By Tony Jimenez
LONDON (Reuters) – Six-times major winner Nick Faldo believes there could be as many as six rookies in the side when Europe attempt to retain the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Minnesota next year.
The visitors will be trying to win the biennial team event for the fourth straight edition, a run stretching back to the 2008 defeat when Faldo was outgunned by rival captain Paul Azinger at Valhalla.
“I think America could be the favourites this time because the backbone of their team will be similar to the last one,” Faldo told Reuters in an interview.
“Europe’s backbone could be very different. We could easily have six rookies, easily.
“There are a lot of names America won’t know a lot about if we get the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Andy Sullivan and Danny Willett making the team.
“That could be a bad thing but it could also be a good thing because sometimes it can be quite nice to be a little bit of an unknown. I think that’s going to happen and we’ll probably have a fresh half of our team.”
The 28-year-old Willett finished second behind Rory McIlroy on the European money list after winning twice in the 2014-15 season to climb to 20th in the world rankings.
Compatriot Sullivan, 29, won three times and has climbed to 36th in the world rankings, while fellow Englishman Fleetwood had another consistent season despite failing to add to his solitary tour victory at the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship in Scotland.
Among the other potential 2016 Ryder Cup debutants are Irishman Shane Lowry, England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, Austrian Bernd Wiesberger and Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark.
“There is going to be a changing of the guard, a few of our guys are getting a little older,” said Faldo, the winner of the 1987, 1990 and 1992 British Open and the 1989, 1990 and 1996 U.S. Masters.
Europe’s 2014 team featured 40-plus duo Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood, while Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher was one month shy of his 40th birthday.
Faldo is the all-time record points scorer in the Ryder Cup having collected 25 points in 11 playing appearances between 1977-97.
The 58-year-old Englishman said matchplay golf was not all about firing low scores.
“You can shoot nine under par and lose and you have to accept that,” said Faldo. “It doesn’t matter how or how many, you’ve just got to find a way to win.”
Faldo believes one of the reasons why Europe have been victorious in eight of the last 10 Ryder Cups is the strong pairings they have been able to select.
“America need to get a couple of good partnerships,” he said. “That has always been the strength of Europe, we have had Ballesteros and Olazabal, me with Ian Woosnam or Colin Montgomerie or Bernhard Langer.
“The Americans have struggled with that recently. Their strongest pair has been Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
“Even that one gets broken up at the wrong time. They have got to find a couple of good pairings but the bottom line is they must find a way to win,” added Faldo as he launched a range of wines from six of Europe’s classic regions to celebrate each of his major victories (http://www.miltonsandfordwines.com).
Davis Love III will captain the Americans and Darren Clarke is to lead the Europeans when the Ryder Cup is held from Sept. 30-Oct. 2 2016.
(Editing by Rob Hodgetts)