Ahead of the start of the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club this Friday, we have decided to profile the eight rookies from both teams. Third up for team Europe is a two time PGA Tour winner. Don’t be fooled by his American accent, there is no doubt where the big Austrian’s loyalties lie
Name: Sepp Straka
Sepp Straka is a unique case study considering he could have represented either the US or Europe in the Ryder Cup. Born in Vienna, Austria to an American mother and an Austrian father, his family moved to Valdosta, Georgia when he was 14 years of age. Straka has now spent most of his life in the US and ahead of the Ryder Cup, he told the media that representing Europe at the Ryder Cup has helped him grow closer to his Austrian roots.
“I feel like I’ve grown up kind of split. You know, my mom is American. Spent a lot of time in the States. When I was 14, moved to the States but I’ve always felt really close to my Austrian heritage. My dad is Austrian so I always made sure I spent a lot of time going back. If anything, it’s allowed me to spend more time in Austria and go back see a lot of friends and family which is always great,” Straka said.
Asked if there were any mixed emotions heading into the event, Straka’s answer was simple. “Not really, no.” If there was any ludicrous doubt that Straka’s mother would be rooting for her native USA against her son, Straka quickly put the ridiculous suggestion to bed. “My mom, who is American, has been wearing an Austria hat all last week while she was in Austria. I think they are all Team Europe. Even my mom, who grew up in the States, is a hundred per cent American. She spent 24 years in Austria. She’s fallen in love with the country, and I think she’s probably just as Austrian as a lot of Austrians are.”
Straka played collegiate golf at the University of Georgia from 2011 to 2016, excluding the 2013/14 season where the Austrian didn’t play at all. Straka played on the team alongside his brother Sam and together they finished second at the 2011 European Boy’s team championship, losing only to a Spain team which included his Ryder Cup teammate Jon Rahm. Straka graduated college with a degree in Business management and immediately turned professional, playing a number of events on the 2016 PGA Tour Canada.
After an uneventful 2017 season on the Web.com Tour, Straka became the first Austrian golfer to earn a PGA Tour card in 2018, finishing 20th on the Web.com Tour money list.
In his first season on the PGA Tour, his best finish was a third place at the 2019 Barbasol Championship and the following month, Straka played in his first major championship in the US Open at Pebble Beach. An opening round of 68 on the historic links left Straka in a tie for eighth and despite stalling in the second and third rounds, a final round of 67 put the big Austrian in a tie for 28th place, a respectable result for a maiden major outing. Straka finished in 107th place in the FedEx Cup standings, enough to secure a place in the playoffs and to retain his card for the following season.
Following a big break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Straka represented Austria in the rescheduled 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, finishing in a tie for 10th overall. Straka’s breakthrough would come in February the following year when he won the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach, Florida. The big Austrian shot a final round four-under-par 66 to win by a shot over Shane Lowry.
Following his victory, Straka experienced the other side of professional golf, losing two play offs in a row, the first coming on the third play-off hole to Will Zalatoris in the Fed Ex St. Jude Championship and two months later, at the start of this season, losing to Mackenzie Hughes at the Sanderson Farms.
Straka would finally get his second PGA Tour win in spectacular fashion at the John Deere Classic in July. He teed off an hour before the final group on Sunday and immediately caught fire. Starting birdie-eagle, the Austrian went out in a seven-under-par 28. Despite falling short of a magical 59 with a double-bogey on 18, Straka’s sensational nine-under-par 62 was enough for a two shot victory. The following week Straka recorded his best ever finish in a major championship, finishing in a tie for second at the Open Championship, six shots behind runaway winner Brian Harman.
Straka had done enough to secure one of Captain Luke Donald’s six captains picks for this weeks Ryder Cup in Rome and he told the media yesterday that he is already enjoying the experience. “It’s been great,” he said. “It’s been really great. Starting with the practice trip we had here a couple weeks ago, and even during Wentworth, and today was a great day. Again, to see the course, it’s in incredible shape. Playing a few matches out there, it was a lot of fun”.
He may have an American accent but Josef ‘Sepp’ Straka will be doing everything in his power to make sure Europe take home the trophy on Sunday afternoon.