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Hot Putting, Emotions and a Splash of Gamesmanship: Match 1 Was Worthy Start to Ryder Cup

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia won the first point for Europe over Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — The 43rd Ryder Cup began Friday morning as a postcard vision of Midwestern fall golf. Clear skies, light breezes and oh by the way, thundering ovations from thousands of fans packed into the grandstands, where they’d camped for more than an hour in the brisk fall air. It was a scene.

Just after 7 a.m. Sergio Garcia struck the first shot for Europe and Justin Thomas piped one down the middle for the U.S. And with that, the Ryder Cup was under way.

Or was it?

No, the Ryder didn’t truly begin until the 1st green, where Thomas stood over a 6-footer for birdie to win the hole but missed it on the high side. Thomas and Jordan Spieth, his partner for this alternate-shot session, trudged off the green shoulder to shoulder.

“I can’t believe that didn’t break,” Thomas said. Spieth stared straight ahead, grinning at the electric scene in front of him.

Maybe the Ryder Cup really began on No. 2, where Spieth rolled in a birdie to give the U.S. a 1-up lead, the first speck of red on the boards this week. The partners bumped knuckles, and chants of "U-S-A" ripped across the dunes.

But maybe this thing really kicked off on the 4th hole, where Jon Rahm, partnered with Garcia, canned a long birdie to square the match and inspire one member of the U.S. entourage inside the ropes to quip, “That’s what they do at the Ryder Cup.” By “they” she meant the European team at large, and she had a point — Europe tends to make the putts that matter in this event. They’ve won seven of the last nine Cups, after all.

So, Rahm’s birdie on 4 was indeed a moment. But the 2021 Ryder truly began two holes later, at the par-4 6th. With the match still square, Rahm ran a long birdie putt about 18 inches past the cup. The crowd surrounding the hole cheered and fans and media began shuffling to the 7th tee … but Spieth and Thomas didn’t concede the comebacker. “OOOOooooo…” roared the crowd once they realized they’d be sticking around a little longer. Garcia coolly knocked in the putt and stalked to the next tee. Ryder Cup on.

Twenty-eight matches are set to be played, but that 18-inch putt proved pivotal in the opener. Whether he was steamed about the short putt or defrosting under a warm Wisconsin sun, Rahm got hot and buried birdie putts on 7, 8 and 10. He had drained more than 100 feet of putts through 10 holes, which, yes, is the kind of thing that just happens at the Ryder Cup. Rahm, currently the top-ranked player in the world, and Garcia had opened a 3-up lead.

And they would not relinquish it. Spieth and Thomas battled, but Sergio canned his first long putt of the day on 15 and blew a kiss to the pro-U.S. crowd for a cherry on top.

Spieth hit a highlight-reel pitch from the bank below the 17th green, but Thomas missed the par-saving putt and it was time for handshakes. One point to Europe. Twenty-seven matches still to be decided. Game on.