'It’s Called Playing For A Hundred Bucks In Practice’ - How Europe Dominated The 1st Hole At Marco Simone

Luke Donald and Team Europe reveal the secrets behind their legendary fast starts in the 16.5-11.5 win over Team USA at the 2023 Ryder Cup

A view down the first hole at Marco Simone from the back of the grandstand behind the tee
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Luke Donald challenged his European side to make a "fast start" in Rome, and they certainly responded en-route to winning the Ryder Cup 16.5-11.5.

The hosts roared into a 4-0 lead in the opening foursomes session on day one after being encouraged to dominate their matches from the very first hole, which was a 407-yard uphill par four. In the 28 Ryder Cup matches played in Italy, Europe won the first hole 10 times, halved it 14 times, and lost it on only four occasions. 

Those statistics were even more striking on day one when Europe didn't lose the first hole at all - winning it three times with birdies and halving it in their five other matches.

Justin Rose, who went unbeaten down the first in his three matches, admitted it was no coincidence as he revealed some of the methods used to sharpen players up for the first tee, he smiled: "It’s called playing for a hundred bucks in practice."

Skipper Donald, who opted to start the first two days with foursomes to play to Europe's strengths, admitted it was a conscious effort to get his men focused on winning the first hole.

He reflected: "As a team, we knew getting off to a fast start was important. I guess the guys who were ready, they were ready on the first tee. They obviously had a clear plan for what they needed to do on the first. 

"It wasn’t really a strategy thing in terms of setting up the hole. The hole was very similar to what we played in the first three Italian Opens. The fairways were pinched in a little on the left. Statistically, we’re pretty similar in accuracy off the tee to the US but as a team, we talked about getting off to fast starts. I think mentally, they were just ready for it."

The hosts also made use of Edoardo Molinari's statistical expertise to set-up the golf course to suit their side, as DP World Tour stalwart and ex-Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley explained.

Edoardo Molinari will be one of Luke Donald's vice-captains at the Ryder Cup

Edoardo Molinari who was one of Luke Donald's vice-captains at the Ryder Cup

(Image credit: Getty Images)

McGinley, speaking on Sky Sports, said: "Edoardo is a nerdy kind of guy on a computer who does statistics and loves it. He still plays but does it personally for guys on tour, he has helped a lot of players. A lot of players are on his books.

"He has been the prime guy in setting up this golf course. He has looked at us collectively and looked at America collectively. With home advantage we have set up the golf course, we have seen very clearly we are very good around the 200-240 yard mark. We are really good, we are better than America by quite a long way.

"But America are far better than us at 80-140 yards, so what we do is we tailor the golf course. There are three par fours that were drivable this week. When we played the Italian Open here in the past, those were played off the very back tees and they were two iron off the tees and then a 120-yard shot.

Paul McGinley pictured at a press conference

Former winning Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"That was playing into America's hands if we left those tees there, so we moved those tees forward to make them drivable to play into our strengths. Now, it is only a small thing, but it is important.

"Then you move into Edoardo pairing the guys together in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, especially when it comes to foursomes and pairing guys together. Part of it is intuition and pairing good friends together, that is a part of it, but a lot of it is blending their games to suit the test. Every exam is different and foursomes is a very difficult discipline.

"I am not giving away too many secrets, there are a lot more, but that is a little bit of an insight in home advantage. I think we nailed it in France and we have nailed it again. It is no coincidence."

James Nursey

James Nursey is a freelance contributor to Golf Monthly after spending over 20 years as a sports reporter in newspapers. During a 17-year career with the Daily Mirror, he covered mainly football but reported from The Open annually and also covered a Ryder Cup and three US Opens. He counts a pre-tournament exclusive with Justin Rose at Merion in 2013 as one of his most memorable as the Englishman went on to win his first Major and later repeated much of the interview in his winner’s speech.  Now, after choosing to leave full-time work in newspapers, James, who is a keen single-figure player, is writing about golf more.  His favourite track is the Old Course after attending St Andrews University but has since played mainly at Edgbaston, where he is a member. James’ golfing highlights include a hole-in-one and previously winning the club championship and scratch knock-out at Edgbaston. He is also an active member of the Association of Golf Writers and Press Golfing Society, for whom he has represented in matches. But he is just as happy hitting balls or playing the odd hole with his young daughter at their local club Shrewsbury.

James is currently playing: 
Driver: Ping G400
3 wood: Ping i20
Hybrid: Ping i20
Irons: Ping i500 4-SW
Wedges: Ping Glide forged 50, 56
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour
Ball: Titleist ProVIx