Europe Ryder Cup captain Donald has a plan for beating US

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A key takeaway from the just-concluded Italian Open at Club Marco Simone outside Rome, which will host next year’s Ryder Cup, is that the course is being designed to reward precise shots with narrow fairways surrounded by rough and are surrounded by even higher grass.

By ANDREW DAMPFAP sports journalist

GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) – Rory McIlroy likened it to landing in a “jungle” when his drives went off line. Europe captain Luke Donald pointed out the thickness of the blades of grass. US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick said the rough was simply “punishable”.

If there was one key takeaway from the just-concluded Italian Open at Club Marco Simone outside Rome, which will host next year’s Ryder Cup, it is that the course is being set up to surround precise tee shots with narrow fairways of nasty roughs, rewards even taller grass beyond.

After a record loss to the United States in Whistling Straits last year, Donald enlists the help of the golf course to try to close the gap on the hard-hitting Americans.

“We definitely want to make an emphasis on getting the ball in the fairway,” Donald told The Associated Press after Sunday’s final round, confirming plans to narrow the fairways even further.

“It’s not going to be any narrower than the US Open or anything – I think there’s a lot of width out here,” he said. “But some (of the holes) have a little too much width in certain areas. So if you want to take the driver and hit them, you can, but it gets tighter.”

In Whistling Straits, where the Americans won 19-9, the widest margin since continental Europe entered the 1979 Ryder Cup, the rough was trimmed to a maximum of four inches.

On the other hand, Marco Simone’s tall grass sometimes reached over the knees of the players.

“I think the tougher the test, the better for us,” said European vice-captain Edoardo Molinari, the team’s analytics expert.

McIlroy added: “If you can get it off the tee here, it’s very, very difficult. The rough is incredibly tight and there’s a jungle of sorts outside of it if you get a play far off the line.

“(Americans) are very good at 150 in, so try to set up the golf course so that it’s a challenge to get your tee shots in that range,” McIlroy said. “By forcing people to play more conservatively off the tee I think it helps the Europeans a little bit.”

It wasn’t just the rough that presented a challenge. Changing weather every day brought heat, rain and wind before Sunday conditions were near perfect.

“Some of these guys who are probably going to be on the Ryder Cup team next year would have seen it all this week,” said Donald, who took over as captain from Henrik Stenson last month after the Swede received the honor of joining the Ryder Breakaway LIV golf circuit sponsored by Saudi Arabia. “It’s good that they are very well prepared.”

None of the probable Ryder Cup members for the US team showed up.

Donald himself, who finished 13 strokes behind surprise winner Bob MacIntyre, learned a few lessons himself when he hit the wrong ball on Friday on the mobile par-4 16 after a bad drive and then lost a ball in a tree on Sunday on 13 .

“I’ve had an adventurous week,” he said.

McIlroy, who finished fourth, two strokes back, dropped out on Sunday when he hit the water on the 16th.

Fitzpatrick, who lost to MacIntyre in a playoff, was on course for victory until he found the rough on a par-3 17 and bogeyed the penultimate hole for the third time in four attempts.

Fitzpatrick then drove into the rough again on the first playoff hole, giving MacIntyre his first win in almost two years – and only his second of his career.

MacIntyre, a gently swinging Scotsman from the whiskey town of Oban, trotted his way around the hilly course, consistently hitting the greens – never anything too spectacular – and recorded the week’s lowest round with a 7-under 64 on Sunday.

“It’s pretty easy for me. If you hit him where you aim, you’ll be fine,” said the 26-year-old left-hander. “Luckily today I aimed most of it well, I hit everything right and the putter worked.”

From 29 September to 1 October 2023, Marco Simone will become the third venue in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup, following Valderrama in Spain (1997) and Le Golf National in France (2018).

MacIntyre’s performance in week two of Ryder Cup qualifiers may have earned him a spot on next year’s team.

“I played with Bob at Wentworth last week,” Donald said. “Looks like a strong player, strong mind – he looks very fearless on the golf course, which is what you’ll need at a Ryder Cup. It is a situation full of pressure.”

On the eve of the tournament, Donald and many of Europe’s top players such as McIlroy, Fitzpatrick, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Francesco Molinari had dinner together.

“Of course we do a very individual sport most of the time. But one week every two years we try to come together as a team and unite,” Donald said. “And having those dinners helps with that.”

Edoardo Molinari said that the menu included “pasta, prosciutto and mozzarella” and that “almost everyone enjoyed a glass of wine”.

Donald hopes more elite players will try Marco Simone in May when the next Italian Open is held.

“The more eyeballs or potential players to drop in and get a feel for this place, the better,” he said. “I know the schedule is tough and busy and packed, but I will definitely encourage them to try the trip.”

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Andrew Dampf can be reached at

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