Afternoon Four-Balls key to dominant performance from U.S.
KOHLER, Wis. – The start, impressive though it seemed, was nothing new.
The U.S. Team had been getting the upper hand over their European counterparts with regularity at the Ryder Cup. Regardless of format, whether Foursomes or Four-Balls, the Americans had a penchant for starting with strength. Not since 2006 did they face an actual deficit after the opening quartet of matches.
The next part? That has been where things got tricky. That’s where the European moxie usually surfaced, where pairing combinations began to be second-guessed. The scoreboard inevitably leveled, or tipped toward a bluish hue as it did three years ago outside Paris.
But not this time. Not this team, and not this course. The Americans emphatically rose to the occasion, both morning and afternoon at Whistling Straits, and now the 43rd Ryder Cup is theirs to lose.
“Proud of the team. Super proud,” said Bryson DeChambeau, who earned a half-point in his second Ryder Cup appearance. “They fought hard every single shot out there, from what I saw, and looking back on it, this is a great start, but it’s not over. We have two more days. A lot more golf. And we cannot lose our mindset to win.”
The stats bear out just how rare it is for the Americans to build such an advantage after the opening day. They have led by three points on two occasions since Continental Europe was included in the Ryder Cup (1979 and 2008), eventually lifting the Cup on both occasions. But a four-point lead? For that you have to go all the way back to Laurel Valley and the 1975 Ryder Cup, when a U.S. Team captained by Arnold Palmer built a five-point cushion over Team Great Britain & Ireland.
This was a no-doubt-about-it performance from a group that lacks the scar tissue of past U.S. Ryder Cup Teams. With six rookies on the squad, they knew not of the lead that got away at Celtic Manor in 2010, or the 4-0 blanking during the second session at Le Golf National. This is the youngest American team in decades, one blessed with both immense talent and the blissful ignorance of youth, and they put both to work Friday on the Straits Course while leaving the Europeans in their wake.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd in these international events. So I was just really looking forward to soaking that in, and we just kind of fed off them all day,” said Tony Finau, whose putter sprang to life in an afternoon Four-Ball win alongside Harris English. “We were a really hard team to beat today. A lot of balls in play, a lot of balls on the green for birdie.”
Equipped with a strong start after taking three of a possible four points from the morning Foursomes session, U.S. Captain Steve Stricker rolled the dice. He broke up the dynamic duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, who had just slayed the beast of Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter over breakfast, and he sat decorated major champions in Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa. It’s the type of strategic shift that would draw scorn if the results didn’t follow, but Stricker can rest easy tonight. Nearly everything he touched Friday turned to gold, as Schauffele and Dustin Johnson both won two points with two different partners, while the four players he rested in the morning combined to win one afternoon match and tie another.
“We were just trying to give everybody a little rest along the way. That was part of it,” Stricker said. “It’s a big course. Tough conditions this afternoon. Guys from both sides looked whipped after playing 36 holes. A big key is to make sure these guys are rested and ready for Sunday, as well.”
The new mantra among the Americans is a consistent one: the job is not yet done. There are still 20 points remaining, and while the U.S. Team needs only 8.5 of them to secure the Cup, they’re not yet counting their chickens. The Europeans are a resilient bunch, and any effort to trim into that deficit Saturday could set the stage for a nerve-wracking finale.
But it seems almost inevitable that the Americans will lead heading into Sunday, and at this rate they could very well have one hand on the Cup by sunset Saturday. It’s a welcome if unforeseen development, one that sets the stage for a raucous two days and one that was borne out of the fact that, for once, the Americans were able to keep the Europeans at bay for two sessions in a row.
“Tomorrow is another day, and they are going to have to play well to get those points again,” Stricker said. “But we feel comfortable and confident in those four groups.”