Just over eight months ago the best of golf’s European and American talent teed off in the 43rd Ryder Cup. Team Europe emerged on the losing side last September – but this week they could suffer an even greater loss.
The LIV Golf Invitational Series, which has dominated headlines and sparked heated debates for months, hosted its $25million (£20m) inaugural event at the Centurion Club this week, much to the displeasure of the PGA and DP World Tours.
As golf enters a period of civil war of LIV vs PGA, greater questions have emerged over the sport’s OG rivalry – Europe vs USA.
The Saudi-backed league has managed to lure some of the sport’s biggest names to the rebellion with its staggering £180m prize pot, but despite the mega-money deals being dangled, the Saudi revolution does not come with a safety net.
The rebels are running the risk of being banned from both tours’ tournaments – most significantly the Ryder Cup.
The Saudi rebels’ punishment could also have damaging consequences for both sides of the great Ryder Cup rivalry.
As the future of their stars hangs in the balance, Sportsmail takes a look at who will emerge worse off from the fallout – Team Europe or Team USA.
Team Europe could be set to lose Ryder Cup icons Lee Westwood (left) and Ian Poulter (right)
Team USA have an abundance of young talent but can it make up for the loss of two stars?
Former World No 1 Dustin Johnson, veteran Phil Mickelson and European greats Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell all played in the 48-man field for the opening 54-hole tournament this week.
Meanwhile, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed became the next names to join the rebels with Rickie Fowler also widely expected to sign up.
The Americans appear set for a strict punishment at the hands of the PGA Tour.
In January 2020, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan warned that any player who joined a rival tour would face a suspension and possibly a lifetime one.
Dustin Johnson (right) and Phil Mickelson (left) have both signed on for the LIV Golf Series
‘If the Team Golf Concept [one of the other names suggested for a breakaway series at the time] or another iteration of this structure becomes a reality in 2022 or at any time before or after, our members will have to decide whether they want to continue to be a member of the PGA Tour or play on a new series,’ he wrote in a statement.
The PGA Tour’s wrath means the US are arguably going to be losing the greater star power in the wake of the Saudi scandal, with Johnson and DeChambeau two high-profile members of their 2021 winning side.
Team USA thrashed Europe with a record winning margin of 19-9 and Johnson was crucial in the crushing triumph.
Former World No 1 Johnson was crucial in the USA’s crushing triumph at Whistling Straits
The 2020 Masters Champion went 5-0-0 at Whistling Straits – becoming the first American since Larry Nelson in 1979 to win five points out of five.
Meanwhile, DeChambeau was making his second appearance at the Ryder Cup and put aside his beef with Brooks Koepka for the benefit of the team for the week.
With two and a half points on the board, he didn’t provide as much as Johnson, but he certainly gifted us with one of the week’s most memorable moments when he smashed a gargantuan 417-yard drive of the par-five fifth hole.
He’s been far from his best this season, only playing in five events this calendar year – missing the cut in three, withdrawing from one and failing to make it out of the group stage of the WGC-Dell Technology match play.
Bryson DeChambeau was confirmed as the next big hitter to defect to the Saudi-backed series
He withdrew from the US PGA Championship after undergoing surgery on his left wrist in April, but with recovery underway he will surely have been targeting a place in Rome.
Reed will be another to see the PGA Tour hammer fall on his Ryder Cup career.
He missed out on Steve Stricker’s team last year, narrowly missing out on a spot in the captain’s picks after battling pneumonia.
However, Reed hasn’t earned the nickname ‘Captain America’ for nothing, boasting an impressive 7-3-2 record in his last three Ryder Cup appearances.
‘Captain America’ Patrick Reed has also decided to defect and join the Saudi-backed tour
Meanwhile, Mickelson was another one left off the course last year, considerably an old boy among America’s young cavalry.
But he was named as an assistant captain alongside Fred Couples after making 12 Ryder Cup appearances and playing in 47 matches in his career to offer wisdom to a youthful side, which clearly had a positive impact.
However, even in their absence, the US are hardly lacking for talent on the bench.
Six US rookies – Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Daniel Berger, Harris English, Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa – ushered in a new era of American greatness after the US appeared to shed its skin following a humiliating defeat in Paris in 2018.
Mickelson was named as an assistant captain last year after 12 Ryder Cup appearances
Stricker’s faith in his new boys allowed Team USA to enjoy rejuvenation, proving they had the talent to get the job done without the likes of Tiger Woods or Mickelson.
Even without two members of their 2021 side, it’s safe to say Zach Johnson will still produce an incredibly strong team for Rome, especially with the likes of Will Zalatoris making their way through the ranks.
Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington’s side from last year is about to face a lot more dismantling.
The DP World Tour, formerly known as the European Tour, has been silent publicly on the issue but, like the PGA, rejected requests from players to compete in the first LIV Series event, suggesting their punishments could mirror their US counterparts.
Team Europe is set to face considerable dismantling after their defeat and the Saudi fallout
A third of the Euro team have defected, including 2021 rookie Bernd Wiesberger, while former hero McDowell has also made the jump.
After 11 appearances, Westwood, who will turn 50 next year, was almost guaranteed to be skippering the side at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club before the role was handed to Henrik Stenson following the Englishman’s liaisons with the Saudis.
While McDowell, Garcia and Mr-Ryder-Cup himself Poulter were all heir-apparents for the captaincy for the next few tournaments.
Westwood (second left) and Sergio Garcia (right) were expected to one day captain Europe
Poulter’s reputation has all but been built on the back of his Ryder Cup record.
He’s played on five winning teams in seven appearances and has an overall record of 14-8-3, earning him the title of The Postman – because he always delivers.
While Garcia, along with fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm, was a beacon amid Europe’s bleak misery in Wisconsin.
Europe, left in turmoil following last year’s disastrous campaign, surely would have wanted to look to their veterans to steady the ship in either a playing or supportive capacity.
But without their legends to anchor an already rocky side with experience, and in Poulter’s case a whole lot of passion, they find themselves in choppy waters.
Poulter has an overall record of 14-8-3 in the tournament, earning him the title of the Postman
However, the fallout could provide the Europeans the perfect opportunity bring in a new era.
Team Europe could usher in the changing of the guard without feeling they are disrespecting the loyal servants that have served them so well.
The Americans proved that youth is power last year as their wave of rising talent left the Europeans washed up.
The Whistling Straits whitewash was a clear indicator that, after dominating six of the last nine events, Team Europe need to reinvigorate their side to match the new standards set by the US last year.
And the continent certainly is not lacking in names who can fill the shoes of the outgoing legends.
Waiting in the wings are the likes of the 21-year-old Hojgaard twins – who will no doubt be backed by vice captain and fellow countryman Thomas Bjorn – Italian Guido Migliozzi, Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, darkhorse Aaron Rai and Victor Perez, who if not for the Covid-19 pandemic would have been heading to Wisconsin.
But the Europeans have young hotshots waiting in the wings, including the Hojgaard twins
Rasmus (left) and Nicolai (right) Hojgaard could usher in a new era for the Europeans
Scottish lefty Robert MacIntyre (above) could also feature among the European new guard
And Thomas Detry, Seamus Power, Adri Arnaus and Thomas Pieters, who went 4-1-0 on his rookie appearance in 2016, should also get an honourable mention.
Henrik Stenson will still be able to rely on Rory McIlroy (pictured)
Europe will not be left entirely stranded with a team full of rookies. Stenson can still rely on Rory McIlroy, who has been one of the most outspoken against the Saudi breakaway league.
If he makes it to Rome, the Northern Irishman will play his seventh Ryder Cup and is likely to fill the leadership void left by Poulter and Co.
The 33-year-old’s emotional interview following his singles match last year, in which he broke down crying twice, is testament to the passion McIlroy has for his team and would be a great figure to inspire the next generation of Euro heroes.
Meanwhile, young hotshot Viktor Hovland may only have one Ryder Cup under his belt but at the age of 24, the World No 7 is sure to be a feature of Team Europe for years to come, along with replays of his singles showdown with Morikawa.
The Norwegian only turned pro in 2019 but has quickly risen up the ranks and can offer Europe the perfect combination of youth, experience and star power.
Former World No 1 Rahm, who was one of the small positives last year, Matt Fitzpatrick, Paul Casey, Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood will also still be in the running for Rome.
Viktor Hovland (right) will feature in future and Tommy Fleetwood (left) will be in the running
On paper Europe look like they should suffer more from the Saudi fallout, with the Americans seemingly boasting talent to spare.
But it could be exactly what Europe needs. It allows Stenson to build a team almost from scratch to get their Ryder Cup hopes back on track and compete with America’s hungry stars.
The legends have been Europa’s loyal servants – is it time for out with the old and in with the new?