SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - It wasn’t experience or course knowledge that propelled the Americans into a 6-2 lead after Friday's first day of the Ryder Cup. It was the raw talent that will likely bring the cup back to U.S. shores for the next two years.
On paper, the USA contingent was the favorite in every bookie parlor from Macau to Las Vegas. But that has been the case in the past and Uncle Sam’s boys found a way to fold like cheap suits when the pressure was on, losing seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, at times in embarrassing fashion. That includes 2004 at Oakland Hills and 2006 at The K Club in Ireland by nine points and in 2018 at Le Golf National by seven points.
To put it mildly, we have stunk the place up since the turn of the century.
But Friday at Whistling Straits was not one of those fold-and-go-home days. Instead it was a perfect mix of six rookies and six veterans putting the screws to the Euros as they have done to the Americans in the past, and the results, a four-point lead after day one, is the first such margin by a U.S. team since 1975 at Laurel Valley.
Some would say it's premature to declare the matches over after two sessions. But nothing, I really mean nothing, has suggested that the U.S. could lose to a European team that spent most of Friday with facial expressions that suggested they got a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking.
Rory McIlroy, the stalwart of the European team, went 0-2 for the first time in his six career Ryder Cup appearances. Except for an eagle on the par-5 5th, it never looked like the Ulsterman had what was required to put a point in the win category.
World No. 1 Jon Rahm showed up and earned 1 ½ points, winning in the morning foursomes with Sergio Garcia and getting a half with Tyrrell Hatton in afternoon fourball. No one else showed the bottle — British slang for for courage or confidence — to win a full point.
The Americans seemed to exude confidence. They lost just one match and traditional underachiever Dustin Johnson won two points in a day for the first time in this, his sixth Ryder Cup appearance.
If you had to point to one place where the Americans showed their dominance, it was the par-5s, where they were 11-5-7.
One of the 11 wins came on the 5th hole in afternoon fourball when Bryson DeChambeau launched a drive 417 yards, taking the most unconventional route imaginable and then making the first eagle of the matches.
U.S. Captain Steve Stricker wanted length on his team, and it was that length that made the difference on the par 5s and ultimately the difference in day one.
The European will have to find lighting in a bottle just to make this competitive headed to Sunday singles.
Harrington hung his hat on the last two matches on Friday when the Europeans got two halves. That is not much to go with, but when you have little to applaud, it seems you have to find some daylight in what was a dismal day.
Harrington hopes a few more putts fall and in turn the momentum starts to work the Euros way. “Getting the odd break,” he said.
Not much of a strategy. Especially when you look up and see only one pairing went right. Harrington must somehow shake up his 12 guys and find something resembling solid pairings on Saturday. If not, Europe will play Sunday singles with little chance to take the cup back home.
It is a herculean task that Harrington faces. One which just seems too big for the Irishman and his 12 charges.