Zach Johnson to captain Team USA in the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome, seeking first away win since 1993

The two-time Major Champion will lead the American bid to retain the cup at Marco Simone G&CC in Italy.

The news leaked out last week, but on Monday is was confirmed that two-time Major Champion Zach Johnson will captain the 2023 American Ryder Cup team.

Despite that pair of wins in the tournaments that define a career the 46-year-old would not be classed among the elite of his generation, but maybe that was a part of the attraction for the PGA of America.

Superstar leaders have not always fared well for Team USA whereas smart and dogged performers on-the-course have often replicated that recipe when an off-the-course general.

In the modern era think Dave Stockton at Kiawah Island, Paul Azinger at Valhalla, Davis Love III at Hazeltine and most recently Steve Stricker at Whistling Straits.

Johnson is well-liked on Tour. When news broke last week at the Honda Classic Brooks Koepka said: "I like Zach. He's always been fun in the team rooms. He's been kind of a little bit of a rah-rah guy, which is always good.

"We all knew it was going to happen sooner or later, it's nice to see him get one. The stuff he does behind closed doors is what I think makes the big difference.

"I think every guy that's played on a team that he's been an assistant or played with him would definitely agree with that and be happy to see him do it."

A 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, Johnson two Major wins could hardly have been more perfect: Green Jacket glory at the Masters (in 2007) and Claret Jug triumph at the Home of Golf (St Andrews in 2015).

That he utilised smart strategy to accomplish both successes will not have been overlooked by those making the decisions. They will hope for more of the same in Rome (and, as a committed Christian, he will surely consider it a huge honour to captain on a course with views of the Holy City).

Let's take a closer look at his task, his Ryder Cup record, who he will be up against and what he had to say of the decision.

The task

On the one hand it is all good news for Johnson: Team USA has won two of the last three matches and, in the most recent of those, when thumping Europe 19-9, there was a widespread belief that a new generation had emerged, lacking the scars of the past and just generally being better players that the Europeans.

There is also an acknowledgement that the Europeans are in the process of losing a generation of veterans around whom long term success has been built. The likes of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey.

A couple of them may earn selection in Italy, but in the past most of them played and most of them also played well. That backbone will be hard to replace.

On the other hand, Johnson will know that the Americans have not won in Europe since 1993 and that the Europeans have become shrewd with course preparation.

Le Golf National in 2018 was arguably the perfect example: a narrow and shallow test from the tee that left the Americans flummoxed, bad tempered, and ultimately defeated.

Johnson will need to prepare his team to not throw the toys out the pram if they don't have the capacity to play with them.

Johnson in the Ryder Cup

A five-time player in the match, he kicked off with four defeats before enjoying the 2016 victory at Hazeltine. He has a record that reads: 8-7-2 and being the right side of 50% makes him among America's better performers in the era.

He has been a vice-captain in both 2018 and 2021 which is possibly the perfect prep. He saw first hand what went wrong in Paris and what went right in Wisconsin.

Who will captain Europe?

That remains to be seen. The on-going drama with Saudi Arabia is muddying the waters.

Becoming a Ryder Cup captain is something of a pension pot in itself, but more so when a captain wins. The Saudi pension pot relies less on success or failure.

The candidates are also as aware as anyone else of those generation shifts: America's deep strength among 20-somethings, Europe's ageing heroes.

Lee Westwood has already opted to remain a player and make the most of the rest of his 40s, Ian Poulter is a little younger and does not want the distraction to the last years of his active time on tour.

Paul Lawrie and Robert Karlsson are believed to be on the short-list and the Scot has made a self-funded trip to the course, but the whispers are that both are a little distant from the current players.

Those same whispers hint that Luke Donald and Henrik Stenson are the front-runners, with the latter most tied up in the Saudi League.

What Johnson said

On his excitement:

"I'm starting to breathe. I'm relieved. I'm excited. I'm extremely excited. I have all the emotions running through me. Pure honour comes to mind more than anything, just knowing that I can lead this great team in Italy and represent my country, again, is flattering."

On falling for the Ryder Cup:

"My first Ryder Cup in 2006 was not the way I envisioned it as a team. That being said, it was immediate that I was fixated on it. I loved it: the team camaraderie, chemistry, everything about it, just grabbed me. I'm a team sports guy and it was captivating, I just fully embraced it. I loved everything about it. What a great week and an opportunity to just kind of show off. I've loved it ever since that day, and I can sit here and say it's the best event in the sport of golf."

On asking Steve Stricker - the winning captain in 2021 - to be vice-captain:

"(IT) may come as a surprise to most out there. I'm pumped and honoured to have him along my side, a guy that's led us to a pretty resounding victory (and) it's more so how we did it. Frankly, just the class with which he led I admire. So to have him as a sounding board, an individual I know I can trust and a great friend, a close friend, I'm excited that he wanted to join in."

On Stricker's method:

"His approached was kind of the simple. Just kept it simple. He gave those 12 individuals a voice. He gave them freedom to go about their week as if it was a normal tournament even though we know it's not. The simplicity in that was also quite beautiful.

"That Ryder Cup was something ultra special. That team was amazing. I don't know what kind of reception I'm going to have. I know this: this is going to be an entirely different team. It's going to be, you know, 18, 19 months from now, so who knows what's going to transpire between now and then as far as the makeup."

On 2023:

"I know this: the fans over there are amazing. They love their sport and they love golf. I can't wait to meet the local Italian fans. I've heard they are amazing. And I know whatever team that they put forth is going to be very stout. It's going to be difficult, and I love everything about that."

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