Faces new and old ready for Ryder Cup to begin
KOHLER, Wis. – With the sun shining brightly on the Dye Plaza at Whistling Straits, Ryder Cup Captains Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington each grabbed a microphone and put the 43rd Ryder Cup into motion.
After days of speculation and endless head fakes from Harrington as he rearranged the practice tee sheet with regularity, we finally know who will step to the first tee Friday morning to begin a Ryder Cup three years in the making. Lines have now been drawn, matchups announced and players can spend the night analyzing a specific opponent. Conjecture is about to turn into the reality of watching these matches unfold along the shores of Lake Michigan, with each team starting with strength in an effort to grab the upper hand.
It remains to be seen how this will end, but one thing is clear: both sides are ready and eager for it to begin.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said Sergio Garcia, who will pair in the opening Foursomes match with Jon Rahm against Americans Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. “It’s going to be nervy on the first tee, but that’s what the Ryder Cup is all about. I’ve been there before, and I’m very, very excited.”
This European team is oozing with veteran poise. Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood have all been down this road many times before. But the belief in the U.S. Team room is that this time around will be far different.
Gone are the veterans who struggled in match play format and so often have come up short against their European counterparts. This U.S. Team is young, decidedly so, and they’re infused with a blissful ignorance of past shortcomings. For half the team this will mark their first Ryder Cup experience, while others like Tony Finau have performed admirably in their few prior matches.
“We have a whole new team. We have a team with no scar tissue,” said Finau, who will sit out the opening session after going 2-1-0 three years ago outside Paris. “We’ve got a whole different group of young guys that are hungry.”
The American meals have been few and far between at the Ryder Cup for the last 20 years, as Europe has won seven of the last nine meetings. But Captain Stricker believes this is the roster that can turn around that recent trend, and in the opening session he’s leaning on a pair of stalwart duos: Thomas and Spieth to lead things off, and Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, who paired successfully two years ago in Australia, to anchor.
“Xander and I have played together before, and we are looking forward to a great match tomorrow. Can’t wait to get started,” Cantlay said. “It will be fantastic. The Wisconsin fans have been showing up and cheering us all day. They have been great so far this week, and those have just been practice rounds. I’m looking forward to getting after it tomorrow.”
As the sun sets on final preparations, both teams understand the importance of getting off to a strong start. The Americans have had the upper hand in the opening session of late, winning or tying each one since 2008, while the Europeans have time and again found a way to battle back. McIlroy has played a key role in some of those comebacks, and as he anchors the morning session with fellow veteran Ian Poulter he’s embracing an opportunity to notch an early point while taking down a decorated duo in Cantlay and Schauffele in the process.
“It’s been almost a decade that Poults and I have been playing in this thing, all the way back to 2012,” McIlroy said. “We are going to go out there this week and enjoy ourselves and play our absolute hearts out and try to put points on the board for our team.”
Of course, the fireworks aren’t limited to the anchor match. The very first tee time will feature the world No. 1 in Rahm against perhaps the most recognizable American pairing, Thomas and Spieth. Their relationship is as well-documented as it is long, and each seemed to embrace the prospect of playing with the other in early-week comments. Captain Stricker granted their wish, and they’ll be tasked with fueling the emotional fire from the front of the line for the Americans.
“I feel Stricks has instilled a lot of confidence in me and Justin,” Spieth said. “We weren’t sure where he was going to put us until this afternoon, and we’re very excited to go out and try to set the pace for the rest of the team.”
“The last couple days, you’re ready and excited and amped up and everyone is getting everything tuned in,” added Thomas. “I’ve only played one, but I know it goes by pretty quickly. Taking it in for all I can and ready to get going tomorrow.”
Ready. That’s the key term heard from both sides of the aisle. Every player, whether on the pairings sheet for the opening session or not, is ready to put a tee in the ground. The fans, who waited an extra year for the 43rd edition to come around, are ready. The Straits Course, with all of its treachery, is ready.
And finally, tomorrow, the Ryder Cup is here.