TAs you enter the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, you pass a series of huge posters of the European team’s greatest moments: Darren Clarke’s chip on the 16th against Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk in the four-ball at the K Club in 2006, Jamie Donaldson in the Seconds after Keegan Bradley conceded a goal at Gleneagles on Sunday in 2014, Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari hug after winning their fourth point together at Le Golf National. It’s a long way and they run on and on, Seve at the Belfry, Woosie at Muirfield, Ollie bursting into tears after the miracle of Medinah.
There are, as you will eventually know, three people who are conspicuously missing from the gallery. Again, you have to walk a lot longer before you find photos of Sergio García, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, the three men most closely associated with the European team this century. If you’re looking for one, you can even walk across the golf course’s 350 acres and then head back into town.
That means quite a bit of editing by whoever was responsible for putting the display together. No one has played in more matches in Ryder Cup history than Westwood, García has won more points than anyone in Ryder Cup history, and of course Poulter left behind some of his most indelible memories. Together they played 117 games and won 68.5 points. To put this into perspective, the 12 men on the team only played a total of 84 games this week and won 42.
But four of those dozen hadn’t even been born yet the last time a European team competed with at least one of those three, at Oak Hill in 1995, and most of the others were still learning to walk. At least two of Westwood, Poulter or García have been to every Ryder Cup this century. They are the common thread that connects the team that won in Paris in 2018 with the team that won in Valderrama in 1997, where a rookie Westwood stood alongside Nick Faldo, and the team that lost in Whistling Straits in 2021, with the team that was defeated in Brookline in 1999, when García played with Jesper Parnevik.
The divide is even more stark when you consider that Europeans make so much of their history. They even have the Ballesteros polo shirt hanging in their dressing room. The idea is that the importance of playing for their team must be passed on from one generation to the next, especially now, in the years following the loss at Whistling Straits. As Rory McIlroy always points out, they are a team in transition, which is why they brought four young newcomers here. “Nicolai, Ludwig, Bob, this is the future of our team,” said McIlroy, “and the future of the Ryder Cup.”
If García, Westwood and Poulter hadn’t signed with LIV Golf, all three would surely have been here this week, as vice-captains or, in García’s case, even as captain’s picks so they could steer the newcomers through. While McIlroy and the others posed for photos at the opening ceremony, Poulter and Westwood’s people instead issued a press release announcing the launch of the new online chat show they had done with Henrik Stenson. Stenson was of course supposed to be captain this week until he was stripped of the honor. These days he is instead co-captain of LIV’s Majesticks GC team.
The stories they were supposed to tell in the locker room and at team dinners instead ended up getting clicked on YouTube.
García’s involvement extends to a few phone calls with Jon Rahm, the last of which was on Tuesday. He says he also spoke to Poulter. Rahm, McIlroy and Justin Rose are now the team’s oldest members; Rose and McIlroy have played in more than half of the team’s 84 games, and the three have taken on the roles that García and Poulter would normally fill. “It will not be easy to take on the role of these two,” said Rahm, “both on and off the golf course.” He said the conversations had been “invaluable” for him.
McIlroy’s take on the whole thing was succinct and merciless: “I think they’ll miss being here more than we miss them.” At least for him, the wound is still a little too raw. One has to hope that it heals soon. Their images deserve to be seen alongside Seve and the others at Adare Manor in 2027.