HAVEN – In the days leading up to the 43rd Ryder Cup, Padraig Harrington looked like a genius.
He inspired his European players with a slick motivational video calling on them to “make it count.” He had them channel their inner Green Bay Packers during a practice round – a gratuitous ploy to win over Wisconsin fans – and it worked. His speech at the opening ceremony was classy and perfect in tone, while Stricker nearly lost the crowd by admitting off the cuff that he was a Chicago Bears fan. It was probably the first time in Ryder Cup history that a U.S. captain heard boos on home soil.
On the first day of the competition, however, Stricker thoroughly outcoached his Irish counterpart.
It was the Americans who made it count Friday at Whistling Straits.
The U.S., led by 37-year-old Dustin Johnson and six Ryder Cup rookies, won three of four morning foursomes matches. Then the Americans not only avoided the first-day afternoon meltdown that had plagued them in recent Ryder Cups, but padded their lead by going 2-0-2 in fourballs.
Granted, just eight of 28 matches are completed, but the Americans lead, 6-2, have lost just one match and more importantly look like the superior team that they are on paper. Eight members of Team USA populate the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The Americans ride a dual wave of momentum and confidence into Saturday’s team matches, a repeat of morning foursomes and afternoon fourballs. And unless the Europeans figure out a way to rally, they will be a dispirited bunch going into Sunday singles.
Remember the concern that the U.S. team was too inexperienced, with six rookies and an average age of just 29? Remember when some people thought Stricker should have picked Patrick “Captain America” Reed or Billy Horschel or even the short-hitting Kevin Na with his at-large selections, instead of Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler?
The critics might want to take a mulligan, because it looks like Stricker, with a mantra of “prepare, prepare, prepare,” knew what he was doing.
The six rookies combined to go 6-0-2 and Stricker’s six captain’s picks went 5-1-1. Eleven of the 12 U.S. players contributed at least a half-point, with Johnson and first-timer Xander Schauffele going 2-0. Only Jordan Spieth (0-1) failed to put a point on the board.
After determining that the Americans lost too many holes with bogeys in recent Ryder Cups, Stricker had Whistling Straits set up with bogey avoidance in mind. Short rough encouraged his players to hit plenty of drivers off the tee. The captain figured his young team, heavy on firepower, would out-birdie the Europeans.