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U.S. Grabs Stunning 6-2 Lead After Day 1 at Ryder Cup

In one of the most surprising opening days in recent Ryder Cup memory, the U.S. simply outmanned, outputted and outplayed the Europeans, writes Gary Van Sickle.

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Congratulations on living long enough to see this.

The 43rd Ryder Cup began here Friday at Whistling Straits and some strange things happened:

Europe won only one match. That’s right, one for the whole day. If you kept waiting for Seve Ballesteros to jump out of the bushes and win a foursomes match, you were not alone.

The Americans outplayed, outputted and outmanned the Europeans. The Americans steamrolled the Euros, who have won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, by a 6–2 margin. And they did it without Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods. Am I the only one who just heard a giant page in the Golf Encyclopedia permanently flip over? Maybe this really is a new era. (Memo to world: Slow down, Parnelli. It’s only one day. It was one big day but just one day. Relax. Breathe. Pretend you’re a Wisconsinite and have a beer and/or a nice brandy.)

Rory McIlroy went 0-2 in Day 1 at the Ryder Cup.

Rory McIlroy went 0-2 on Friday and never even saw the 16th hole.

Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy went 0–4. Based on the U.S. team’s history with those guys, that’s practically equivalent to the Houston Astros knocking off the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees AND Los Angeles Dodgers en route to winning an asterisked World Series.

Bryson DeChambeau hit a 417-yard drive. (Oh, sorry. These were supposed to be strange things, not things you expected.)

Jordan Spieth nearly fell into Lake Michigan. It’s true. He hit a crazy trick shot at the 17th hole in the morning foursomes matches, lost his balance and had to quick-step-scramble his way down a steep slope until he found a flat spot where he could pull up, which was on the edge overlooking the rocks below. We almost had a new candy—Spieth’s Pieces.

Bryson DeChambeau nailed a spectator with his first shot. That’s right, Your Man Bryson tried to drive the green at No. 1, pulled it left and nailed a woman named Eileen sitting on a hillside in the leg. She was O.K., and he autographed a ball for her. Then he made a remarkable pitch and holed a short birdie putt. (Dang it, that’s right. These were supposed be only strange things. Forgot again.)

Poulter and Rory McIlroy lost the first five holes in their foursomes match. And you thought oh-for-five was something only Bob Uecker or a New York Jets quarterback did. Xander Schauffele, Olympic gold medal-winner, and Patrick Cantlay, FedEx Cup kajillions-of-dollars-winner, did a number on the European duo. And the number was 5: 5 & 3.

The Americans need only 8 ½ more points to clinch the Cup. So no, they can’t close this thing out on Saturday. That’s a joke but it’s the kind of joke the Europeans usually make because this shoe is typically on the other hoof. Can the Americans hold a big lead in a Ryder Cup? Well, other than Sunday at Medinah in 2012, where the answer was a big fat “No!”, we don’t really know.

Golf was a contact sport Friday. Ireland’s Shane Lowry, a belly-rich former Open champion, slipped at the sixth hole on one of Whistling Strait’s many steep slopes and took a spill. Luckily, he was OK and luckily, it was captured on video. And luckily, for reasons of why he shouldn’t be embarrassed, I can guarantee him that many men with significant mid-sections, including some sober ones, slipped and fell during Friday’s round. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Now run that video again, please …

Sergio Garcia felt insulted. When Justin Thomas and Spieth failed to concede a short putt on the sixth hole, Garcia was forced to putt from inside two feet for par, and made it. But partner Jon Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world, was not happy about the move and wagged his finger at the Americans. In a possibly unrelated matter, Rahm started pouring in birdie putts and the Spaniards won three of the next four holes and took control of the match en route to Europe’s only win of the day. “I felt that was one for them to give,” Rahm said later. Good point—his comment and the match. (Wait! No, Sergio getting miffed is standard procedure. This is supposed to be unusual stuff from Day One. Dangnabbit. Well, it won’t happen again.)

The Europeans dodged total disaster. So 6–2 isn’t a total disaster? Indeed not. It could’ve been worse, but Tyrrell Hatton hit driver-5-iron to eight feet on the windswept 18th hole and made a birdie to win back half a point from DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler. And Tommy Fleetwood’s clutch par on the 18th kept Thomas and Patrick Cantlay from winning a whole point in the day’s last match. It’s 6–2 but it could’ve been 7–1. The latter is a Titanic deficit, the former is the S.S. Minnow from “Gilligan’s Island”—survivable, maybe, but not without Ginger and Mary Ann.

Nobody talked about the Bryson-Brooks Koepka thing. That makes one day in a row. Kudos to Captain Stricker for playing them in separate sessions. Koepka went out in morning foursomes with Daniel Berger and beat Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick. DeChambeau played afternoon four-balls with Scheffler.

The hottest player of Day One was… Tony Finau? The Americans had a bevy of Most Valuable Player nominees from Friday but none more impressive than Finau, a captain’s pick. He birdied five holes. Not impressed? He played only 15 holes because he and Harris English stuffed McIlroy and Lowry, 4 & 3. Still not impressed? It blew up to 25 mph in the afternoon and the Straits, living up to its name, played seriously difficult.

DeChambeau said his ball speed was almost 200 mph on the range today. He was asked if his 417-yard drive at No. 5 was longer than a big drive he’d hit at the Memorial Tournament in June. Nobody asked him his ball speed but Bryson managed to work it into the conversation. (Remember when I said I wasn’t going to mention anything else here that wasn’t strange today? Yeah, I lied.)

America leads by four. For context, note that the Atlanta Falcons had a 28–3 lead over the New England Patriots late in the third quarter of a Super Bowl. Do you remember the Falcons winning a Super Bowl? That’s because they didn’t. Take the hint.

It was a strange day. 

Justin Thomas heated up Friday afternoon, rallying his pairing to earn a key half-point in the day's final match.

Justin Thomas heated up Friday afternoon, rallying his pairing to earn a key half-point in the day's final match.