For those of us standing behind the second green, it was hard to make out the figures back on the tee. Rory McIlroy was an easy pick. He was hatless, his hair freshly cropped. And when one of the others put the ball into the water guarding the green, there was a consensus from the crowd as to the culprit.
"Sergio," they all uttered in unison, almost as if their one-word chorus of dismay was orchestrated. His form of late made him the easy pick. But it wasn't Garcia at all, it was the other Spaniard – Jon Rahm – who had suffered the water ball.
The quartet of players in this last of the European groups in the practice round comprised McIlroy, Garcia, Rahm and Justin Rose. Whether or not that has any relevance in determining possible partnerships for the actual matches remains to be seen. Europe's captain Thomas Bjorn remained tight-lipped on divulging any of his thoughts on that matter.
Yet, if the whispers are to be believed, Rahm and McIlroy are a likely pairing. Or are they? Why not McIlroy with Rose in a power pairing? And why not Garcia with Rahm? A new Spanish armada, so to speak, in the tradition of how Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal once lit up this biennial match and added their brand of Latin flair to the show.
Garcia’s form this past summer has been poor but there were signs of life from a top-10 finish in the Portugal Masters last week and a re-invigoration since donning the European team colours here. As for Rahm? Well, he is pumped up . . . . and, for a rookie, he has moved into the team room with its banter and piss-taking like an old pro who has been around the blocks time and time again.
On us wondering of Bjorn if Rahm was perhaps too excited, if there was any need to temper his enthusiasm, there was a firm response in the negative. “No. Jon wants to be on the golf course. Remember where he is from. He’s got a long-standing history, his country, with this event and from the European side there is no doubt that we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in today if it wasn’t for Seve and the Spanish players keep carrying that on. Ollie coming behind him and Sergio, and (Rahm) is now seeing himself as the next person in line to carry that on,” responded Bjorn.
For sure, Rahm’s up for this one big time. Yep, he still listens to music ahead of playing to calm him down. This week’s playlist includes Eminem’s new album. But he has embraced the difference from week-in and week-out on tour where they are individuals and rivals. “It’s great when a team gets together for the one same goal, the one purpose and it gets accomplished. Whether you win or lose, you win or lose as a team,” the Spaniard says.
And, yes, Garcia is one of his influencers. It was Garcia who first made the phone call – on Bjorn’s behalf – recommending Rahm to take up membership of the European Tour so that he could play in the Ryder Cup. “I’ve gotten to know Sergio pretty well outside the Ryder Cup and he loves the event. He knows what it is like, and he knows how well he performs in this event. He acts in a great way. His demeanour, his energy is so positive; it’s contagious. He is a special man. He is a great golfer, and that is one of the reasons why he’s here.”
Could he play with Garcia? Maybe. Or Rose? Maybe. “If I’m playing with somebody like Justin Rose, it will help me calm down a little bit and my emotion will maybe help pump him up a little bit.” Or McIlroy? Maybe too. “If I were to play with Rory, I think we know each other’s game very well and we have a similar game plan in mind.”
So, the guessing game continues; just as Bjorn would like it to until his pairings for the opening session of fourballs are announced at the opening ceremony. Then, it is for real.
Anyway, for what it's worth, Bjorn sent out his men in this order for Wednesday's practice (playing the front nine, with tee pegs located in five positions on each green to indicate possible hole placements for the competition days): Henrik Stenson, Thorbjorn Olesen, Tyrrell Hatton and Paul Casey; then, Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari and Alex Noren; and finally, that quartet of McIlroy, Rose, Rahm and Garcia.
Bjorn knows who his pairings are, but he ain’t saying. Not just yet. “It’s not easy to mix-and-match the team; it never is, because as soon as you move one guy, a lot of moving parts moves within the whole team. That’s what we are there to do. That’s my job, and the five vice-captains, that’s what we do together and then we find the best solution with the whole team.”
He added: “My job is to create a process for those 12 players to out and perform their best. Are we underdogs? Probably on paper we are. But we still believe that we can win. We still believe that we can go out and do a job on the golf course. We concentrate on what we do, our pairings, the people in our team room and try and create the best possible environment for those 12. That’s the only thing I can focus on. I can’t focus on if we are underdogs or favourites, because that gives me nothing.”