A youth movement for the U.S. Team
When Scottie Scheffler was selected for his first U.S. Ryder Cup team, one of six additions made earlier this month by Captain Steve Stricker, he put the honor into perspective.
“To get the call from Strick was amazing,” Scheffler said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I knew about The Ryder Cup to play on this team, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
On the surface, it’s a pretty standard line. But check the math on Scheffler, who turned 25 years old this summer. That means he was barely out of diapers when the U.S. stormed back for a memorable win at Brookline in 1999, and his Ryder Cup awareness likely developed in the mid-2000s. What’s more, he’s not even the youngest member of Stricker’s 12-man team: that distinction belongs to 2020 PGA Champion Collin Morikawa, who already owns two major titles despite being born in 1997.
As the Americans look to turn the tide of the biennial affair, having lost seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, it’s clear that this week at Whistling Straits they’ll plan to do so by leaning on a youth movement. Look down the lineup and you won’t find much of a veteran presence: there’s no Tiger Woods, and this marks the first time since 1993 that Phil Mickelson isn’t participating as a player. In 2016, the last time the U.S. won The Ryder Cup, the American team room included five players age 34 or older. This time around, there’s only one player older than 32: that would be Dustin Johnson, the de facto elder statesman at age 37.
The shift toward a younger team, including six rookies, was evident when Stricker announced his six selections. They included Harris English, who will be making his debut at age 32 and suddenly becomes one of the oldest voices in the team room.
“I didn’t know that 32 is considered old these days,” joked English.
“32 is not old,” explained 27-year-old Xander Schauffele, who like English will make his first Ryder Cup appearance this week. “I’m happy that 32 is on the ‘older’ side of our team. I think it’s a good time for a younger influx of players, and really excited to run with these guys.”
For an American team looking to end a rough stretch nearly 20 years in the making, the prospect of getting some fresh blood inside the ropes has merit. This year’s team has combined to play in only 12 prior Ryder Cups, making it the most inexperienced U.S. side since 1997 at Valderrama. Only three players (Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka) have played in more than one previous Ryder Cup.
Given the chance to bring in some veteran voices with his six selections, Stricker eschewed options like Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed and instead went with a new crop of promising talent. Four of his six picks are rookies – Scheffler, Schauffele, English and Daniel Berger – while Tony Finau has just one prior appearance to his credit. It’s a calculated theme that Stricker leaned into when rounding out his team of 12.
“I think what these young guys bring is that – well, everybody’s getting younger in the sport it seems like. They are playing better at a younger age,” Stricker said. “They bring an excitement level that is unmatched I think, and they are eager. They are willing to learn. They just want to have that opportunity, and they will do anything for that opportunity. … They just come here with a ‘Put me in, Coach,’ kind of attitude. So it’s refreshing. It’s great to see.”
There’s reason to believe such an attitude could pay dividends when the final points are tallied. Over the last six Ryder Cups, the team with less experience – both in Ryder Cups and total matches played – has emerged victorious. With Padraig Harrington and the Europeans boasting their most experienced roster since 1995, the difference this week will be a dramatic one.
“I look around and I think there’s Jordan, J.T. (Justin Thomas), those kids that I played against in high school,” Schauffele said. “Kids are getting better and better. I feel like I’m an old guy on Tour. I’m turning 28 soon and I feel like I’m one of the older guys. … So I just felt like it was a good time for a younger influx based on that.”
For most Americans, both players and fans this week, the goal is to recreate the raucous celebrations of five years ago at Hazeltine. To score a decisive victory and erase years of heartbreak and frustration with a singular performance that ends with, as Spieth put it, with “Phil Mickelson pouring champagne in your mouth.”
But Spieth is one of only three players on this team who played a part in that victory at Hazeltine. In fact, he, Johnson and Koepka are the only American team members who have ever won The Ryder Cup. Normally that would be a jarring stat, what with the pressure that faces the home team looking to win it back in front of partisan crowds.
But after two lean decades, this feels like a new chapter for the U.S. Team. It signals the ushering in of a new crop of talent, one that has grown up learning the game from the likes of Woods and Mickelson and now hopes to improve upon their record in this particular setting. It’s a group that has watched the Europeans gel with regularity, bonding with similar purpose and more often than not leaving with champagne-soaked uniforms by Sunday afternoon.
The youth movement has arrived for the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, and hope is brimming in the team room that a changing of the guard will lead to success that has been hard to find over the last 20 years for the red, white and blue.
“I’m excited,” Stricker said. “I’m truly excited about how this team is made up and composed of a good mix of young guys with veterans, and the type of players that fit this course perfectly, I think.”