U.S. rookies repay Lehman for his confidence in them
None of the three American rookies who played on Friday earned a full point, but two racked up crucial half-points. Almost as important, Tom Lehman was pleased to see all three handle themselves so well in the spotlight.
September 22, 2006
STRAFFAN, Ireland -- U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman wasted no time proving to the world the confidence he had in his rookies. On the first day of matches at the K Club Friday, three of the four U.S. Ryder Cup first-timers -- J.J. Henry, Brett Wetterich and Zach Johnson -- saw action.
Though none of them gained a full point, Henry teamed with Stewart Cink in the morning four-ball and picked up an inspiring half-point, while Johnson paired up with Chad Campbell in the afternoon foursomes and also earned a halve. Wetterich played the morning session with David Toms and lost, 3 & 2.
Vaughn Taylor was the lone U.S. Ryder Cup pup to sit out on Friday. Along with Taylor, captain's pick Scott Verplank, who had been nursing a rib injury, was the only other U.S. player who didn't compete on Friday. Taylor will sit out again Saturday morning, wihle John will play with Verplank in four-ball.
"I really like the teams that we sent out today," Lehman said. "Everybody on our team liked the teams we sent out today. I really like the teams we are sending out tomorrow, as well. We are committed to putting out the best teams that we can and that will give us the best chance to win, and that's what we're doing."
Henry and Cink put on arguably the most sensational display of the day. Trailing 3-down at the turn, the duo rallied back with four birdies over the last eight holes -- including three by Henry -- to nearly steal the match from Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson.
Henry and Cink had a 1-up lead through 15 holes, but a par to the Europeans' birdie at No. 16 brought the match back to all-square.
"Just a great, great day," said an ecstatic Henry. "I'm really proud of the way I played, Stewart and I, especially digging a hole for ourselves 3-down at the turn. To turn it around on the back was great and hopefully it gives us some momentum for tomorrow and Sunday."
Lehman was particularly pleased with the grit of Henry and Cink.
"Phenomenal," Lehman said. "This whole day is kind of a blur to me at the moment. Huge, huge comeback for those guys. They were talking about the 11th hole, J.J. hit it about a foot or two and they conceded his putt, and they go, 'I don't want to see the other team on the tee first the rest of the day.' That's how they played. They may have lost a hole, but they played phenomenal golf."
Henry admitted coming to Ireland with a chip on his shoulder because many in the media questioned the PGA of America's new points system, which put a premium on player performance during a Ryder Cup year, and essentially allowed the rookies to make this year's squad.
"I wanted to go out and prove that I belonged here," he said. "Was I nervous, was I anxious? Absolutely. I felt like today was a big day for me to go out on the first day when I got an opportunity to play and show what I was made of. Hopefully I did a little bit of that this morning."
Johnson got his rookie campaign off to a dreamlike start, as he and Campbell made a magnificent birdie on the opening hole in the alternate-shot session to go 1-up on Irishmen Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington.
The Americans were 2-down through 15 holes, but thanks to birdies by Johnson at Nos. 16 and 18, they managed to squeak out an oh-so-important half-point.
"You‘ve got to stay in the moment and you've got to stay in the present, stay into the shot at hand, and so Chad and I just said, 'not today. If they win, they are going to have to make some putts.’ And actually, they kind of did, but we were able to muster some good shots and halve the match."
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