AFTER an initial reconnaissance mission over the Marco Simone course, it seems the European and US Ryder Cup teams may need to stock up on the Kendal mint cake for next year’s transatlantic tussle at the undulating Rome venue.

“It’s hilly,” gasped Team USA skipper Zach Johnson of a rigorous hike that should appear in Chris Bonington’s Illustrated Guide to Mountaineering. “There are some amazing elevation changes. As a player, it’s hard. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like for a caddie. It will be a battle of the fittest.”

Gathered in the Italian capital for the Year to Go festivities, Johnson and his European counterpart, Luke Donald, mulled over a variety of Ryder Cup related topics.

With 12 months until battle commences, there will be a heck of a lot of ups, downs, twists and turns before 24 men cross swords in a merciless scrap that really should be staged in the Colosseum.

Last year’s fight just about had the viewing public asking for mercy as a supremely talented US side powered to a thumping 19-9 victory at Whistling Straits.

A crumb of comfort, though, can be found in the history books. Europe have not lost a Ryder Cup in their own backyard since 1993. Despite the myriad benefits of home advantage, Donald is already well aware of the task he faces to preserve that record.

With the Americans serving notice of their intentions with a dominant Presidents Cup win over the Internationals recently, the European skipper has plenty of food for thought.

“I think being at home is certainly worth something, we see that in all sports, but no doubt we’re going against a very, very strong opponent,” said the Englishman, who stepped into the role after Henrik Stenson was binned following his controversial defection to LIV Golf.

“I think the US Presidents Cup team was the strongest they’ve ever been on paper. These guys have win records that are north of 80 per cent so it’s going to be a tough challenge. I fully expect us to be underdogs despite that home percentage of wins.”

But what does Johnson think?

“Do I really think the Europeans are underdogs?,” he said. “No. They are not underdogs. They are on their home soil. There’s something to be said about having confidence and momentum where you’re comfortable, and evidently, they have been very comfortable over here for 30 years.”

While Team USA have a team that are set to be as star-studded as that spangled banner, the potential of Tiger Woods adding his might to the back-room set-up will bolster the armoury.

“I don’t know if he will be here next year, but he will be part of this team in some capacity; he already is frankly,” added Johnson of Woods, who has played just three times in 2022 due to his various ailments but remains a valued presence in the team environment.

“He loves the Ryder Cup. He has made it a priority of his and wants to be a part of it as best he can. Obviously he’s gone through some things as of late that make it difficult, but he and I will be in constant communication.

“He has great ideas, is always positive and the beauty of where we are as Team USA is we’ve got some really great youths that are participating now at a higher level. They are great kids and their role model on the golf course is Tiger Woods.”

Donald, meanwhile, has plenty to be encouraged about from the early stages of the European qualifying process. Shane Lowry, a Ryder Cup debutant last year, won the first counting event – the BMW PGA Championship – while oor ain Robert MacIntyre claimed the Italian Open and Italy’s Guido Migliozzi carted off the French Open title.

“Bob MacIntyre and Guido, a few months ago, felt like they’d lost their games a little bit and I think seeing the importance of the Ryder Cup and how motivating that is has somewhat turned around their games,” said Donald. “To see them winning tournaments is great for me. It’s been the ideal start. But it [the Ryder Cup] is still 12 months out.”

There is plenty of golf to be played yet.