Sepp Straka has an American mother, went to an American university, lives in the United States and his undeniably American accent has a southern drawl.
Yet there he was Tuesday, dressed in Europe’s white-yellow-and-blue uniform as he walked the fairways of the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club outside Rome, Italy, alongside Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry.
The 30-year-old Straka, who was born in Austria and moved to the U.S. when he was 14, never really considered playing for anyone else but Europe. And he has his family’s blessing.
“They are all Team Europe,” Straka said.
For Straka, there has been no mixed emotions this week despite an upbringing that makes him – in his words – “kind of split.”
He has never represented the U.S. at golf, choosing to play under the Austrian flag from the moment he flew back to Europe for the European Boys Team Championship in 2011, around the time he was preparing for college in Georgia.
In 2021, he wore the red of Austria at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Under International Federation of Golf policy, a player with dual citizenship would have to wait at least four years to play another international competition under a different flag. That doesn’t seem to be anything that interests Straka.
“I’ve always felt really close to my Austrian heritage,” Straka said. “My dad is Austrian (and) always made sure I spent a lot of time going back.
“Even my mom, who grew up in the States and is 100% American — she spent 24 years in Austria. She’s fallen in love with the country, and I think she’s probably just as Austrian as a lot of Austrians are.”
Indeed, it was Mary Straka’s decision to travel to Austria with her then-boyfriend that started this whole chain of events. She stayed in the country when that relationship ended, wound up working at a pro shop in Salzberg and sold a golf glove to a customer, Peter, whom she eventually married.
They moved to Valdosta, Georgia, with their 14-year-old twin sons, Sepp and Sam, who both were talented golfers by then.
Sixteen years living in Georgia — including time at the University of Georgia — has Americanized Sepp, making this week potentially awkward in the European team room. However, Europe captain Luke Donald said Straka has faced “no ribbing” so far.
“He might have an American accent and lives in Georgia, but there’s a few of us that live in America and a few of us that are married to American girls,” said Donald, who is one of those people. “It’s just the way it is. We are all Team Europe this week.”
Straka’s dedication to the European cause was underscored by his decision in January to travel across 14 time zones to play at the Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi, a competition between golfers from Britain & Ireland and Continental Europe that gave them a taste of the match-play pressure some of them will be facing in the Ryder Cup.
He gelled well with fellow players and the European team’s leadership, like Donald and European Vice Captain Francesco Molinari, but still had to back up that experience with results this year if he was to become the second player to represent Austria in the Ryder Cup, after Bernd Wiesberger.
Winning the John Deere Classic in July then tying for second at The Open Championship were the highlights of 2023 that has saw Straka place seventh at the PGA Championship, sixth at the TOUR Championship and rise to No. 22 in the world ranking.
By the time Donald announced his six captain’s picks in early September, Straka was always likely to be among them and therefore heading to Italy, a country where his family used to go for summer vacations — as many Austrians do — and he often went for junior golf camps.
“It was always our No. 1 destination for trips as a kid,” Straka said.
Straka won’t be the most vocal player in the team room. He likes to keep to himself, and was certainly the quietest among his crowd-pleasing practice grouping that played 18 holes Tuesday.
A partnership with Lowry is a strong possibility if, or when, Straka is called upon by Donald on Friday or Saturday.
Whenever that time comes, Straka will be marked by one more link to the United States. His caddie, Duane Bock, grew up in New York on Long Island but has also been converted to Team Europe — he has already replaced the U.S. cover on his yardage book
Source : PGA Tour