American Ryder Cup Captain Zach Johnson on the challenge of winning in Europe

Zach Johnson represented the US in five Ryder Cups, but won only once. Now, he brings Team USA to Rome aiming to deliver back-to-back victories for the first time in 30 years…

Zach Johnson has always been a big game player. He’s one of just a handful of men who have tasted victory at The Masters and the Old Course at St Andrews, and now he’s attempting to do what no American captain has managed in over 30 years by winning a Ryder Cup away from home.

Here, Johnson gives his verdict on the Augusta-like challenge of Marco Simone and explains why Europe shouldn’t be considered underdogs in Rome…

Zach Johnson won The Open the last time it was played at St Andrews.

“The excitement is starting to burn. I have it. I’m jacked. It’s one of the things in my profession that I legitimately live for. Knowing that I am a distinct part of it and going to make some key decisions is all that much more gratifying. I can’t wait for it to start.

I feel Marco Simone is a very high-character golf course. I feel it requires everything. I mean, it has a lot of hills, so it’s the battle of the fittest, which makes sense, and then the character side of it. It’s got left, right, up, down, every which way. It’s going to require everybody on both sides to have all elements of their game to be on, and I think that’s a true test of the golf course.

The course is made for a tournament. There are natural amphitheaters there, and the finishing holes will be terrific. Drivable par 4, par 5 in there, a really hard par 3, so it will be good. It will be all we need for a Ryder Cup.

The 18th hole at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, where the Ryder Cup could be decided.

You have to hit fairways. It feels like the fairways kind of come in, the rough comes up. So it puts a really strong emphasis on the first shot. Then from there obviously the greens, given probably the consistency week in, week out of the European Tour versus the PGA Tour, they seem to be a little bit slower, maybe. Marco Simone has an ability to probably go both directions. I think that’s a pretty cool, unique feature, that they can speed those jokers up pretty quick and also slow them down if they want. Luke has that ability, which again is a really cool trait of the Ryder Cup.

Somebody told me Marco Simone is hillier than Augusta National. I think it is to a tee. It’s got everything. It is going to be a difficult physical test when you play four sessions in two days. I can’t even imagine being a caddie, and trying to walk potentially 72 holes in two days. Hopefully I have enough depth that I don’t have to play a guy or two all five sessions. That would be a luxury. When I say depth, I mean experience; I mean being physically able to withstand that. If I was given the option, I’d rather play four sessions than five. I say that, but it’s like, I don’t like resting. It stinks to sit on the bench. But that’s part of the beauty of The Ryder Cup.

Scottie Scheffler celebrates winning The Masters with caddie Ted Scott.

I want camaraderie and chemistry in situations. I love being uncomfortable. the team room. I want ownership by the team. I think it probably holds more true when we’re in Europe than in the US. I want horses for courses. I want guys and caddies who can navigate Marco Simone in September. We can get into stats, too, probably, but I’m going to rely on all those factors and those guys that make it on merit to help me formulate my team.

One of the factors that we’ve looked at over the years is what kind of form are the guys in when it gets close to the Tour Championship. I think that would be wise for me to look at. I remember playing really well one spring and thinking, I’ve got this, I’m a shoo-in. But I didn’t make the team. There’s a lot of factors involved.

FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay with Jay Monahan

I’m taking the 12 guys that make my team to Rome two and a half weeks prior to the event, so that way we get our feet on the ground, and experience Marco Simone first hand. They’ll have at least, I think, a pretty realistic expectation as to what is required. I think that trip right there is going to be crucial. That’s a strong word, but I think it’s key for a number of reasons.

Certainly chemistry and camaraderie and all that good stuff inside the locker room, but more than that, we all know Monday through Thursday is pretty trying. There’s a lot that goes on. And if we have any weather issues or things get really congested, they’ve already experienced it, so they don’t have to push themselves immensely.

USA defeated Europe 19-9 at the 2021 Ryder Cup

Do I really think the Europeans are underdogs? I can give you a one-word answer: No. They are not underdogs. They are on their home soil. There’s something to be said about having confidence and momentum where you’re comfortable, and evidently, they have been very comfortable on home soil for 30 years.

I love the fact that it’s extremely difficult to win over there. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, if it was my turn to represent our team in the US, I would certainly take that upon myself if everybody saw fit. But if I had my choice, I would want to lead a team in Europe because it’s so different. I love difficult situations. I love being uncomfortable. I love proving everyone wrong. It’s just the way I’m built, the way I’m wired.”

Who will win the Ryder Cup?
Making history: The Ryder Cup’s first female course superintendent
Who will play together for Team USA in the Ryder Cup?

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About the author

Today's Golfer features editor Michael Catling.

Michael Catling
Today’s Golfer Features Editor

Michael Catling is Today’s Golfer‘s Features Editor and an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.

Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.

A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.

Away from golf he’s a keen amateur chef and has his own healthy recipes website. He also loves playing squash, going to the gym, and following Chelsea FC.

Michael uses a Ping G driverPing G 3-woodPing G Crossover 3-ironPing G Series irons (4-PW), Ping Glide wedges (52º, 56º, 60º), TaylorMade MySpider Tour Putter, and Srixon AD333 golf ball.

Get in touch with Michael via email and follow him on Twitter.

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