CHASKA (United States), Sept 23 ― Europe's hopes of keeping the Ryder Cup are likely to depend upon how well six rookies handle the tension and pressure of opposing fans and a determined United States squad.
The 41st edition of the biennial men's golf matches will be contested September 30 to October 2 at Hazeltine, with Europe having won the trophy three times in a row, six of the past seven and eight of the past 10.
Leading Europe's charge will be four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, British Open champion Henrik Stenson, 2013 US Open winner Justin Rose, two-time major champion Martin Kaymer and Cup veterans Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.
But they are joined by a new generation of golfers, Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello and 20-something Cup newcomers Andy Sullivan, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood and Masters champion Danny Willett of England plus captain's choice Thomas Pieters of Belgium.
“The rookies are going to experience things that they have probably never experienced before on a golf course. It's just to make them aware of that and sort of try to help them embrace that in some way,” McIlroy said.
“It's a tough environment to come to, especially in an away Ryder Cup. There's going to be things said. I just have to make sure that the guys know that and they are ready for that.”
'Like final round of major'
There's no lack of drama in a Ryder Cup. Six of the past 12 have been decided by a single point. And there's a reason many of them bear such nicknames as “War on the Shore,” “Battle of Brookline” or “Miracle at Medinah.”
“First match in the Ryder Cup is going to be like playing a final round of a major for all 18 holes,” McIlroy said. “That's what it's like. It's a tournament where you get feelings that you've never had before.
“A Ryder Cup away from home is difficult. You have people chirping at you and you really have to try to keep your concentration because you are not just playing the 12 guys on the American team. You are battling a crowd that's rooting against you as well. For most of the guys that's quite an unusual scenario. Being the away team is quite difficult.”
Rio Olympic runner-up Stenson is confident the Ryder Cup rookies will react well to the tensions of the trophy fight.
“It's always good to have some fresh blood on there and I think we have a strong team despite it having a lot of rookies,” said Stenson.
“They are good players, even though they might be rookies on the Ryder Cup team. When you have the current Masters champion, you don't really put him in the rookie category.
“I'm going to try to share some experience. I've been there a few times. You can try with bits and pieces to encourage the young players.”
Westwood the 'general'
To that end, Europe captain Darren Clarke added pal Westwood and Kaymer to the squad.
“They are guys the first timers also all look up to,” Clarke said. “It's not just about playing. It's about the team room and the dynamics and everything that's involved in it.”
Germany's Kaymer, who sank the putt at Medinah in 2012 that ensured Europe kept the Cup, said his 2010 debut was aided by Westwood.
“The first time I played the Ryder Cup it was very overwhelming. That's why I was very happy Lee took me under his wing and took care of me,” Kaymer said.
Westwood, in his 10th Cup start, is two shy of fellow Englishman Nick Faldo's all-time Ryder Cup record of 25 points.
“He will be somewhat like the general amongst the team,” Clarke said. “He has the game and experience and knowledge to deal with the team room. Anything he says, everybody sits up and listens.
“That's what makes Europe the team we are ― there are always guys that want to learn and get better.” ― AFP