For European golf, this year’s Ryder Cup is set to mark a break from the past.
This week might provide a hint as to who is part of the future.
The Hero Cup match-play event takes place in Abu Dhabi from Friday to Sunday, pitting Britain and Ireland against Continental Europe in a competition that allows European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald a chance to assess his options eight months out from the contest with the United States outside Rome.
New blood will be needed in Donald’s Ryder Cup team because of the likely absence of veteran players – such as Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, who all play in the Saudi-funded LIV Golf league – who have long been the backbone of Europe’s lineup.
The Hero Cup, essentially a renewal of The Seve Trophy that had eight editions from 2000-13, is the perfect opportunity for up-and-coming players to prove themselves in a team format and press their case for inclusion in the Ryder Cup, especially with Donald having six captain’s picks.
And particularly with Europe’s top four players in the world ranking – Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland – absent this week.
So, the likes of Guido Migliozzi, a 25-year-old Italian who will be keen to play a Ryder Cup on home soil, and U.S-based players Seamus Power and Sepp Straka can force their way further into Donald’s thinking.
The two teams in the Hero Cup will be captained by Tommy Fleetwood (Britain and Ireland) and Francesco Molinari (Continental Europe), who were inseparable as Europe’s star pairing in its victory at the 2018 Ryder Cup outside Paris.
This week, they’ll enjoy a friendly rivalry at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and also be members of their 10-player teams, which contain five of the world’s top 30 – four of which are in Britain and Ireland’s lineup in Shane Lowry, Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Power.
Fleetwood, Lowry and Hatton have also won on the course at the Abu Dhabi Championship – one of the European tour’s leading events – in the last six years, giving another edge to a team that won The Seve Trophy on six of the eight editions.
The reigning champion in Abu Dhabi is Thomas Pieters, the Belgian who is part of Continental Europe’s team. Its lineup was tweaked Monday when Rasmus Hojgaard pulled out because of an unspecified injury and was replaced by his twin brother, Nicolai.
”Some of the guys this week will get their first taste (of team golf),” Molinari said. ”It is nice to have this possibility to bring in some new faces who I am sure will be Ryder Cup protagonists in the future.”
The format of the competition has been designed so that every player features on every day. There will be five fourballs on Saturday, 10 foursomes across two sessions on Saturday and 10 singles matches on Sunday.
Donald will oversee it all.
”He is interested in seeing some of the players, maybe trying out some of the pairings that he hasn’t seen in the past,” Molinari said. ”It is an important week for everyone to get to know everyone better. There are some of us he knows better than others.
”Team Europe is a family, so it is going to be nice to welcome some new, younger faces to the family. We are all looking forward to that.”
Britain and Ireland: Tommy Fleetwood (captain), Ewen Ferguson, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry, Robert MacIntyre, Richard Mansell, Seamus Power, Callum Shinkwin, Jordan Smith, Matt Wallace.
Continental Europe: Francesco Molinari (captain), Thomas Detry, Nicolai Hojgaard, Adrian Meronk, Guido Migliozzi, Alex Noren, Victor Perez, Thomas Pieters, Antoine Rozner, Sepp Straka.
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