Cue Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Conjure 24 cowboys shooting it out under the Mediterranean sky. Expect reversals, betrayals, strained loyalties, ecstatic highs, and deep psychological strain. The 2023 edition of the Ryder Cup is golf’s very own spaghetti western, direct from Rome’s scenic Marco Simone Golf and Country Club. The Cup-defending Americans haven’t won on foreign soil in 30 long years. Captain Zach Johnson has designs on doing something about that, and he’s bringing along a hard-hitting group of take-no-prisoners roughnecks, including Sheriffs Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, and Jordan Spieth. His European counterpart, Luke Donald, giving no quarter and accepting none, seeks to repel the invaders and recapture the prize with names like Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, and Viktor Hovland at his ready command. From the home of the original gladiators, it’s time to buckle up for the three most tense days in professional golf.
Marco Simone should provide a truly idiosyncratic challenge. Even set among Roman ruins, it isn’t exactly what you’d call a historic course, having opened in 1989, the birth year of the imperial Taylor Swift. But it does feature the sort of match play setup common to the most memorable of previous Cups: tricky fairways, unpredictable winds, scorable par 4s, penal rough, complicated greens, and a general aura of high-risk, high-reward decision-making. Now that we’ve set the scene, let’s meet the players, ranging from those we expect to make history to those who … might surprise us. That’s right. It’s The Ringer’s first Ryder Cup Trust Index. —Elizabeth Nelson
Rory McIlroy, Average Score: 8.7/10
Nelson: The Euros’ path to victory will be paved by the gargantuan stars at the top of their roster. And there’s no star bigger than McIlroy, who is making his seventh appearance in a Ryder Cup. While McIlroy has spent the past several years falling excruciatingly short of bagging his fifth major, the 34-year-old has evolved into an astonishingly consistent player and an unvarnished guardian of what passes for the sport’s ethical core. He’s the heart and soul of the European team, and no one will generate more cheers around Marco Simone than the Northern Irish stalwart.
Atmospherics aside, the Euros will need him to improve considerably on his 1-3-0 performance at Whistling Straits two years ago to give them a fighting shot at retaking the big prize. He’s been on a remarkable run recently—carding top 10s in his last 10 tournaments, which is an absolutely batshit display of consistency. It will be intriguing to see how captain Donald elects to employ his ace, perhaps pairing him with one of the young guns in an effort to maintain their equilibrium. Or could a showdown with Wyndham Clark be in the offing? Regardless, McIlroy is likely the barometer for the Europeans’ chances. If they’re popping the cork on Sunday, it’ll probably be because he chilled the bottle.
Xander Schauffele: 8.3
Megan Schuster: Maybe you’re surprised to see Schauffele this high on the list. I’ll admit I was at first. He’s played in only one Ryder Cup previously; he’s never won a major, something we often point to to signify that a golfer can come through in big moments; and while his form this year has been solid, he doesn’t have any wins on his 2023 résumé.
But there’s something about this guy. He went 3-1-0 at Whistling Straits last year, winning his three paired matches with Patrick Cantlay and Dustin Johnson, and though he lost in singles, captain Steve Stricker trotted him out first on that Sunday to take on McIlroy. Schauffele may not be as outwardly boastful as some of his teammates or past Ryder Cup greats like Ian Poulter. But he has a quiet, contained confidence that is arguably more impressive—and perhaps easier to be paired with. Stricker’s use of him in more than one pairing last year illustrates that.
Whether Schauffele can put together another great showing will determine what his Ryder Cup legacy will look like, but at this point, we have no reason not to believe in him.
Jon Rahm: 8.3
Nelson: Something about Rahmbo in Rome just feels right. By any metric, the reigning Masters champion is one of golf’s true frontline hosses, and the world no. 3 at play near the ancient seat of civilization feels like an instance of history in balance. He is Mars to McIlroy’s Apollo, absent of proportion or conscience. Everyone knows that the Ryder Cup is a pressure cooker. When Rahm feels pressure, he just drives it 380 yards and figures it out from there. I love watching him. By his accustomed standards, his very recent form has been a touch rocky, though he is a four-time winner in 2023 and played well in his last start at Wentworth. He’s solid in match play, with a 4-3-1 career Ryder Cup record. I expect him to improve on that this week. As with McIlroy, captain Donald’s strategic employment of one of his top assets may prove pivotal.
Viktor Hovland: 8
Matt Dollinger: Hovland enters the Ryder Cup as the hottest player in the world, having won back-to-back tournaments last month at the BMW and Tour Championships. He went 0-3-2 as a Ryder Cup rookie two years ago, but he boasts a new level of confidence after staring down the best in the game and emerging with East Lake’s $18 million prize. For years, Hovland has shown the type of raw talent that made it easy to envision him as one of golf’s best. Now his short game and confidence have caught up, making him as trustworthy as anyone in the field. He just might be the most likable player in golf, and his demeanor makes him an all-world teammate. Good luck wiping that permanent smile off his face.
Tommy Fleetwood: 7.9
Schuster: Raise your hand if you’ve ever been kept up at night by the thought of Tommy’s play in France five years ago. Don’t worry, this is a safe space. Fortunately, the U.S.’s national nightmare of Fleetwood–Francesco Molinari was short-lived—Molinari didn’t make the European team in 2021, and Fleetwood went 0-1-2 in his three matches in Wisconsin. But Fleetwood was paired with a first-timer in Hovland (who, as shown above, we have much more confidence in this time around), and Fleetwood’s even temperament and aversion to making big mistakes make him a pretty ideal partner—never getting too high or two low. After a T6 finish at the Tour Championship last month, a T10 at the Open Championship, and zero finishes outside the top 25 since June, 2018 Tommy seems ripe for a return.
Brooks Koepka: 7.7
Schuster: Koepka is a big-game hunter through and through, and he has five major championships, as well as a 2-0-1 Ryder Cup singles record, to prove it. If we were playing this tournament at this time last year, Koepka’s score would have been considerably lower: Remember how lost he looked during his Full Swing episode, when he lamented his inability to find his game and raged about not having Scottie Scheffler’s unaffected disposition?
This year, though, everything has changed. He kicked off the year with a T2 finish at the Masters, then won the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. He’s got that gleam back in his eye—the one that reminds me of a cat toying with its prey. And most important, he’s sounding dismissive in press conferences again.
Q: If the Ryder Cup came down to one match on the course to decide it, I suspect if you ask all 24 guys here if they want the ball, they'd say yes. How many of them do you think really mean it?— Patrick McDonald (@AmateurStatus) September 27, 2023
Brooks Koepka’s answer ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/lbfdvp5acP
Patrick Cantlay: 7.5
Nelson: Cantlay is a natural heel, and he knows it. In the wake of another spate of entirely justifiable complaints about his slow play at this year’s Masters, he proceeded to record an ace at the seventh hole at the following week’s RBC Heritage and then posted the footage to Instagram with the caption “Playing faster!” So unctuous, so delightful. I love to hate Cantlay, especially since he allegedly vetted/poached Tiger Woods’s caddie Joe LaCava earlier this year. Is this slow-play fuck seriously quiet retiring Tiger Woods? Because that’s what it felt like. Anyway, all of this augurs very well for his chances of standing out at the Ryder Cup. Heel shit absolutely plays there: Think Payne Stewart, Hal Sutton, or Ian Poulter. Or every single American involved in the “War on the Shore.” Cantlay hasn’t won in 2023, but he went 3-0-1 at Whistling Straits and finished fifth in his last start at the Tour Championship. He has such a punchable face. I’m expecting great, aggravating things.
Scottie Scheffler: 7.3
Dollinger: Scheffler is the no. 1 golfer in the world and is coming off a season in which he hit the ball like Prime Tiger Woods from tee to green. So how is he not atop this list by a country mile? Because he’s also the no. 130–ranked putter on the PGA Tour. He’s racked up a staggering 10 top-10 finishes in the last six months and hasn’t finished worse than T31 in any tournament. But he’s failing to do the one thing Prime Tiger was best at—winning. And while it’s frustrating to miss cuts, it might be even more frustrating to play incredible golf and have nothing to show for it. All those missed birdie putts start to add up mentally, and eventually, they’ll pour over to everything else. I’m not going to use a certain four-letter word that starts with a Y … but I can’t imagine a worse situation for a player with immense expectations and no confidence in his putter than representing your country in a team competition. It’s one thing to miss birdie putts on your own; it’s another when you’re letting your friends down. Scheffler has hired a new putting coach and was seen making pretty significant changes to his stroke this week. Maybe it’s a good sign he’s addressing it. Maybe it’s a bad sign he’s addressing it the week of the Ryder Cup. He’s a historically steady player, but I worry about him delivering in such a pressure-filled format.
Rickie Fowler: 7.0
Schuster: Weirdly enough, Rickie Fowler is one of the more experienced Ryder Cup entrants on this U.S. roster. It’s easy to forget, given that he didn’t play in 2021 and has spent the past year finally regaining his early-career form, but Fowler was on the U.S. team in 2010, 2014, 2016, and 2018. Now in this case, experience doesn’t totally equal success (he’s 3-7-5 lifetime), but whereas Fowler was the young blood of those past iterations, he’s a seasoned vet this time around—and if the U.S. wins it, he’ll finally have someone to kiss in the team’s victory photo.
Tyrrell Hatton: 7.0
Dollinger: The most volatile player on either side. I trust Hatton like he trusts the golf gods not to screw him. Hatton is the no. 11–ranked player in the world, but he also holds the record for most weeks at no. 1 on the Most Likely to Lose Their Shit at Any Given Moment leaderboard. If you search his name on YouTube (which I highly encourage), the second-most related term that comes up is “angry.” (Watch this, and you will not be disappointed.) He blew a four-shot lead at the BMW a few weeks ago after going out of bounds on the fourth to last hole and unraveled like an overused baseball. He’s got the exact type of fire you want out of a Ryder Cup player; he just has no idea how to harness it. The slightest miscue or bad bounce can completely derail him. I’m not sure I can trust a guy like that in a team competition. That said, I will absolutely watch.
Collin Morikawa: 6.7
Nelson: The fact that a player of Morikawa’s skill level and résumé was a captain’s pick speaks to the impressive depth of the U.S. roster. Morikawa has not had his best game in 2023 and has battled a wonky back at times, which led him to withdraw from the Memorial in June. Nevertheless, he was an obvious choice for Captain Zach Johnson and brings elite talent, major championship pedigree, and Ryder Cup experience to the table. The 26-year-old went 3-0-1 at his debut at Whistling Straits two years ago, and has demonstrated a pugnacious side that will serve him well in the heat of battle. One caveat: While Morikawa possesses few peers as a ball striker, his putter is streaky at best. He should be an asset for the Yanks, but figuring out when and how to deploy him will require some tactical acumen.
Matt Fitzpatrick: 6.7
Dollinger: Fitzy is as gutsy as they get. His shot on the 72nd hole at the 2022 U.S. Open will go down as one of the clutchest shots in majors history. He’s also made some jaw-dropping progress in recent years, taking his game to heights most never envisioned. So why is the no. 8 player in the world not ranked higher here? He’s 0-5-0 for his career in Ryder Cup matches. That doesn’t feel like an accurate reflection of his game or grinder mentality, so maybe we’ll see a course correction this year. Few can bear down like Fitzpatrick, making him the type of golfer I’d want on my side in a team competition. (That said, if I were his partner, I’d have to bury my head in a bunker every time he left the pin in).
Justin Rose: 6.3
Schuster: I must admit, Justin Rose is this high mostly because of his Ryder Cup record. I don’t have a ton of confidence in Rose’s game at the moment. Yes, he has a PGA Tour win on his résumé from earlier this season, but since that Pebble Beach Pro-Am victory, he’s been more likely to miss the cut than to finish with a top-10 result—and two of his missed cuts came in pressure-packed events at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. What does fall in Rose’s favor, however, is his history in this event, and the joy he seems to take in playing the heel at it. He’s 13-8-2 all-time in the Ryder Cup, by far the best record of anyone on Team Europe, and that includes a 7-2-1 score in foursome play. If Rose can find his fire this weekend, he’ll be a tricky out for anyone.
Captain Zach Johnson: 6.1
Nelson: As the youngest skipper since Tom Lehman in 2006, 46-year-old Captain Zach provides a fresh face at the top of the U.S. team. But he’s backed up by plenty of credentials, including stints as vice captain to Jim Furyk in Paris in 2018 and Steve Stricker at Whistling Straits in 2021. Johnson raised a few eyebrows with his six captain’s picks—especially choosing Justin Thomas, who has struggled badly through much of 2023, over relatively hot hands like Lucas Glover, Keegan Bradley, and Ringer favorite Cameron Young. Team chemistry has tended to be an issue when the Americans faltered at past Ryder Cups, which may be part of the reason Zach navigated away from Dustin Johnson, a longtime mainstay who spent the past season loitering on the LIV Tour and is not known to be a favorite among his peers. In some ways, the superior team depth possessed by the U.S. makes Zach’s challenge that much more difficult—given the numbers crunch it’s nearly inevitable that some frontline stars will get benched, and he will be praised and or pilloried accordingly. No single individual has more to gain or lose this week.
Max Homa: 6.0
Dollinger: The People’s Champ has won five times in the past 2.5 years, but he’s this low on the list because of all the tournaments he was in the mix for but didn’t win. That might be an unfair measuring stick, but it becomes noticeable when you’re constantly on leaderboards but not closing. Homa has finished inside the top 10 in each of his past five tournaments, but hasn’t come away with any victories. He’s also struggled in majors, including missing the cut at this year’s U.S. Open at the L.A. Country Club, where he owns the course record. That said, he just earned his first top-10 finish at a major in July (on European soil, no less) and remains one of the best putters in the game. You could see his steadiness as a plus or you could see his lack of hardware as a caution sign. In other words, he’s a total wild card.
Jordan Spieth: 6.0
Schuster: Any time I have to talk about Jordan Spieth these days, I feel increasingly like Mother Abbess from The Sound of Music: How, indeed, do you solve a problem like Jordan? In past iterations of the Ryder Cup, the answer has been to pair him with strong personalities. That strategy worked out swimmingly in 2016 when he partnered with the always boisterous Patrick Reed—the two went 2-1-1 together, beating a Justin Rose–Henrik Stenson pairing twice. And again in 2018, when he and Justin Thomas were the U.S.’s lone successful through line, winning three of their four matches together.
It’s expected that Zach Johnson will pair Spieth and Thomas together again—but the question is whether Spieth can fire things up if Thomas continues his lackluster form of late. Spieth’s 0-3-1 singles record isn’t especially encouraging in that respect.
Justin Thomas: 5.9
Dollinger: This pick is all vibes. Justin Thomas might be the most controversial captain’s pick since Ahab went after that one whale. But there’s plenty of reason to trust JT in this setting: a 6-2-1 career record at the Ryder Cup, 15 wins on Tour, and two major wins. Granted, he hasn’t won in 16 months, he missed five of seven cuts at one point this summer, and he failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup for the first time in his career. But he bounced back with respectable showings (albeit in weaker seas, er, fields) in his last two tournaments and there’s something to be said about his intimidation factor. JT is coming into the Ryder Cup pissed. He’s the most motivated golfer in the field after being doubted and criticized endlessly in the buildup. He’s not afraid to stare down the European side and he’s going to treat each point like life or death. In an event in which pressure is paramount, taking a flier on a true gamer makes sense.
Ludvig Aberg: 5.7
Dollinger: The 23-year-old will become the first golfer ever to appear in a Ryder Cup before he plays in a major. That’s how much the Europeans believe in the Swedish youngster, who needed only nine professional starts before earning his first victory at the European Masters earlier this month. The two-time Ben Hogan Award winner out of Texas Tech has a swing so simple and silky that it’s hard to imagine him hitting anything offline. Some young golfers seem almost immune to pressure because they haven’t developed the scar tissue from committing high-profile mistakes. But Aberg shot a final-round 76 two weeks ago to blow a 54-hole lead at the BMW European Championships, so I’m not sure how trustworthy he is at this stage of his promising career.
Captain Luke Donald: 5.5
Dollinger: The Europeans drew a hard line against LIV golfers, leading to 3-Wood God Henrik Stenson being replaced by Donald as this year’s captain. On paper, the Englishman is about as qualified as it gets: former no. 1 player in the world, Player of the Year on both the PGA and European Tours, a member of four winning Ryder Cup teams, and a vice captain on the last two. But it’s fair to wonder whether he’s the type of leader who can inspire the usually saucy European side. Donald is known for being quiet, reserved, and measured—all valuable traits for a world-class golfer, but possibly not the right mix to command a locker room filled with veterans and big personalities. You could argue the mild-mannered Donald might be the perfect metronome to keep things steady, but the European side would undeniably have more buzz if it was helmed by a more vocal captain, like Sergio Garcia or Ian Poulter.
Wyndham Clark: 5.3
Schuster: This isn’t a question of clutchness so much as it is experience. Clark showed earlier this year that he can stare down the best golfers on the planet and come out on top—beating the likes of Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler at the U.S. Open in June. Clark also had a number of other impressive finishes on the season, including a win at the Wells Fargo Championship and a third-place result at the Tour Championship.
But Clark also told Golf Channel last week that he wants a matchup with McIlroy in the Ryder Cup because, “I have tons of respect for Rory and because of that respect, I also want to beat him. I like to think I am better than him and I want to prove that.” I might wait to have at least one Ryder Cup swing under my belt before I openly challenge one of Europe’s feistiest players (let’s all recall 2016). But hey, that’s just me.
Brian Harman: 5.1
Nelson: A 36-year-old automatic qualifier whose surprise runaway at the Open Championship essentially punched his ticket to Italy, Harman is a Ryder Cup rookie known for his small stature, tenacious attitude, and expert touch around the greens. The latter may prove only too useful at Marco Simone, where temptingly drivable par 4s will leave a bevy of nervy pitches and chips. As a midcareer newcomer to the pressure-cooker Cup scene, Harman has a chance to stir the gumbo in surprising ways. Will he wilt under the Mediterranean sun, or rise to the challenge as was the case in rainy Liverpool? How will Johnson employ his spark-plug energy? Like Mary Lou Retton in the 1984 Summer Olympics, there is something about Harman that smacks of immediate cult hero. If he gets hot and chops down Rory, Rahm, or Hovland over the weekend, his song will be sung for ages. I will write it.
Shane Lowry: 5.1
Schuster: If this were a rating of clubhouse vibes, Lowry likely would have gotten 10s across the board. And maybe that’s why he got a captain’s pick for the second straight Ryder Cup.
Lowry did … just fine in his first Cup appearance at Whistling Straits, going 1-1-0 in fourball matches with McIlroy and Hatton and losing his singles match to Cantlay. But Donald’s choice to include him this time around drew a few raised eyebrows, as Lowry hasn’t had a top-10 finish in any tournament since February, and some expected Donald to choose form over experience and go with Adrian Meronk. Lowry’s a seemingly chill guy who appears to play well with everyone. But he might have to dial things up this weekend to back up his recent talk that he more than deserved this spot.
Sepp Straka: 5.0
Nelson: Who is Sepp Straka? Like a character from a Faulkner novel, Straka’s backstory is a semi-mysterious mélange of the old and new world. The 30-year-old was born in Austria but moved to Georgia as a teenager and attended UGA like fellow Cup competitor Brian Harman. His name sounds European, but his accent says “good old boy.” What are we to make of this? Is he a cunning plant by Johnson, foisted on the European team as a Manchurian candidate who can be activated at a moment’s notice to yank a crucial 4-footer? Or will his transcontinental knowledge make him a secret weapon who will confuse his American opponents with a dizzying array of quick-change dialects? Whatever the real story, Straka will make his Ryder Cup debut following a 2023 campaign in which he carded top-10s at the PGA and Open championships and won at the John Deere, but also missed a bunch of cuts. This boom-or-bust tendency makes him an intriguing wild card and a potentially important asset for the Euros. He can be a birdie machine when his putter gets hot.
Sam Burns: 4.7
Schuster: I mean no disrespect to Sam Burns. Zero! None! But he’s never played in this tournament before … and he also just did this to his hair:
Yes, I know Brooks did something similar and we have him much higher up on this list. But when you’ve won five majors, you’re allowed a dalliance or two with a mullet. When you haven’t, it just makes me concerned.
Robert MacIntyre: 4.5
Nelson: Another automatic qualifier making his Ryder Cup debut, the 27-year-old Scotsman is long off the tee but very short on this kind of match play experience, which is to say he doesn’t have any. He’s played well in pressure spots, including a couple of top-10 finishes in Open Championships and a T12 finish at the 2021 Masters. But there is pressure, and then there is the gut-churning, fever-sweat-inducing, brain-breaking pressure of the Ryder Cup. Expect him to be used sparingly by Donald.
Nicolai Hojgaard: 4.3
Nelson: OK, let’s get into this. Nicolai Hojgaard is a 22-year-old Danish up-and-comer, with a slash through the “o” in his name that I do not know how to replicate on my keyboard. Do you know who else has a slash through the “o” in their name that I can’t replicate on my keyboard? Nicolai’s twin brother Rasmus, who was also in consideration for a spot on the European squad. This was very likely the final choice for Donald and represents a part of a deliberate Euro youth movement as the likes of Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, and Ian Poulter are being gently led out to pasture. There’s a lot to like in Hojgaard’s game—he’s absurdly long and plays with real swagger—but consider this mostly a learning experience for a budding star and a chance to walk in the towering shadows of Rory, Rahm, etc. His and Rasmus’s time will come.