After years of preparation, months of anticipation, weeks of discussion, debate and prognostication, the Ryder Cup begins Friday morning at Hazeltine with four tasty foursomes matchups.
Europe has outscored the U.S. 65 ½ - 54 ½ in foursomes since 1985 when the side expanded to include the entire continent. The U.S. needs to start fast in its quest to snap Europe’s three-match winning streak.
Here are five burning questions the action should answer.
How will Europe’s rookies fare?
Plenty has been written about the six newbies on the European side. They join six seasoned veterans, who have a combined 62-38-22 overall record in the Ryder Cup. The rookies will need to contribute. The other question is how much will Darren Clarke use them? He sat four of the six in Friday’s morning foursomes, pairing Andy Sullivan with Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters with Lee Westwood. Both should be in good hands. Rafa Cabrera Bello could be the next great Spaniard, following the path blazed by Seve, Olazabal and Garcia, who enters the matches with an 18-9-2 overall mark. It will be interesting to see how much Clarke juggles his lineup for the afternoon fourball.
How will the U.S. rookies fare?
U.S. captain Davis Love III has a more experienced roster - sort of. His 10 returning players have combined to win 39 matches - or 23 less than their six European counterparts. Love III’s sat both his rookies, Brooks Koepka and Ryan Moore, the final captain’s pick, for Friday’s morning session. Koepka reportedly changed drivers this week, seeking even more length to attack Hazeltine, which can stretch to 7,628 yards. Koepka practiced this week with PGA champion Jimmy Walker, who is also sitting out Friday morning. Don’t be surprised if they pair up in the afternoon to form a powerful tandem that should be able to handle some of the brutally long par 4s and par 5s at Hazeltine. Moore is an accurate driver who gained strokes approaching, around and on the greens this season. He made 434 feet of putts on the Bermuda greens at East Lake last week to lead the Tour Championship field. He’ll aim to remain hot this week on bentgrass.
How will the players handle the middle stretch at Hazeltine?
The Robert Trent Jones layout is demanding from start-to-finish but turns particularly taxing starting at No. 9, a 475-yard par 4 and continuing through No. 14. There’s a 518-yard par 4, a 248-yard par 3 and a 606-yard par 5 (which isn’t the longest on the course) in that stretch. One of the many joys of match play is a golfer only has to beat his opponent. Foursomes (alternate-shot) is golf’s most challenging format - even for the best players in the world assembled here. Throw in nerves frazzled by the intense pressure of representing one’s country and expect par (or even bogey) to be good enough to win holes during this stretch tomorrow morning.
Can Reed and Spieth continue their magic together?
— Ryder Cup USA (@RyderCupUSA) September 29, 2016
The U.S. and Europe have each won 90 points in singles since 1985. But Europe has dominated because it has a 134-106 edge in the two team formats finding formidable two-man teams and riding them throughout the first two days. Whether it was Ballesteros-Olazabal, Faldo-Woosnam or Westwood-Clarke, the Europe side had a team it could put out in any session and feel good about earning a halve at the worst. The U.S. has had less success matching the right partners. Reed and Spieth are two young American stars who should be Ryder Cuppers for the better part of two decades and become one of event’s legendary partnerships. They were 2-1 at Gleneagles two years ago and first off tomorrow in a heavyweight bout against Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose that could provide the first push of momentum to either side.
Will Dustin Johnson continue his torrid play?
Sure the Official World Golf Ranking has DJ slotted at No. 2, but ever since his impressive U.S. Open victory in June at Oakmont, nobody in pro golf had played better - until last Sunday, when a final-round 73 cost him the Tour Championship, FedEx Cup and roughly $8 million. Powerful drives produced by 122 mile per hour clubhead speed and precise wedge play (4th on Tour in proximity from 50-125 yards) enabled Johnson to lead the PGA Tour with 4.45 birdies per round. Making his third Ryder Cup appearance, he’s one of four team members with an overall winning record (4-3-0). Johnson will likely play all five matches and producing anything less than three points will be a disappointment.