The tournament may be nine months away but European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn is brimming with excitement over the talent at his disposal.
Dane Bjorn will lead Europe as they look to regain a title they dropped two years ago at Hazeltine – a first victory for the United States since 2008.
Europe have dominated the competition in recent years – winning eight of the last 11 trophies stretching back 22 years, while they’ve claimed 11 of 19 titles since they first competed as Europe back in 1979.
Despite enjoying the upper hand over the past four decades, much of the talk leading up to this year’s tournament has been of an American resurgence, led by the new generation of world number one Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, who at 24, has already won three majors, including three of the last 12.
But with a new wave of European talent rising to the surface in the last two years, Bjorn is excited about Europe’s prospects at Le Golf National in Paris.
“When you wake up on Monday morning and Sergio (Garcia) has won in Singapore and Tommy (Fleetwood) has won in Abu Dhabi and Jon (Rahm) has won on the PGA Tour, you can’t help but thinking European golf is in very good hands right now,” said Bjorn, 46.
“There are some great players. But then you look at what 12 you’ve got to be up against and American golf is also in great hands at the moment. That’s what’s ahead.
“I saw Sergio yesterday, I had a chat with Rory this morning, and then your mind starts going back into Ryder Cup stuff. I feel like the last couple weeks have been a really, really good experience from a captain’s side but it’s also been a great experience to see what the players are.
“There’s a lot of happiness around. There tends to be a lot more happiness around in January. They seem to be very happy and very keen and very motivated. That’s all I can ask for.”
Whoever Bjorn leads into battle in France, it is likely to be a mix of rising youth, in-form and experienced talent. Fleetwood, who retained his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title last weekend, is coming off a stunning year, while Spain’s Rahm, 23, also enjoyed a stellar rookie season on the European Tour.
Add the likes of Tyrrell Hatton, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters and Alexander Levy to more established stars like McIlroy, Garcia, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, and you can see why Bjorn is excited.
As a warm-up for the Ryder Cup, he captained Europe to a morale-boosting 14-10 win over Asia in the EurAsia Cup earlier this month, in Malaysia, where a host of players put their hats in the ring for selection later this year.
“That’s a sign that there’s strength. I thought that’s something I’ll look back at and see as a good sign of where we are with European golf,” added Bjorn, who played on three Ryder Cup-winning teams 17 years apart – in 1997, 2002 and 2014.
“They could also be there, most likely it won’t be those 12 but it will be a couple of others that will have a few words to say about that.
“[Last week], you have 10 guys finishing in the top-20 out of those 11 that played [in the EurAsia Cup], and Rafa [Cabrera-Bello] finished, I don’t know, 40th or something, and Alex [Noren] wasn’t there.
“But that’s a strong performance. They used the EurAsia Cup well. They used the confidence they built from the week. It just gives me a lot of belief that we are in a good place.
“Now, where that will leave us in eight, nine months’ time, you know as well as I do that the golfing world moves and it goes like a yo-yo; people go up-and-down, and where it leaves us at, we’ll see.
“But where we are right now, I feel like there’s a lot of good things to build on for a lot of these players.”
And even if they didn’t necessarily produce the results to back it up in Shah Alam against Arjan Atwal’s Asia, such as Frenchman Levy, his players still showed their captain something.
Bjorn added: “The obvious ones we keep talking about, but then you look at how guys like Ross [Fisher, second in Abu Dhabi] has played; that he hasn’t won a golf tournament the last four or five years is a bit strange with the golf that he’s played.
“Tyrrell is playing well and Alex Levy stood up really well. He had a tough start to the EurAsia Cup, and you see his head was down about that, and then he had a good experience in the singles and he brought good play into last week [finished seventh in Abu Dhabi].
“You just see these players grow with what’s ahead of them and they are desperate to be there.
“The good thing about them is they go out on the golf course and do the job. They don’t just talk about being there. They go out and play good golf. It will be a difficult team to make. It really will be because you have to play some really good stuff from now on to make that team.”
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