NYT > Sports
HAVEN, Wisconsin – A snapshot panorama from the first day of the Ryder Cup would start with a crowd of 40,000 – 90 percent of them American fans due to pandemic travel restrictions – arriving loudly on the Friday before sunrise, roaring unabated for 12 hours and through eight games that ended in the twilight. Patriotic costumes were en vogue, but weren’t among the most prominent viewers in the mix: Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry.
Whistling Straits, the Pete Dye-designed Lake Michigan golf amusement home, nearly claimed two competitors when a stumbling Jordan Spieth landed a jump off a wall plant in the Great Lakes and Ireland’s Shane Lowry fell on an embankment like a bum Toddler on a water slide.
Tiger Woods, still recovering from a devastating car accident in February, was in the spirit on Friday after sending an inspirational message to the U.S. team the night before the event. Always the lightning rod for attention, Bryson DeChambeau roared his opening drive of the day offline and off the ankle of a bystander. DeChambeau later snapped a towering 417 yard drive and then helped chase down the world’s top male golfer Jon Rahm to earn a pivotal half point.
Ultimately, the bigger picture would show that the Americans had taken control of the event, winning each of the four morning and afternoon sessions by a 6-2 lead over the European team. It was the United States’ largest lead on day one of the Ryder Cup since 1975, when they were five points ahead.
But then the Americans routinely dominated the event. Since the mid-1990s, the script has been reversed: Europeans have won four of the last five tournaments and nine of the last twelve.
“It was good to finally get something going and it was obviously a good start,” said Steve Stricker, the non-playing US captain. “We’d like to win every session.”
Stricker, a meek Wisconsinian not known for risky moves, took some big chances with his afternoon pairings after the Americans built a 3-1 lead in the morning games. In every game there were teams of two from each side. The morning format was a foursome where players take turns hitting the same golf ball on a hole, while the afternoon was a foursome format where each golfer plays their own ball and a team’s lower score decides the outcome of the hole.
The strongest American combination in the morning was Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, two of the American team’s six Ryder Cup rookies. The pair rose to a huge head start early on, beating the high profile, seasoned European team of Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter, 5 and 3.
“I don’t know if anyone could have beaten Xander and Patrick today,” McIlroy said later.
Usually when a new team is formed and has instant success, Ryder Cup captains keep the players together and play often. But for the afternoon games, Stricker surprisingly let Schauffele play with Dustin Johnson, who had teamed up with Collin Morikawa that morning for an easy win. It was expected that Stricker would keep this couple together too.
Instead, Morikawa, the reigning British Open champion, skipped the afternoon games, as did Spieth and the team around Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, who were victorious in a morning match.
But on Thursday, Stricker said he had put together his line-up for the first eight games and nothing that happened in the morning session would change his plans for the afternoon. Given the pressures Americans are under on home soil, few believed Stricker would stick to such a plan. But he did, and the results were impressive.
Cantlay teamed up with Justin Thomas, who had played with his close friend Spieth that morning. Cantlay, the PGA Tour Player of the Year, was consistent and Thomas, who appears to be the emotional leader of the American team, was fiery. But the duo lost most of their game to Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Norwegian Viktor Hovland. Then, with two holes remaining, Thomas collected a crucial putt that resulted in a tie, and so the match ended.
The otherwise stoic Cantlay even showed some emotions during the round with an occasional fist pump.
“I was eating a little bit of JT,” Cantlay said, referring to Thomas. “He carried me around all day today and he played great and it was a dogfight.”
Cantlay also spoke most of the time after the round because Thomas almost lost his voice from yelling and yelling at the American crowd, which he did after putting a meaningful putt.
The Johnson Schauffele team defeated the Englishman Paul Casey and the Austrian Bernd Wiesberger with 2 and 1. DeChambeau was paired with Scottie Scheffler in a game against Rahm and England’s Tyrrell Hatton, which ended in a draw. The American team of Tony Finau and Harris English used their length from the tee and their precise iron play to overpower McIlroy, who combined with Lowry in a 4 and 3 loss.
The competition will continue on Saturday with another eight games.
Some of the Americans mentioned that Woods’ message was part of the motivation for their raffle on Friday.
“Of course I won’t reveal what he said,” said Schauffele. “But we referred to it a couple of times a day and we knew what to do. We knew he was pumping his fist from the couch. Regardless of whether he was on crutches or not – he made a fire like all of us at home. “