Ryder Cup Captain Johnson Plans Team Practice Trip to Rome
Zach Johnson has the ultimate team trip planned ahead of the Ryder Cup.
Two-and-a-half weeks before the matches get underway outside Rome at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, Johnson, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain is taking his team to visit the club. Changes to the PGA TOUR schedule for 2023 have left four weeks between the season’s conclusion at the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup which has given the U.S. captain the leeway to make such a trip.
“The only thing I can do right now is communicate that,” Johnson said about letting his potential team know about the trip. “I don't know how far down the list I've gone, but I've done that to the guys. I have not heard anything that says that no one is in support of that.”
Johnson will be sharing that message again this week with prospective team members as he makes his 20th appearance in the PGA Championship. And like his European counterpart, Luke Donald, he’s using this week’s major as a chance to assess the players he may soon be selecting for his team. The top six players in the point standings will qualify for the U.S. team and the remaining six spots will be selected by Johnson. The team will be finalized on August 20.
“Every guy that wants to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team should try to make the top six. However that looks, you've got to play good and earn your way onto that team,” Johnson said. “I've been on both sides of that. It's not fun not getting picked, and it's not fun waiting for that phone call to be picked unless you get it. It's a tough thing as a pro, but it's something you've got to go through. I want all those guys to try their best and try to make the team and make it a priority.”
An advance trip is something that teams have been hesitant to make in the past. Getting that sort of commitment and availability from 12 players in the weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup has previously been a challenge. But Johnson said he’s made all prospective team members aware of the importance of making such a trip.
“I think that trip right there is going to be crucial. That's a strong word, but I think just key for a number of reasons,” Johnson said Wednesday. “Certainly chemistry and camaraderie and all that good stuff inside the locker room. But more than that, we all know that – those that have played – we all know Monday through Thursday is pretty trying. There's a lot that goes on. And if we have any weather issues or just things get really congested and difficult and tight, they've already experienced it, so they don't have to push themselves immensely.”
Johnson is hopeful the trip will go a long way in ending the three-decades long winless drought that the Americans have suffered while competing in the Ryder Cup overseas. Their last victory came at The Belfry in 1993.
The U.S. captain got a preview of what his team might be facing come September when the Italian Open was hosted at Marco Simone three weeks ago. The rough was thick. And he said he expects the greens will roll a bit slower when the Ryder Cup comes around, which is more in line with the conditions players are used to on the DP World Tour as compared to what his team encounters week to week on the PGA TOUR. He’s hopeful that his team’s advance trip will help them make the tweaks they’ll need to give themselves a chance at ending that 30-year run of lost matches in Europe.
“Then when we leave and come back home for two weeks, they'll have at least, I think, a pretty realistic expectation as to what is required,” Johnson said about their upcoming visit to Rome.
Besides the change in conditions, Johnson is prepared for a hostile fan environment, as is usually the case for the visiting team in the Ryder Cup. He says he’s going to prepare his team to embrace the challenge, which he says he’s done throughout his own career and just as he’s doing in relishing the opportunity to lead his squad in this uphill battle to win abroad.
“I'm a mind that's pretty simple,” Johnson said. “I love teams that go into places they haven't and probably shouldn't but do, No. 1. No. 2, what a great opportunity to just go over there and show off. No. 3, fully embrace what's difficult.”
The difficult work for Johnson has been underway for more than a year, since he was named captain in February 2022. And the hard work for his team begins not just in September but as soon as the season ends. That’s when they’ll embark on the ultimate golf trip, with a chance to bond as a team and to learn the intricacies of Marco Simone. It’s the ultimate team trip ahead of one of the biggest events of the year.