The United States are counting on six Ryder Cup rookies with impressive golf resumes as they try to wrest the coveted trophy from Europe at Whistling Straits.
The youth movement – against a veteran European side – is less risky than it might appear with the Americans counting the newcomers as RINOs (Rookies in Name Only) thanks to their accomplishments elsewhere.
“I have all the faith in the world in all the rookies,” said Justin Thomas, who made his own Ryder Cup debut in the loss to Europe in France in 2018.
“Your rookies are a two-time Major champion in Collin Morikawa or a FedExCup Champion in Patrick Cantlay, and a [Tokyo Olympics] gold medallist in Xander Schauffele,” Thomas said. “When you’re looking at guys like that that are your rookies, that says a lot about your team.”
The other newcomers are Harris English, ranked 11th in the world, four-time US PGA Tour winner Daniel Berger and 25-year-old Scottie Scheffler.
Scheffler may be the lowest-ranked player on the US team at 21 in the world, but only four of Europe’s players are higher in the rankings.
Cantlay’s late-season surge earned him Player of the Year honours on the US PGA Tour, where he stared down Bryson DeChambeau in a six-hole playoff to win the BMW Championship then edged world No 1 Jon Rahm to win the Tour Championship and the $15-million FedEx Cup playoff crown.
Cantlay said he’s expecting the Ryder Cup to be a “more amped-up version” of his playoff duel with DeChambeau, and he’s revved at the prospect.
“Playing in that environment, the idea of that, is really exciting so I’m looking forward to getting out there and experiencing it,” he said.
Cantlay (29) and 27-year-old Schauffele, have already proved their matchplay chops. At the 2019 Presidents Cup, they played together in all four team sessions, winning two foursomes matches and dropping two four-balls. Each won his singles match as they finished the week with 3-2 records.
The two prepped for the Ryder Cup with a joint holiday in Napa, California, and it’s odds-on that US captain Steve Stricker will put them together come Friday.
Cantlay said playing with a well-known partner is particularly helpful in the alternate shot format of foursomes.
“When you are playing and you hit a bad shot, you don’t want any sense of, ‘Oh, I wonder what my playing partner is thinking about the terrible shot I just hit’,” he said.”
That kind of insight into the format will be useful, especially against an experienced European side that features just three rookies in Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger.
And US veterans like Jordan Spieth along with Stricker and vice-captain Phil Mickelson, have been advising the newcomers on managing emotions that always seem to be magnified in the Ryder Cup.
Spieth’s advice is to embrace the adrenaline rush, the “nervy feeling” of a close match with a point on the line.
Changing of the guard
Morikawa, the 24-year-old world No 3 who won the 2020 PGA Championship and this year’s British Open, is relishing a long-awaited chance to do that after missing out on the Presidents Cup in 2019.
“Just missing that team kind of just pushed me,” he said. “I want to be on these team events, and these team events are just so memorable that you don’t really want to miss any.”
European veteran Lee Westwood, playing his 11th Ryder Cup at the age of 48, said that in an “ideal world” it would be preferable to “filter your young players in gradually a few at a time, not necessarily bang all at once in a team as rookies.
“But that just happens like that every now and again,” he noted. “It is almost like a changing of the guard for them.”
Perhaps the new guard is what America needs to regain the Cup. The last time the US had so many rookies on the team was in 2008, when they triumphed at Valhalla in Kentucky.
Paul Azinger, who captained that side, said he loved the idea of “fresh blood”.
And Thomas said that ultimately the question of experience versus youth was moot.
“At the end of the day,” Thomas said, “whatever team plays the best is going to win.”
© Agence France-Presse