Are 6 Ryder Cup rookies too much for the U.S.? Captain Steve Stricker confidently answers the question.
Is it time to start worrying about the U.S. Ryder Cup team?
After all, in 16 days, the team that has lost to Europe in nine of the last 12 matches will arrive at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin with half the team making their debuts.
Seriously? The Ryder Cup is where grown men are shaken to their core under the enormous weight of playing for country, flag, team, and captain. It’s three days where heads spin, hands shake and hearts race. And the U.S is going in with six players who’ve never dealt with anything like the Ryder Cup? Captain American Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson were passed over for rookies?
Really? Well, U.S. captain Steve Stricker isn’t worried.
Throughout a one-hour presser on Wednesday from Whistling Straits, Stricker confidently ticked off reason after reason that the red, white and blue newbies will be a strength and not a hinderance.
Look at the six, Stricker said in so many, many words. Four of his captain’s picks announced Wednesday will make their debut – Xander Schauffele, Daniel Berger, Harris English and Scottie Scheffler. Only Schauffele and Scheffler didn’t win in the just concluded season, but Schauffele won the gold medal in Tokyo and Scheffler, whose worst finish in his six starts in major championships is a tie for 19th, took down world No. 1 Jon Rahm and Ian Poulter en route to his runner-up finish in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in March.
The other two rookies who automatically qualified for the team are Collin Morikawa, who has two majors on his resume, and Patrick Cantlay, who just won the FedEx Cup and led the PGA Tour with four wins in the super season.
The six rookies join automatic qualifiers Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, and Brooks Koepka and the two other captain’s picks – Tony Finau and Jordan Spieth.
The dozen has made a mere 12 appearances in the Ryder Cup. The oldest player is Johnson at 37. Only Johnson and Spieth have played in more than two editions of the Ryder Cup. Where’s the experience? Well, again, Stricker isn’t worried.
The 12 are uber talented – eight are in the top 10 in the world and Scheffler is the lowest ranked at 21st. On paper, the U.S. is loaded. But as we see so often, the game isn’t played on paper. It will be played on the rugged links-style Straits Course hard by Lake Michigan that is long and demands length off the tee, strong ball-striking skills, and superior shot-shaping ability. Which is just fine with Stricker.
“We are looking to the best players to perform here at Whistling Straits, and these six guys that we picked, we feel like they fit Whistling Straits to a “T,” said Stricker, who consulted his vice captains, the six automatic qualifiers and his analytical team before making his final decision on his picks.
“We have done some analysis of rookies since 2008, and U.S. rookies are a 40-29-17 record in Ryder Cup. So rookies fare very well in this type of format, and we’re excited to have these rookies. Some of them aren’t really rookies. They have played in past Presidents Cup teams. Some of these guys have match play competition under their belt.
“They bring in an excitement level that is unmatched, and they are eager, they are willing to learn. (Rookies) just come here with eyes wide open and a ‘put me in Coach,’ kind of attitude. So it’s refreshing. It’s great to see.”
It certainly was in 2008 when Stricker was one of six rookies at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky when the U.S. thumped Europe.
And all 12 U.S. players are versatile, giving Stricker a bevy of options to fill out his Foursomes and Four-Balls lineups. Although, it’s obvious he has two teams already in mind – Spieth and Thomas, who provided one of the few bright spots in Europe’s pasting of the U.S. in Paris in 2018 by going 3-1 as a team, and Cantlay and Schauffele, who were 2-0-2 as a team in the 2019 Presidents Cup.
And the 12 are eager.
Stricker said all his troops and their caddies will be at Whistling Straits this coming Sunday and Monday for practice rounds, team bonding and to just get comfortable with the surroundings.
“My message from day one has been to try to out-prepare the other team,” Stricker said. “Let’s get in as much practice as we can here. Maybe take a little bit of the stress of Ryder Cup week off our plates by getting our work done now earlier than Ryder Cup week and get some rest that week.
“We’ll go out, have a good time, get to learn the course a little bit. Work on some pairings during that time.”
Stricker is confident the rookies won’t let the USA down.
The rookies are just as confident.
“I’m excited to run with all these boys,” Schauffele said. “By definition, yes, it’s a new environment. It’s something I haven’t done, which is to compete in a Ryder Cup. Do I mentally feel like one? No. I’ve been playing for quite some time, and it’s a dream to play in a Ryder Cup, and I think whatever rookie feelings I have will quickly go away with all my fellow teammates pushing me along.”
One last thing: the six rookies have no scar tissue.
“I’ve been a rookie and had success in the event, and all these guys have contended in the biggest tournaments in the world and won the biggest tournaments in the world,” Spieth said. “I think they are going to have a blast and really hope to be on that 2016 side of things where Phil Mickelson is pouring champagne in your mouth while you get to celebrate with all the American fans.”