Rory McIlroy: Ryder mainstays missed, but they'll regret absence

September 27, 2023, 6:59 AM

GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy -- Rory McIlroy admitted it's strange not having the likes of Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood as part of this year's Ryder Cup, but he said the ramifications of their decision to join LIV Golf will "hit home" this week as the 2023 competition gets underway.

This is the first Ryder Cup since 1995 where not one of Poulter, Garcia, Westwood or Graeme McDowell have been part of the European team. All four joined LIV Golf and resigned from the DP World Tour in the process, which made them ineligible for selection for the Ryder Cup.

The four have all been a part of McIlroy's Ryder Cup journey as he embarks on his seventh tournament against the United States at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club. McIlroy has been a vocal critic of LIV Golf from the outset and said Wednesday that those who opted to join the breakaway league rather than preserve their Ryder Cup availability will realize what they are missing out on this week.

"It's certainly a little strange not having them around," McIlroy said of his former teammates. "But I think this week of all weeks, it's going to hit home with them that, you know, they are not here, and I think they are going to miss being here more than we're missing them."

Only one LIV golfer will be at the Ryder Cup, as American Brooks Koepka was a selection of U.S. captain  Zach Johnson.

The absentees have been spoken about this week, and McIlroy's teammate Jon Rahm has been picking the brains of Poulter and Garcia ahead of the competition.

"He [Garcia] showed me a lot of what to do at Whistling [Straits in 2021] and in Paris [in 2018]," Rahm said. "I did have a little bit of a chat with him, as recently as [Monday] and with Poulter as well. It's not going to be easy to take on the role that those two had both on and off the golf course, but [I] just [wanted] to hear them talk about what they thought and what they felt is invaluable information."

McIlroy enters the Ryder Cup ranked No. 2 in the world and will be charged with preserving Europe's 30-year unbeaten home record. This comes two years after Europe's heavy defeat at Whistling Straits, where it lost 19-9 to the American team. McIlroy later said there were times during that competition where he felt at his lowest in Ryder Cup colors.

Two years ago, McIlroy had yet to register a point heading into the singles on the final day, but captain Padraig Harrington sent him out first and he defeated Xander Schauffele. McIlroy was emotional afterward, but looking back now, he said he feels it was a turning point in his career.

"Coming into 2021, I felt like I was searching a little bit," McIlroy said. "I didn't feel in full control of my game. If you trace everything back, I got a lot of confidence and belief in myself that Sunday singles at Whistling Straits, because I certainly wasn't believing in myself at that time. But the rest of my team did believe in me."

McIlroy has a 12-12-4 Ryder Cup record, including going 3-2-1 in singles. He said he feels ready to contribute more to Europe's tally this year.

Much of the talk leading into a Ryder Cup revolves around fan involvement, and the European team will benefit from home support this week. McIlroy is expecting some heckling from the U.S. fans but said it's all part of the Ryder Cup experience.

"There's not a lot of other instances in the game of golf where [getting heckled] happens, but there's certainly a line," McIlroy said. "Most fans that come out to watch golf are very respectful, and they know what that line is.

"No, I have no issues about that. Yeah, we have all had our fair share of hecklers over the years and whatever, and that's a part of it. Someone said to me once, if you want to be part of the circus, you have to put up with the clowns."