Zach Johnson knows how tough it is to win a Ryder Cup on European soil – a feat the United States hasn’t achieved in nearly 30 years – so it’s no wonder that he’s planning a team scouting trip to Marco Simone Golf Club ahead of the 2023 matches.
Speaking Wednesday in Honolulu, Hawaii, ahead of the Sony Open, the 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup captain discussed playing golf, of course, but the lengthy conversation was centered on his captaincy, with just under eight months to go until the matches tee off in Rome, Italy.
Johnson was asked about trying to get his players overseas to play the challenging course before late September. Many of Europe’s top players will make the trek to play the course during the DP World Tour’s Italian Open in May, but it coincides with one of the PGA Tour’s designated (i.e., bigger purse) events: the Wells Fargo Championship.
“That was discussed at length numerous times,” Johnson said. “I have not [tried], and I don't think I will encourage anybody necessarily to go out and play the Italian Open… Nothing against the Italian Open. If they want to go play, that's great. I think it's fantastic. But at the same time, there is a lot going on here.
“We're not going to receive Ryder Cup points in the Italian Open, so that would be something we don't want to go down and Charlotte doesn't deserve that. Quail Hollow and everybody at Wells Fargo doesn't deserve that, because that's an awesome tournament. So that's not what we're going to be doing.”
Instead, Johnson plans to take the U.S. team on a scouting trip after the team is finalized on September 4 and before the matches begin September 29.
“I'll just say this: There is an opportunity for those individuals that make the 2023 Ryder Cup to see the Italian Open, Marco Simone, the golf course, before the tournament, and come home and then go back,” Johnson confirmed.
The two-time major champion is taking inspiration from his own rookie Ryder Cup year in 2006.
Back then, the team that included Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson took a scouting trip to Ireland, where the 36th Ryder Cup matches were played. It was a quick trip – two nights, three days – where the group hung out and played the course before flying home, just to return a few weeks later.
The the U.S. eventually lost, 18 1/2 to 9 1/2, but Johnson believes such a trip is important to solidify the foundation of a team, providing more moments to bond and establish a camaraderie that translates onto the course.
Johnson reflected on another one of those fond memories that happened just before the ’06 scouting trip, when Woods took all of the Ryder Cup rookies out to Diamond Grille in Akron, Ohio, and paid cash for the meal.
“Pretty generous guy as far as I can tell,” Johnson remarked humorously.
Whether Woods will be tagging along for this year’s trip is still up in the air, but Johnson said he will be part of the team in some capacity.
“Now, from all accounts, and we're communicating with him quite a bit," Johnson said. "Actually, trying to get a phone call here shortly, but nothing of any substance. He's a part of the team. It's just a matter of to what degree.”