RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: Donald's obsession to detail inspired Europe

RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: A pyjama party, dad jokes, trans-Atlantic scouting trips and 12 replica trophies… captain Luke Donald’s obsession to detail inspired Europe’s victory at the Ryder Cup

  • Europe helped by boisterous atmosphere in Rome and Luke Donald’s planning
  • Suggestions some US players were unhappy with lack of commercial reward 
  • Mail Sport’s new WhatsApp Channel: Get the breaking news and exclusives here 

It was around 4am that Luke Donald made it to bed on Monday morning. By all accounts, he was among the earlier ones.

‘Head doesn’t feel great,’ he told a few of us a little while after rising at the hill-top hotel Team Europe shared with their American rivals at the Rome Cavalieri.

It’s a sprawling place, with an eclectic range of statues from unicorns and lions, and views over the city. 

As you walk in, the elevators on the left are framed in blue, those on the right are red, and down a flight of stairs in the middle is the vast function area where Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and the rest of Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team quickly headed once their bus got in a little after 9pm.

They were well on their way by then. Tyrrell Hatton had downed a beer next to the course moments after Tommy Fleetwood sealed the win, Rory McIlroy was soaked in champagne and falling over his words when he stopped for a chat with Andrew Johnston, better known in golf as ‘Beef’, and on the journey back from Marco Simone, they had hit it hard. Bob MacIntyre and Shane Lowry mostly led the singing.

Ryder Cup winning captain Luke Donald with the trophy and morning newspapers on Monday

Donald’s obsession to detail inspired Europe’s victory over the US at the Ryder Cup 

By the time they appeared for the party at their hotel, Hatton and Fleetwood were among a sizeable group wearing Ryder Cup pyjamas – they had also had a pyjama party earlier in the week, apparently – and from there the trophy was filled and passed around. Champagne, predominantly, occasionally beer. 

Most of the Americans stuck around and joined them, though Patrick Cantlay, he of the missing hat, nipped away early because he was getting married on Monday. Witnesses suggest Hatton was the last man standing.

Come the morning, McIlroy’s voice had almost gone. ‘I think everyone saw videos of the sing-song we were having on the bus on the way home,’ he said. ‘It’s just so nice.

‘It’s actually these mornings are the hardest. You’re having to say goodbye to people, you’re not going to see them in a while. It’s only a week, but they feel like they become family in a way. So we’re already making plans to all catch up in Dubai in a few weeks’ time. It’s great.’

Lowry added: ‘The bus was probably the best part of the night. Bobby Mac was on fire. You get so many tough days in golf that when you get a day like that it is amazing to be around friends and enjoy it with them. I feel like this week, this tournament, it is probably why I do my job to be honest.

‘In our team room we had 12 replica trophies on a stand in a trophy case and then there was a big gap for the real one in the middle – that was empty all week and we got to fill it last night. That was pretty cool.’

There’s a relevance in these details because the European team here was conspicuous for its unity. The golfers of the US spoke of tighter bonds than any had previously experienced in the Cup, but that’s relative to early editions that have resembled a dysfunctional family – for whatever reason, the American contingents at this tournament have tended to find it harder to bring individuals into a functioning collective.

In Rome, there has been nothing so glaring as Brooks Koepka’s altercation with Dustin Johnson at the 2018 afterparty but there have been persistent whispers of divides, some of which have been overplayed. There have also been stronger suggestions that elements of Zach Johnson’s side, including Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, have been disgruntled by the lack of commercial reward for their involvement – a continuation of a theme across the past two decades. Donald, by some contrast, was unequivocal in his view on Monday that playing for the Cup should mean more to players because of the absence of cash.

Maybe that is a component in how Europe have won 10 of the past 14 editions.. In this instance, they were weaker on paper, but were massively assisted by the boisterous atmosphere of a home match, and also the diligence of Donald’s planning. While Johnson’s captaincy appeared uninspiring in multiple regards – his refusal to monitor eligible players from LIV was one, and another is that nine of his team had only seen the course on a single scouting visit prior to last week – Donald is a detail obsessive.

Tyrrell Hatton was the last man standing during Team Europe’s Ryder Cup celebrations

Shane Lowry looks pleased as punch as he sits with the Ryder Cup during the celebrations

McIlroy and Lowry were also filmed drinking from the Ryder Cup as celebrations got rowdy

One prominent European source said he made over 20 trans-Atlantic flights to monitor his players across the past, was involved in weekly dialogue with Marco Simone about the state of the course, and had informed Rahm and Hatton they would be his lead-off pairing a full fortnight ago. 

His approach extended to ‘dad jokes’ being left on the pillows of his players each night. McIlroy shared one: ‘It goes, “If you’re an American in the living room, what are you in the bathroom? European.”

That’s a proper dad joke.’

It needed some explaining, but the broader point of a happy camp was clear. So was Europe’s margin of victory.

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