Ryder Cup rookies carry US to dominant Day 1 lead

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Rookies?

Maybe we should call them first-timers now.

Yes, the 12-man U.S. team entered the 43rd Ryder Cup with six players who never had played in this event before, so they technically would be considered rookies.

But, after Friday’s opening matches at Whistling Straits, each of the six first-timers on the U.S. side had contributed at least a half point. In all, they delivered seven points.

Before this week, U.S. captain Steve Stricker repeated time and again that these rookies weren’t really rookies, that they all have accomplished personal records and playing in a Ryder Cup was going to be no different than playing in a Masters or a British Open or a U.S. Open.

Cynics rolled their eyes.

Even the rookies — Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Harris English, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa and Daniel Berger — said they didn’t feel like rookies.

Call them “first-timers,’’ they said.

Well, on Day 1, they were the linchpins to the commanding 6-2 lead the Americans stormed to over Europe.

Schauffele, the Tokyo Olympics gold medal winner, contributed two points. Cantlay, who was recently named PGA Tour Player of the Year and won the FedExCup playoffs and the $15 million that comes with it, contributed 1 ½ points. English, a two-time winner in 2020, won a point, as did British Open champion Morikawa and Berger. Scheffler won a key half point in the afternoon.

Ryder Cup rookies Xander Schauffele (left) and Patrick Cantlay had a strong Day 1 for the U.S. team at the Ryder Cup.
Ryder Cup rookies Xander Schauffele (left) and Patrick Cantlay had a strong Day 1 for the U.S. team at the Ryder Cup.


Tell that to the Europeans, who got slapped around by them Friday.

The most powerful tone of the day was set in the morning foursomes in the match that pitted Cantlay and Schauffele against Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter.

Poulter entered the day with a career 14-6-2 Ryder Cup record, McIlroy 11-9-4. Cantlay and Schauffele, who have become close buddies and recently hung out in Napa and Sonoma wine country together with their partners, cared little about their opponents’ records and it showed.

When Poulter, after the Friday morning pairings were revealed, was asked how critical experience was in these matches, he said: “It counts a lot. We [he and McIlroy] have played some great golf together through the years and this is going to be another special match. It’s about putting points on the board. We have done that a lot for Team Europe and we’re going to do it again.’’

Well, they didn’t.

Cantlay and Schauffele carry a look on the golf course that seems to say they want to beat you so badly you’ll consider quitting the game — as PGA Tour pro Max Homa tweeted during the matches. They showed it immediately when they won the first five holes against McIlroy and Poulter.

When the two European stars made a modest comeback to cut the deficit to 3-down on the back nine, Cantlay and Schauffele coldly birdied the final four holes to snuff them out, 5-and-3.

Collin Morikawa
Collin Morikawa
Getty Images

Cantlay called the matchup with McIlroy and Poulter “exactly what we wanted.’’

“We were excited when we saw that pairing, because all the pressure is on them. They have seen it all and they are expected to maybe have a little veteran edge,’’ he said.

“I don’t know if anyone could have beaten Xander and Patrick today,’’ McIlroy said.

“It’s not nice to get off to the start 5-down through five,’’ Poulter said.

No, Cantlay and Schauffele weren’t nice. Rookies, after all, aren’t supposed to treat their more accomplished elders like that.

But they said before the competition they didn’t feel like rookies and they didn’t play like rookies.

Neither did Scheffler, who made some stone-cold-killer shots in his afternoon match alongside Bryson DeChambeau. It was Scheffler’s clutch par on the 15th hole that put them 1-up and pressured Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton to chase.

English, who hadn’t played a team event since the 2011 Walker Cup, made massive contributions while teaming with Tony Finau to beat McIlroy and Shane Lowry in the afternoon fourball, 4-and-3.

Morikawa, a two-time major winner and reigning Open champion, teamed with Dustin Johnson to win their morning foursomes match.

Berger teamed with Brooks Koepka, both of whom played college golf at Florida State, and took down 48-year-old Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick 2-up in the morning.

Perhaps no one embodied how much these rookies didn’t play like rookies more than Cantlay and Schauffele, who give the impression they’re going to be U.S. Ryder Cup horses for the next decade-plus.

“Pat and I don’t talk a whole lot,’’ Schauffele said. “[But] we have each other’s back.’’

The rookies, er, first timers, had the backs of all of Team USA on Friday.

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