”

But, he concluded: “We still have a couple of current legends in the Ryder Cup in Justin [Rose] and Rory [McIlroy], and a few of us that are hoping to follow in their footsteps and make our own legacy over the next era of Ryder Cups.”

One of those players of which Fleetweed speaks, Jon Rahm, who won three points from three alongside Garcia in Wisconsin and has made little secret of his feelings on the LIV Golf ban, was more matter of fact in his response.

“I did talk to [Garcia] and ask for advice – and with Poulter, as well,” he revealed, “Not that it’s going to be easy to take on the role that those two had both on and off the golf course, but just to hear them talk about what they thought and what they felt is obviously invaluable information.”

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Justin Rose, at 43 the oldest player at this year’s Ryder Cup, was more philosophical.

“In life, and in business, there are transition phases where you need to look to new leaders,” he explained. “What would be great is if we can slip through that period of transition unaffected and start to look to the next generation to come through and to have that winning culture.

“But Westy, Poults, as captains or vice-captains or however they may or may not be involved in the future, they do have a lot to offer. But the winning culture in and around the team is as strong as ever. Luke has an incredible Ryder Cup record – the most winning from a percentage point of view – [and] when you look in our team room – [Paul] McGinley, Thomas Bjorn, Jose Maria [Olazabal], we had Monty (Colin Montgomerie) in there – just people that are still connected to and invested in the European team.”

2023 Ryder Cup

Rory McIlroy, though, always knows how to hit a headline quote.

“I mean, it’s certainly a little strange not having them around,” he started. “But I think this week, of all weeks, it’s going to hit home with them that they are not here.

“I think they are going to miss being here more than we’re missing them.”

There was an audible collective intake of breath from the throng of reporters, and, after a brief pause to mentally edit what he had just said, the four-time major champion added: “This week is a realisation that the decision they made has led to not being a part of this week, and that’s tough. The landscape in golf is ever-changing and more dynamic, and we’ll see what happens and whether they will be part of it in the future.

“I always thought leading up to this week is when it’s going to hit home that they are not going to be here.”

Time will tell whether any deal between the tours and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will forge a way back for our fallen heroes. For now, though, we can only imagine what might have been.

Listen to our ramblings from Marco Simone on daily episodes of The bunkered Podcast

author headshot

Alex Perry is the Associate Editor of bunkered. A journalist for more than 20 years, he has been a golf industry stalwart for the majority of his career and, in a five-year spell at ESPN, covered every sporting event you can think of. He completed his own Grand Slam at the 2023 Masters, having fallen in love with the sport at his hometown club of Okehampton and on the links of nearby Bude & North Cornwall.

Associate Editor

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