Super duo like Francesco Molinari-Tommy Fleetwood in 2018 would give either side dream start
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At the 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, it’s the pairings, the partnerships, that will set the tone and account for 16 of the 28 points on offer. And it’s the pairings that are arguably the most fun.
“How good was that for you?” Tommy Fleetwood said in a DP World Tour social media spot in which he and Francesco Molinari woke up in bed with the Ryder Cup between them in 2018. (They’d gone 4-0-0 as Europe won in a landslide; Molinari won in Singles to go 5-0-0.)
“Four out of four?” Molinari responded.
Then, the Fleetwood kicker: “I’d give you five out of five, Frankie.”
On the golf course or off, bromance or romance, we love a good partnership, especially in the honeymoon phase.
Now, though, comes the hard part: identifying dynamic duos through analytics, friendships, truisms (“birds of a feather” or “opposites attract”) or some other factor. For U.S. Captain Zach Johnson and European Captain Luke Donald, the first two days of the Ryder Cup will feature many moving parts, but really their job is both simple and profound: Find the next Molinari/Fleetwood (“Moliwood”) by any means necessary, then ride it like Seabiscuit.
At a little before noon ET on Thursday, they will announce their much-anticipated eight Foursomes pairings.
“Yeah, I don’t envy Zach’s job at all,” Brian Harman said. “I’d be happy to play with any of the guys. They’re all super talented and they’ve won a lot of golf tournaments and they’re all very, very good. It’s tough because you end up with the analytics say one thing, the players say one thing, captains say another thing, and it’s Zach’s job to try to put the best out that he thinks gives us the best chance to win. … We’re happy with whatever direction he takes us.”
The Foursomes and Four-ball matches aren’t everything. Teams have come from behind in the Sunday Singles. It’s just that recent Ryder Cups have been blowouts in favor of the home team, and for Europe to continue that tradition, or for the U.S. Team to break a three-decade losing streak on the road, owning the first two days will be paramount.
And it could go a lot of different directions.
“The Zurich (Classic of New Orleans), I’ve had four partners there,” said U.S. rookie Wyndham Clark. “Three times we’ve had a chance to win with three different partners, and I think of myself as a really good match play player.”
Brooks Koepka inadvertently hit upon the mystery of successful partnerships when he was asked why he’s had such a long-running relationship with his caddie, Ricky Elliott of Northern Ireland.
“I think we’ve been so successful because I don’t understand him half the time,” Koepka said.
He said it in jest, but it makes as much sense as anything on the subject of tandems adding up to more than the sum of their parts. You can tell that Johnson has been thinking about this.
“We came up with what we felt was six guys that made these other six whole,” he said upon announcing his captain’s picks last month.
Translation: The Foursomes and Four-ball pairings are critical. Scottie Scheffler, the top-ranked American qualifier on points, will likely play with captain’s pick Sam Burns, a close friend; and Max Homa, who also qualified on points, could tee it up alongside captain’s pick (and fellow Cal Bears product) Collin Morikawa.
But hang on: Clark, the Wells Fargo Championship and U.S. Open champion, said he and Homa have prepared by partnering up at Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, Arizona, last week.
“I really enjoy playing with Wyndham,” Homa said. “I think he is as talented of a golfer as you’ll ever find. I just enjoy getting to be on his team, whether it’s at home or if we’re playing a practice round in a TOUR event we have a little match. … We played a little alternate-shot match against Joe (Greiner, Homa’s caddie) and Colt Knost the day before we left, and it was just cool because you’re like on the same side, you’re kind of talking things through.
“I enjoy asking people sometimes for their reads on putts just to see how they read them,” Homa continued. “Bounce ideas on what clubs – you’re starting to see how their brains see shots and how they work. And if you get to play with that person, I feel like you have maybe a little bit of a head start on if they do ever have a question or they want to talk over something, you kind of know what they like to hear, the shots they like to hit.”
Is Homa seeing other golfers? Should Morikawa be worried?
As it turns out, Morikawa and Homa, team “Homakawa” at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, are comfortable with a lot of players. Homa partnered with Tony Finau (2-0-0 in Foursomes) and Billy Horschel (1-0-0 in Four-ball) at the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow, a U.S. victory. Morikawa and Cam Young went 1-1-0 in Foursomes.
Homa and Morikawa never did play together; sometimes friendships only go so far. In Foursomes (alternate shot) it’s often more important to have a steady hand whose misses aren’t so egregious as to give away the hole.
“You can have someone that’s there and you just trust them,” Morikawa said, echoing a comfort-in-the-familiar sentiment also expressed by Rickie Fowler and Clark, among others.
Of course, nothing builds trust like success.
Jordan Spieth-Justin Thomas went 4-0-0 at the 2022 Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow. Patrick Cantlay-Xander Schauffele went 2-1-0 at Quail and 2-0-0 at the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. It’s a good bet that those two tried-and-true tandems will be kept together for the first Ryder Cup in Italy.
As for the rest, though, who knows? With Team Europe in a transitional phase it’s hard to imagine how Donald will pair up his guys. Englishmen Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick could partner up, as could fiery Tyrrell Hatton and Jon Rahm, or FedExCup champion Viktor Hovland and Ryder Cup rookie Ludvig Aberg, who both speak Swedish.
The next “Moliwood” is out there, and could emerge wearing either uniform. Now comes the task of finding it.
Source : PGA Tour