The score after the first day’s matches in the 2012 Ryder Cup stands at 5 – 3 in favor of the Americans. And if they hadn’t run into a buzz saw in the form of an increasingly less obscure young Belgian named Nicolas Colsaearts, it would have been 6 – 2. Colsaearts didn’t play until the afternoon fourball matches (best ball) with Lee Westwood. On his own ball, he made eight birdies and an eagle. Even so, Tiger just lipped out his putt on 18 that would have halved that match.
But the embarrassment of riches ended up belonging to the Americans. Davis Love’s team talent is so deep that when he cobbled together the morning foursomes, he didn’t have room to include the Masters champion (Bubba Watson), the U.S. Open champion (Webb Simpson), The Players champion (Matt Kuchar) and an up and coming, 6-time Tour winner (Dustin Johnson).
And by the time he did unleash them in the afternoon fourballs, they were so amped up that Watson and Simpson steamrollered Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson 5 & 4. They were so amped up that Bubba Watson had the two caddies urge the first tee crowd to stand and cheer as he smashed his opening tee shot (classic Bubba; the only thing missing was his signature Twitter hashtag, #urwelcome).
Later, Davis Love said that he wanted to get some energy going in the crowd (it had been cold, early and mostly quiet Friday morning) although he probably didn’t envision never-before, unabashed cheerleading in the middle of a tee shot.
When Kuchar and Johnson did get out there, they nicely dispatched Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer 3 & 2. And they did it with three birdies in four holes starting on the 4th hole. Then all they had to do was play good golf to the end. The great golf was already in the bag.
And the extraordinary play from Keegan Bradley under Phil’s wing makes it likely that Love will keep Bradley out there in all five matches. His hair is on fire. Not only his hair, his eyes. His tenacious, intense play all day long with Phil made you glad he was on the American side. Rookie? In name only. They won both of their matches, so on the strength of the day’s performance, his rookie days are over. The guy is now a stone cold veteran in one day.
One of the interesting dynamics in this Ryder Cup is that Cup stalwarts, Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson are considered “old.” Or at least the respectful whispers have begun. So while Love put Furyk out in the first group with Tour Championship and FedExCup winner, Brandt Snedeker, as a steadying influence, it was really to access Snedeker’s recently demonstrated brilliance. It worked until Snedeker flared his drive on 18 into the tents, but they looked good most of the day.
So now we see that Love is going to sit Tiger and Stricker Saturday morning. Furyk and Mickelson live on in the limelight of their younger charges, Snedeker and Bradley, but to make sure they’re rested for the Sunday singles, they may sit Saturday afternoon.
What that implies is that Snedeker and Bradley might not be sitting and we could have new pairings for those two or with each other. Love has been emphasizing everyone getting enough rest, everyone having fun and how team oriented even the veterans were being. Rest assured, Tiger did not show up to sit on the bench, but he said that he would do anything Love needed him to do.
But maybe what this does is open new strategies for the future if Love’s plans work out. Until now, it was inconceivable that those veteran players wouldn’t play all five sessions; 36 holes a day of foursomes and fourball and then bring home the bacon on Sunday in the singles as well. Even though it’s always been the manly thing to do, that’s a lot of golf.
The reason that it was done that way is that not all twelve players on the teams were talented enough to be there. Oh, they might have had a good run during the year that somehow got them enough points to be on the team. But captains always felt that there was a player or two they needed to hide from competition. So the guy might be let out on a fourball leash just to condition him for Sunday singles, not because anything was particularly expected from him. Oh, you knew he might perform great, but it was safer to assume he wouldn’t and let him prove himself first.
Davis Love does not have that problem with his crew. And when you think about all the great players in the wings who didn’t make the team — Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Bo Van Pelt, to name just three — he might not have that problem for a long time.