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Sport Nine players making their Ryder Cup debut are rookies in name only

22:45  23 september  2021
22:45  23 september  2021 Source:   golfweek.com

The one-year postponement of the Ryder Cup proved a great benefit for Jordan Spieth, who has rediscovered his game

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HAVEN, Wis. – Their teammates aren’t worried about the newbies.

  Nine players making their Ryder Cup debut are rookies in name only © Provided by Golfweek

The captains aren’t concerned.

And as for the Ryder Cup rookies – all nine of them – they sure look and sound anything but discombobulated heading into their respective debuts in the 43rd tussle between the U.S. and Europe.

Half of Team USA and one-quarter of Team Europe are new to this Ryder Cup game, and they know it is unlike any competition they have ever faced. Playing for flag, team, country and captain does funny things to a man, where the weight of pressure makes heads spins, hearts race and hands shake.

It’s a different animal, those who have played in a Ryder Cup will tell you, a beast that is unrelenting, unsympathetic and unpleasant at times.

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Nonetheless, U.S. captain Steve Stricker used four of his six discretionary picks on rookies while Europe captain Padraig Harrington used one of his three on a rookie. Those five joined the other four rookies who qualified for the teams on points.

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Yes, both Stricker and Harrington considered the lack of experience when making their selections, but any hesitation disappeared considering the talent of the players. And Stricker said U.S. rookies are 40-29-17 since 2008 in the Ryder Cup.

“We are looking to the best players to perform here at Whistling Straits,” Stricker said. “Some of them aren’t really rookies. They have played on past Presidents Cup teams. Some of these guys have match play competition under their belt.

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“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.”

The U.S. six – Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Daniel Berger, Harris English, Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa – are all ranked in the top 21 in the world. All but Schauffele and Scheffler won last season, although Schauffele brought home the gold medal from the Tokyo Olympic Games and Scheffler racked up top-10s in the season’s last three majors.

Morikawa won the 2020 PGA Championship in just his second start in a major and then won the 2021 British Open in his eighth major start. Cantlay won the FedEx Cup and was the only player to win more than twice last season.

The average age of Team USA is 29, the youngest in Ryder Cup history. And the dozen has only made 12 appearances in the Ryder Cup, with Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth the only two to have played in more than two. But what they lack in experience, Stricker and his 12 players are confident they’ll make up for with talent.

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“The notion that rookies can’t come out here because they don’t have the experience can kind of be thrown out the window,” Berger said. “All are competing at the biggest events, the major championships and winning big golf tournaments. That’s what it comes down to, being able to perform at the height level.”

Added Justin Thomas: “I’d go to war with these 11 other guys and our captains and I have all the faith in the world in all the rookies. I think their experience proves that they are beyond rookies.”

Eleven of Stricker’s charges were at Whistling Straits for a two-day reconnaissance mission last week that proved beneficial.

“That did help me sort of not feel like a rookie. When I think of rookie, I think of my rookie year, and I feel I show up to properties and I was texting certain guys I knew on Tour, where is registration and where is the locker room, and things like that,” Schauffele said. “So small things like that make you feel very comfortable. It worked for me. It was nice to know where the first tee was, it was nice to know where to go, it was nice to know where the locker room and sort of the team cubby was. I feel like in that sense it made me feel good arriving on property.

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Scheffler felt welcomed from the get-go last week.

“I would say I am the only true rookie; I haven’t played on a Presidents Cup team. But I don’t feel like that,” he said. “I feel like I belong on this team. The guys have done a really great job of making me feel like I belong.

“I feel like if I showed up on this team and either didn’t have friends or the guys weren’t being nice to me it would feel a lot different, but I feel like it’s been a seamless transition for me being on this team.”

Stricker has liked everything he’s seen so far.

“I don’t mean to keep blowing smoke up my team’s cheeks, but I knew they were close, but they’re close. They’re really close,” Stricker said. “I think they’ve played so much golf together growing up, on the same college teams together, they play a lot of social golf together.

“I mean, this team is really close. The level of how close they are has surprised me, I guess. That’s a good thing. That’s what I wanted from day one, is a family type atmosphere and everybody to get along, and hopefully that leads to good play.”

Harrington is happy with his Ryder Cup family. He has plenty of experience – five of his players have played in at least four matches – with Sergio Garcia having won as many points – 25.5 – as the entire U.S. team.

And he likes his new blood. Shane Lowry won the 2019 British Open, Bernd Wiesberger has eight European Tour wins and Hovland has two PGA Tour titles and won the 2018 U.S. Amateur.

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“He’s been brilliant,” Harrington said of Hovland. “Bernd is very relaxed, and obviously Shane is right on expectation. They’re the rookies in the team. The other guys, I knew what to expect. They’ve been great.”

Lowry knows of the pressure that will come. But he’s embracing it.

“You can’t feel any more pressure than there’s probably going to be out there on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. You’re playing for your team, you’re playing for your continent, we’re playing for the European Tour. We’re playing for a whole lot of things,” he said. “I had a good chat with (assistant captain Graeme McDowell) the other day and he said at certain points you kind of want to stand back this week and really look at what you’re doing and soak it all in, and I’m trying to do that as best I can. It’s just so special to be here. It really is.”

Tommy Fleetwood, who made his debut in 2018, said the rookies will be just fine.

“We have amazing rookies on our team, as does the USA, and I think for our rookies, we’re not lacking in experience or winning tournaments or handling big moments,” Fleetwood said. “The Ryder Cup is different, but I think the guys definitely seem very comfortable in the team room. They seem good on the golf course and everything, and I think they’re going to be great.”

Stricker and his veterans would say the same thing about USA’s rookies.

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