Hudson Swafford was never likely to appear for America in the Ryder Cup but the journeyman could still, unwittingly, have helped his country’s cause in the mission to make history in September by ensuring that Thomas Pieters will likely not be playing for the home team.
Pieters, the world No 34, revealed at the Mayakoba resort on Wednesday as he prepared for LIV Golf’s opening $25 million event, that he has only jumped ship to the Saudi-funded circuit because of Swafford’s late withdrawal with a hip problem which will keep him sidelined for the majority of the year.
“I had a call on Thursday not even a week ago, asking if I wanted Hudson’s spot,” Pieters said.
“To be truthful, in my heart, I decided last summer that I wanted to join LIV. But it was not until a few days ago I got the opportunity.
“You don’t wish ill on anyone and I hope Hudson gets recovered soon, but as a professional you have to grasp chances when they arise.
“Of course, I have done this with my family and our kids [two daughters under three years of age] in the forefront of my thinking. It has been a whirlwind since then, really, sorting everything out and getting everything ready over the weekend. I had to tell everybody, for one thing.”
When Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed the shock news on Saturday, there was inevitable suspicion that, as well as the money, a tweet from the Belgian on Thursday had been a factor in the 11th-hour move.
Last Wednesday, Pieters bemoaned the fact he had not received an invite to the Genesis Invitational in LA, an event where he had previously finished second.
“Honestly, I know how it must have looked but it had nothing to do with this,” Pieters said.
“I was talking to my friends and they were saying ‘hey, we can’t wait to watch that pairing with Tiger [Woods] and Rory [McIlroy] and JT [Justin Thomas] and I just became a bit angry that, as a player with my ranking, I wasn’t playing. It was just bad timing, I guess, because people understandably supposed all things. But I didn’t even know I was coming to LIV at that point and that shows how quickly all this has happened.”
Pieters’s long-time caddie, Englishman Adam Marrow, was on holiday when he found out, while his coach, Pete Cowen, only discovered the news when contacted on this website Friday. Knowing that there would be consternation on the DP World Tour, on which he has won six titles since turning pro a decade ago, and, of course, within the Ryder Cup team, he informed Keith Pelley, the Tour chief executive, and Ryder Cup captain, Luke Donald.
It was just the latest blow for the Europe team, which has seen stalwarts such as Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia switch to the Saudi-funded circuit, as well, most notably, as Henrik Stenson who was the blue-and-gold captain until he defected last July.
Pieters has not appeared in the biennial dust-up since his debut in 2016 but he made such an impression in that defeat – when setting a record for a rookie by winning four out of five points – that his recent resurgence made him odds on to return to the team room as Europe try to stop the US winning on foreign soil for the first time in 30 years.
“I swapped texts with Luke, but he is in a tough position isn’t he,” Thomas said. “It was a difficult decision for me, for sure. The Ryder Cup has always been an ambition and it was a dream to play in 2016. I’ve been trying to get back ever since.
“I enjoyed the Hero Cup last month [the Ryder Cup warm-up in which he played on the winning Continental Europe team] and naturally would love to be in Rome. But I accept the consequences of this choice, whatever they turn out to be.”
An arbitration hearing was heard in London a fortnight ago which will judge if the Dp World Tour can ban the rebels. But even if the Sports Resolutions verdict goes LIV’s way then it is doubtful that Donald will extend any of his six wildcards to the renegades.
“I haven’t given up on playing in it again, including this year even,” Pieters said. “We will have to see. I could still qualify. I’m in all the majors this year. Well, I hope the US Open. Maybe, I can play so well until that hee it’ll make it very difficult not to pick me. I don’t know. Maybe that will not be possible.”
Pieters, 31, is a quiet figure not prone to generate controversy. Asked for his view on the strategic alliance between the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, a relationship that some like Westwood have criticised, he replied: “I don’t know. I don’t want to badmouth anyone.”
The first player to greet him on the range here was Patrick Reed, but Pieters kept his own counsel as the ever colourful 2018 Masters champion spelt out his own thoughts on the stance of the Tours.
This is all new to Pieters. He has been parachuted into the RangeGoats team, with Bubba Watson as his captain and two other Americans in Harold Varner and Talor Gooch completing the side.
So instead of playing against the US, he is competing alongside him and that will be ironic to anyone who remembers that he called his one year as a PGA Tour member “the lowest point in my career”, as he struggled with loneliness within the magnitude of the corporate machine. He acknowledged that he was not destined to joining his Europe team-mates on Statestide
“I have never wanted to play full-time on the PGA Tour, because I don’t think you can do that and live where I want,” said Pieters, who resides with partner Stephanie in his hometown of Antwerp. “With LIV it is eight weeks in America, sure, but with 14 in total that is preferable for me and my game. Of course, with the two daughters it is all attractive.
“I’ve struggled playing 26 events a year, to be honest. The best season Adam [Marrow, his caddie] and I have had was last year when I played only 19 and before when it was only 22 or something. As a father it suits me to have a lighter schedule, but also as a golfer.”