GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — The reachable par-4 16th at Marco Simone was designed to decide the Ryder Cup, and that’s exactly what happened.
Rickie Fowler dumped his tee shot into the pond on the right and then Tommy Fleetwood stepped up and drove the green on the 277-yard hole, stopping his ball 23 feet from the cup.
“What a time to hit the shot of your life,” the British commentator on the international broadcast bellowed.
As he walked down to the amphitheater-like green, Fleetwood was serenaded with “Tommy, Tommy” chants by the massive crowd both lining the fairway and filling a three-story hospitality structure.
Fleetwood then rolled his putt to 6 feet and was reaching into his right pants pocket for a ball marker when Fowler conceded the hole on Sunday to ensure that Europe would regain the 17-inch gold trophy.
Fleetwood picked up his ball, turned toward the crowd and raised both arms in celebration as nearly every spectator did the same thing back at him.
One-white haired fan was so moved that he ran onto the green past Fleetwood’s caddie and leaped into the pond. When the fan emerged, still fully clothed, he conducted the crowd for a thunder clap — then turned around and dove into the drink again.
“The occasion was very, very big. Rickie let me off. You never really want to see someone hit in the water, so I was not particularly pleased about that. But I still have to step up and hit,” Fleetwood said. “Put a swing on it and it set off straight and it wasn’t moving, and I was happy to pick the tee up and move on.
“And then the thing is with that green, you can’t really see where the ball is landing with the sun. So you just wait for the crowd’s reaction, and yeah, I was quite pleased when he gave me the putt.”
Located just outside Rome, Marco Simone underwent an 11 million euro ($11.6 million) complete redesign for the Ryder Cup led by Dave Sampson at European Golf Design in collaboration with Tom Fazio, the son of the course’s original architect, Jim Fazio.
One of the main goals was to add drama to the final holes.
“Everything went according to plan,” Italian Golf Federation president Franco Chimenti said. “This course is going to have cult-like status now.”
While only about 10% of the nearly 300,00 tickets sold for the week went to Italians, the Ryder Cup should still leave a legacy in a country where golf has been a niche sport for the elite.
“I closed myself off inside our team bubble over the last three days but I hope the event resonated with a lot of people who perhaps had a certain idea about golf. Maybe they changed their minds after this week,” said Francesco Molinari, a Europe vice captain and Italy’s most successful golfer.
Marco Simone became the third venue in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup after Valderrama in Spain (1997) and Le Golf National near Paris (2018).
While the next Ryder Cup that Europe hosts will be at Adare Manor in Ireland, Ryder Cup Europe seems intent on returning to the continent for 2031 or 2035, with interest from Austria and Spain.
The 2031 host could be announced in the next few months.
While their team was beaten 16½-11½, American fans at Marco Simone didn’t leave overly disappointed.
“We sat on the 1st tee grandstand and cheered along with the Europeans and the Americans both. Sometimes we forgot who was cheering for who,” said Del Lyren of Golden Valley, Minnesota.
Attending their fifth Ryder Cup, Lyren and his wife, Betsy, wore American-flag themed red-white-and-blue overalls.
The Lyrens also found time to visit the Colosseum, the Vatican and the Roman Forum, then were off to Sorrento.
“We love it, because it gives us an excuse to travel to other parts of the world,” Del Lyren said. “That’s kind of what we use it for.”
Jessica and Eric Minor, a couple in their 40s, flew in from Dallas for their first Ryder Cup and enjoyed the fan craziness.
“I saw a woman in a full velour eagle suit,” Jessica Minor said. “She clearly was supporting the United States and good for her, because I don’t know how she did it in the 85-degree heat.”
Eric Minor added: “My favorite were the U.S. hot dogs — the guys dressed up as hot dogs.”
For Chimenti’s federation, the goal now is to have an Italian player qualify for the next Ryder Cup.
Some of Italy’s most promising players include three-time European tour winner Guido Migliozzi and Filippo Celli, who won the silver medal as best amateur at the 2022 British Open at St. Andrews.
In the meantime, Team Europe’s players said they wanted to keep the same staff for the next Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black in New York in 2025 — which could mean that Molinari and his brother, Edoardo (the team’s analytics guru), will remain as vice captains.
Francesco Molinari formed an unbeatable pairing with Fleetwood in 2018 and was the vice captain assigned to his good friend all week.
“It fills me with pride that it was him,” Molinari said. “But it’s irrelevant who wins the decisive point, just like with me in Paris.”
So did Molinari say anything to Fleetwood before 16?
“No. In those moments, especially with a player like Tommy, he doesn’t need any words at all,” Molinari said. “I was watching him confident that he was going to do the right thing.”
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf