Arnold Palmer’s golf bag from 1975 was waiting on the first tee when the players arrived on a chilly, foggy Minnesota morning to kick off the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. At the time, nobody new what an omen it would turn out to be.
Justin Rose hit the first shot Friday morning but the Ryder Cup really started a minute later when Patrick Reed stood on the tee in short sleeves and pounded a drive. He was walking toward his ball by the time it landed in the middle of the fairway. Phil Mickelson might be the team leader, Jordan Spieth might be the fan favourite, but Reed brings the fire. And that means no sweater.
Patrick Reed's out there in short sleeves. I've got on two shirts, a sweater and a jacket, and I'm freezing.
— Dan Jenkins (@danjenkinsgd) September 30, 2016
Reed and his partner Spieth got off to a great start in the alternate shot morning foursomes session. They birdied two of the first three holes to go two-up on Europe’s top pairing of Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. The Americans never looked back, holding at least a two-up lead throughout the match, before winning 3&2 when Reed drilled a birdie putt on the 16th hole.
It was the first time America won the opening match at a Ryder Cup in 21 years but the party was just getting started for Team USA. The Americans swept the morning session, winning a full point in all four matches to take a 4-0 lead into the afternoon four-balls. It was the first time an American team had swept the opening session since 1975 when they were captained by The King himself, Arnold Palmer.
The only match to make it to the 18th hole was Match 2 where the American team of Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler had to overcome some typically erratic tee shots from the 46-year-old Mickelson. They were two down to Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan heading to the 15th tee before winning four holes in a row. The Americans took the lead for good at the par-3 17th where Fowler hit a great shot and Sullivan put his ball in the water, sinking Europe’s chances to pull out a point.
The four hole charge by Mickelson and Fowler wasn’t even the best of the day however. Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson were one down in Match 3 against Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer before turning the match on its head by winning holes 12 through 16 and taking the match 4&2.
“Jimmy and I are good friends,” Johnson said. “I don’t care where he hits it. He doesn’t care where I hit it. For us it’s all about team. Execution becomes easy. There’s freedom involved when you don’t care where your partner hits it.”
In Match 4, Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters were no match for Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Pieters showed nerves early and Westwood missed putt after putt. The European pair made two bogeys and a double bogey on their front nine with no birdies. The Americans won 5&4.
The American team made 18 birdies in the morning session compared to eight by the Europeans. The pressure is squarely on the American players this week after the top-down team philosophy was blown up two years ago by Mickelson in the aftermath of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. The players got their way and now it’s up to them to make sure it works.
So far, so good.
– Jon McCarthy