Motivation burns naturally for the US Ryder Cup team

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HAVEN, Wis. – Steve Stricker, the United States Ryder Cup captain, hasn’t delivered a single rousing speech this week. He has also refrained from showing motivational videos, which many of his predecessors liked to do.

When Stricker was a Ryder Cup entrant as opposed to a non-playing captain, he always thought those tactics just made him nervous.

At the 43rd Ryder Cup, which opens Friday morning, Stricker will rely on more basic inspiration for his team: He has the youngest American squad in decades, and he knows those players have spent most of their lives hearing about Europe’s continued dominance. in the event.

The Americans, eight of whom are under the age of 30, have grown tired of that storyline and they don’t need a speech or the blaring theme music of “Rocky” to excite them. As Tony Finau, a senior on the US squad at age 32, said on Thursday, “There is extra motivation or extra drive to change the culture of American golf.”

Finau added: “Hopefully the culture where we don’t get the job done in the Ryder Cup changes this week.”

The Europeans, who have won four of the last five Ryder Cups, are understandably at ease, even a little baffled by the turmoil and machinations among the Americans. For example, there has been a lot of intrigue about the makeup of the pairs Stricker chooses for the first two days, when there are 16 team matches. Strategic American combinations have been debated and tried this week during practice at Whistling Straits, the daunting Lake Michigan golf course that hosts the event.

The European players have instead played it loose, practicing in obscure groups that seemed to lack foresight. On Thursday, Englishman Paul Casey explained: “We’re so good, so comfortable with what we’re going to do tomorrow, it’s like, why even think about it on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday?”

But late Thursday afternoon during the opening ceremony of the event, as Stricker and European captain, Padraig Harrington, named the pairs for Friday morning’s four foursome, some details finally emerged in the final chapter of a biennial competition. dating from 1927 and was delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

There were few surprises in the pairs for the Europeans, who often have compatriots competing together. For the first game of the event, Spaniards Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia will team up, as will England’s Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who often responds well to an emotional, energetic partner, was paired up with England’s Ian Poulter, one of the most passionate and successful Ryder Cup players of this century. Harrington also chose to pair Casey, a Ryder Cup veteran, with a new player, Viktor Hovland, the first Norwegian to compete in the event.

On the American side, Stricker seems to be leaning on the methods successfully employed by American captain Paul Azinger during the 2008 Ryder Cup.

In what he called a “pod system,” Azinger divided his 12-man team into four-man units who would spend the pre-event period doing everything from eating meals to playing practice rounds before finally getting together. were paired up in the competition. The hope was to develop a bond between certain groups of players that would be similar to the kind of unity the Europeans seemed to naturally exhibit.

The four-man pods led to a runaway victory for the Americans in 2008, their first in nine years. Since then, Azinger’s approach has been largely abandoned. But based on the first four combinations picked on Thursday and the practice groups Stricker has aired over the past three days, some four-man groupings appear to be forming on the US team.

The first couple announced by Stricker was Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who will play against Rahm and Garcia on Friday morning. The Thomas-Spieth pairing was a rare bright spot in the Americans’ losing effort at the Ryder Cup in 2018, when the two met four times in the first two days and won three times. Thomas and Spieth have known each other since childhood, competing in top junior golf tournaments, and have become close friends as professionals.

While nothing will become clear until four more games are played on Friday afternoon and eight more on Saturday (Friday afternoon’s combinations will be announced at the end of the morning games), the duo will most likely be in a four-man squad with Thomas and Spieth being Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, who will be paired Friday morning in the fourth game against the team of McIlroy-Poulter.

Cantlay and Schauffele are Ryder Cup rookies, but Schauffele won an Olympic gold medal this summer and has finished in the top-10 in major championships nine times. Cantlay was recently named PGA Tour Player of the Year after winning the FedEx Cup playoffs. During the 2019 President’s Cup – a team competition between the United States and a collection of international golfers from outside Europe – Cantlay and Schauffele played together and won in two of the four team sessions.

The other American teams playing on Friday morning are Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa, who face Casey and Hovland, and Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, who face Westwood and Fitzpatrick.

Having practiced regularly together this week, Johnson, 37, and Morikawa, 24 — the oldest and youngest members of the U.S. team, respectively — were seen as half of a group, perhaps along with Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English. Koepka and Berger would then team up in a pod with Finau and Scottie Scheffler.

The Friday morning foursomes format requires players on a team to alternate hitting the same golf ball on each hole. The Friday afternoon format is four-ball, with each golfer playing their own ball on each hole and a team winning a hole by having the lowest-scoring player (or players) there of the four golfers in the group. Most holes are usually tied up.

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