[PHOTO: Eric Feferberg]

To watch or not to watch? That is the question for those European golfers who made the jump to LIV Golf and, in the process, (mostly) ruled themselves out of contention for this week’s Ryder Cup. While one suspects that Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson will be unable to resist the temptation to tune into this week’s action at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club outside Rome, we’ll never know for sure. Westwood and Poulter declined to talk for this article and Stenson, who was stripped of the European captaincy in the wake of his signing with the Saudi Arabian-backed tour, did not respond to messages requesting his participation.

Still, whatever issues his colleagues may have with commenting on an event they all distinguished themselves in with their play, Graeme McDowell is happy to tell the world where and how he will take in the Ryder action. The Northern Irishman, who holed the cup-clinching putt at Celtic Manor in 2010, the same year he won the U.S. Open, is based in Florida so will rise in the middle of the night to watch an event close to his heart.

“It’s been something I’ve thought about,” McDowell says. “And it’s an interesting argument. Do I bury my head in the sand and wait for it all to be over and not say anything? Or do I be supportive? There are no sour grapes on my end. I understand why I’m not involved. I was texting with [European vice-captain] Edoardo Molinari the other day, telling him how much I wish I could be in Rome. I genuinely feel that.

“I love the Ryder Cup,” McDowell continues. “It is special to me. And it always will be. I’m very much trying to put the small bit of bitterness I feel to the side. It’s not bitterness towards anyone. It’s bitterness that I am not part of the eco-system. But I’m trying not to let that get in the way of what my true feelings are. I’ve had some of the greatest experiences of my life with my Ryder Cup teammates. And I enjoyed my two vice-captaincies. But this year it’s a little bittersweet for me. I just have to remember how cool it all is.”

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All of which is not to say McDowell had any notions of playing in what would have been his fifth Ryder Cup. Quite apart from the fact that he is no longer a member of the DP World Tour, and so is ineligible, his form on the course has come up a long way short of what might have been considered by European captain, Luke Donald. This past weekend at the LIV Golf event in Chicago, McDowell finished tied for 32nd, 11 shots behind winner Bryson DeChambeau. For the season McDowell’s best finish is T-11.

“I’m not sure, aside from maybe Sergio Garcia, who of the LIV players could have made the 12,” McDowell says. “Maybe Paul Casey, if he had been fully fit. Myself, Lee and Ian haven’t played well enough. The schedule we’ve played hasn’t helped, either. Henrik is still a really good player. But would any of us have been in the 12? I don’t think so. Maybe a pick if the world was a different place, but certainly not me. I wouldn’t be close. I’d love to have been part of the vice-captain squad and help Luke out. But it is what it is. I’m accepting of where we are in the world right now.”

Still, with his intimate knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes as well as on the course, McDowell will surely be one of the most “intelligent” viewers those time round. And he has his views on what we can expect to see at a venue new to him.

“I know nothing about the course,” he acknowledges. “I’ve never played there. I texted with Ricky Elliott, who caddies for Brooks Koepka, and asked him about it. He tells me the rough is very thick and the place has a flavour of Paris 2018 about it. That was a great recipe for European success so why wouldn’t you try to replicate it? Edoardo did say they might give it a little bit of a trim before the weekend. So that you can actually find balls.

“I’ll be curious to see how often the picks on both sides actually play early on,” McDowell continues. “Do you get the rookies out there early and give them a game? Or do you keep them up your sleeve, see how Friday plays out and stay with your big guns? There is always that argument. I’ve seen captains go both ways on that. You can be damned if you and damned if you don’t, depending on what happens.”

McDowell recalls fondly his early partnership with Rory McIlroy in 2010 as they successfully helped win the Ryder Cup together at Celtic Manor. [Photo: Sam Greenwood]
Ah yes, the captaincy. McDowell is of the opinion that too much weight is put on the shoulders of both captains, which is a fair point. Neither will actually hit a shot.

“All the captains can do is create a good environment for the guys, create a good narrative around what they are trying to achieve and inspire them by having the culture correct.”

But what about the pairings, the one area where the captains can have a huge influence over the proceedings? Here is a subject worthy of discussion and serious consideration.

“Pairings can pick themselves sometimes because of the ball players use, or when you have guys who get on especially well,” McDowell says. “I used to go with the theory that, in foursomes, you went with one long-hitter and one short. But statistically that doesn’t necessarily work. There’s a shelf life on these things, too. I think of Rory and myself. He was always going to be a superstar. it was just a case of when. And when he was inexperienced that ‘big brother-little brother’ thing worked great for a while. At Celtic Manor in 2010, he was a rookie and he hadn’t won his majors yet. He wasn’t quite the player he would become, although some of the shots he hit were unbelievable.

“But eventually little brother has to leave home and do his own thing,” he continues. “Eventually, our partnership didn’t work as well. He was the man and he needed to be an integral part of the team. Our personal relationship was irrelevant at that point. He had to go away and be Superman for Team Europe.”

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This article was originally published on golfdigest.com