Sept. 21-26, 2021 Whistling Straits, Kohler, WI
43rd Ryder Cup
Photo Credit: PGA

KOHLER, Wis. – There often is a tangible reward in the balance for those lucky few who are good enough, and fortunate enough, to earn their way into team events as professionals. Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter talk about lifetime bonds with players with whom they have paired in Ryder Cups for just one week every other year.

Likewise, a long trip Down Under two years ago to Australia proved quite fruitful for a pair of young U.S. Presidents Cup rookies getting their first taste of team play as pros. Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, a couple of Californians wise and measured beyond their young years, forged not only a formidable on-course partnership, but a friendship outside the ropes that had them touring Napa with their significant others recently.

The two hope to pick up where they left off on Friday at Whistling Straits, two of six rookies trying to turn around recent U.S. fortunes in the 43rd Ryder Cup. Europe has won four of the last five meetings. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas may receive much of the spotlight and attention heading off on Friday morning, but don’t lose sight of Cantlay and Schauffele.

It isn’t lost on Cantlay, 29, who enters these matches off winning a FedEx Cup as golf’s hottest hand, that he never would have created such an alliance with Schauffele had becoming part of a team not required him to do so. Every other week of the year, golf is a blinders-on, individualistic venture, and the other guys standing on the tee with you are foes, not friends.

“I don’t think either of us would have gone out of their way to be friends with each other, but then spending that time together, we realized that we really got along with each other,” Cantlay said. “I think he’s incredibly smart, and I think he’s incredibly conscientious. He is someone that probably brings out the best in me.

“He’s very quiet and reserved, so we kind of have that bond, and yet he balances me out a little bit.”

Before the three-week FedEx Cup Playoffs began last month, Cantlay was in need of some bright rainbow at the end, something not golf-related, and before the Ryder Cup, to re-energize him. He asked Schauffele if he and his newlywed wife, Maya, wanted to join him and his significant other decompressing in Napa once the postseason wrapped.

“We had an unbelievable time,” Cantlay said.

Added Schauffele, smiling, “We were there celebrating his FedEx Cup win and my gold medal from a long time ago. It was nice to sort of share that moment together.”

TOUR Championship - Final Round
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Patrick Cantlay of the United States celebrates with the FedEx Cup after winning during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 05, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Cantlay was an outstanding player at UCLA and U.S. Walker Cup player who many viewed as a future standout on a lot of Ryder Cup teams. By the time he finished his sophomore season, Cantlay won the Haskins Award, Ben Hogan Award, Phil Mickelson Award, Jack Nicklaus Award and won the McCormack Medal having ranked No. 1 among amateurs for more than a year.

The path to get to his first Ryder Cup, though, was anything but easy. He blew out his back and witnessed the loss of his close high school friend and caddie, Chris Roth, who was struck and killed by a vehicle in Newport Beach, Calif., in 2016. Becoming the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year a few weeks ago was something many might have predicted a decade ago, but certainly not on the hardened road that he traveled. But all that adversity, Cantlay has said, has shaped him greatly as a person and who he is today, a man on the verge of 30 with much greater depth to him than being a world-class golfer.

Schauffele, 27, complements Cantlay nicely. He has been more of a late bloomer, somebody few saw coming. Four years ago, when he emerged to win the Tour Championship, Schauffele had yet to even meet Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, two teammates this week and accomplished fellow grads from golf’s esteemed Class of 2011.

Much like Cantlay, Schauffele rides some momentum into the Ryder Cup, having won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. Both players are sneaky long, play boldly, and are birdie makers. They are rookies in designation, but nobody on site this week on either team will view them as being rookies.

“We’ve got a whole different group of young guys that are hungry,” said U.S. Team member Tony Finau, who made his Ryder Cup debut three years ago in Paris, going 2-1. Finau, 32, said he was one of the youngest players on that 2018 squad, and is third-oldest this time around. “You guys see six rookies. Man, in the team room, I don’t see any rookies. I see 12 guys who are confident, and none of us are wide-eyed.”

Schauffele has been a big-time player on golf’s biggest stages, with his gold medal effort in Tokyo is just the latest example. Though he has yet to win a major, the 18 in which he has competed include eight finishes of T-7 or better, and four finishes of T-3 or better.

Schauffele thinks back to when he really was a rookie and would frantically text some of his fellow players on tour to ask the location of such things as registration, the locker room and the first tee. He’s a newcomer to Whistling Straits, which has played host to three PGA Championships, but by now he finds his way around the place just fine.

Schauffele says he has played nicely in the practice sessions the U.S. has conducted, which included two days of reconnaissance last week and four days on the golf course this week.

“I’m already a fan,” Schauffele said, “depending on the wind, obviously. The course is called Whistling Straits for a reason.”

U.S. Captain Steve Stricker was an assistant in Melbourne to Tiger Woods two years ago, and was impressed with what he saw – and learned – from Cantlay and Schauffele. The two went out twice in Foursomes and won both matches.

2019 Presidents Cup - Day 3
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 14: Patrick Cantlay of the United States team and Xander Schauffele of the United States team talk on the fourth green during Saturday afternoon foursomes matches on day three of the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Course on December 14, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Photo Credit: Getty Images

“They just enjoy being around each other, and that’s half the battle when you try to pair guys up,” Stricker said of the Cantlay-Schauffele tandem. “Each of their games complements the other one. That’s another thing when you put guys together, especially in Foursomes, that you want their games to complement each other. Theirs do.”

A nice friendship has been born, all thanks to two guys who didn’t know each other all that well who were chosen to play together on a team. Who knew?

“If we were at a regular tournament, there’s no way I would have spent time or gone out of my way to invest in a relationship with one of the other guys I was playing against,” Cantlay said, expanding on his bond with his newfound partner. “But now that he’s on my team and it might help me in my golf to get along with this guy, I realize that I really liked him as a person, and we’ve become great friends.

“That would probably be the best thing about weeks like this.”

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