The U.S. Ryder Cup apparatus has reached a point where youth and inexperience are not only preferred, but for the health and the future of the matches, they’re required.
Never has there been a better time to sweep out the veterans who have populated the U.S. team for the last dozen mostly losing years and replace them with the young players who are taking over the game and will lead the Ryder Cup effort going forward.
Six rookies are on captain Steve Stricker’s team going to Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in two weeks and that couldn’t be better news for the Americans. Eight of the 12 players are in their 20s with Dustin Johnson the oldest at 37 and Collin Morikawa the youngest at 24.
In terms of experience, there’s not a ton. It will be the fifth Ryder Cup for Johnson and Jordan Spieth and the third for Brooks Koepka. Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau were rookies in 2018 in Paris. Thomas was 4-1-0 and Finau 2-1-0 in the 17½-10½ thumping by Europe. In fact, of the six players with previous Ryder Cup experience, four have winning records.
Stricker wasn’t hesitant in the least to choose untested players. Three of his six picks are first-timers. The last time the U.S. team had six rookies was 2008 in an American victory at Valhalla. From 2008 to the present, U.S. rookies are a combined 40-29-17.
Those are the numbers. Here are the things you can’t measure. The most important: They’re fearless. The top players in the game are better younger than perhaps in any generation. They come straight from college ready to not just contend but to win — immediately.
“They bring in an excitement level that is unmatched I think, and they are eager, they are willing to learn, they just want to have that opportunity and they will do anything for that opportunity,” Stricker said. “I see that much in these six guys here as well in that they are just eager to get in there and play and they are excited to be a part of this.
“I'm not saying that veterans aren't but they just come here with eyes wide open and, ‘Put me in, coach," kind of attitude. It's refreshing. It's great to see.”
Schauffele, at age 27, is a Ryder Cup rookie but is no stranger to competing at the highest level. He has four PGA Tour victories and has already amassed eight top-7 finishes in major championships and is thought by many to be on the verge of pushing through to elite status
“The game is getting younger,” Schauffele said. “Tiger Woods is to blame. Kids are getting better and better. I feel like I'm an old guy on Tour. I'm turning 28 soon and I feel like I'm one of older guys. Kids keep getting better at younger ages.”
The numbers bear that out. The six rookies combine for 23 PGA Tour victories, which includes two majors from Morikawa. And Scottie Scheffler has yet to win on Tour, though most observers believe that will be resolved sooner than later.
And while the Ryder Cup can be a daunting environment no matter how many you’ve played, it doesn’t appear that the rookies will be intimidated by it. Not to mention that they don’t carry around the excess baggage of the U.S. losing seven of the last nine Ryder Cups.
“Do I mentally feel like (a rookie)? No,” Schauffele said. “I've been playing for quite some time, and it's a dream to play in a Ryder Cup. I think whatever rookie feelings I have will quickly go away with all my fellow teammates pushing me along.”
Stricker didn’t purposely load the team with inexperience. Rather, he chose players who he believes are a good fit for Whistling Straits, a course that rewards distance off the tee. And he went looking for good putters, which seems to be the final key to win Ryder Cups.
The Americans have had their hats handed to them by the Europeans for most of the last 20 years with most of the same old faces. Hand the keys to the young folks and see how fast and far they drive.