There was an early test on Friday of the theory that there was far too much depth on this United States roster for Europe to maintain the Ryder Cup for another two years.
The Europeans had held the hardware since the 14 ½-13 ½ triumph in Wales in 2010. A victory at Hazeltine would give that side – Great Britain/Ireland, now Europe – its first four-match winning streak in the 41 editions of the Ryder Cup.
The first pairs off on Friday morning were the alternate-shot foursomes. Europe had won the Ryder Cup in 2014 with a 7-1 record in those matches.
The ability of Europeans of lesser pedigree to figure out a way to team up for wins and halves has been incomprehensible at times. There was one of those matches at the bottom of the draw on early Friday.
The first three matches a case could be made for Europe having the talent to compete. The fourth had the appearance of a walkover: Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar for the U.S. against 43-year-old Lee Westwood and rookie Thomas Pieters.
This is the way I looked at it:
If Johnson and Kuchar dominated as they should, it would be strong evidence that the bottom portion of Europe’s 12-man squad was going to be out of luck. If Westwood and Pieters could ham ‘n egg their way to a half-point, then there was magic in Europe’s fingertips, as Tom Lehman once said after an inexplicable loss of the Cup.
The foursomes teed off in 15-minute intervals starting at 7:35 a.m. The Yanks started with those hard-nosed young guns, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. They were the only U.S. pair that had done much in the 16 ½-11 ½ loss in Scotland last time around (2014).
The second match included Sergio Garcia for Europe. It was around 8 a.m. as Garcia approached the green, and there was already a drunk standing on a platform in front of one of tent suites, bellowing what he thought was an insult.
“Waggle, Sergio,’’ he shouted. “Waggle, waggle, waggle.’’
He kept it up, and seemed surprised that the people standing there with him were not laughing at his cleverness. Maybe those folks were savvy enough to realize it was a 14-year-old taunt, dating to the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
Sergio’s bad habit long since stopped being extra waggles before a swing and has become missing too many putts a great player expects to make.
The fourth match was scheduled for 8:20 a.m. Reed and Spieth already were 2-up by then, having won the first two holes against Justin Rose, the Olympic gold medalist, and Henrick Stenson, the Olympic silver medalist.
So much for the importance of that overhyped exercise in Rio de Janeiro.
Westwood was assigned to hit the opening tee shot. This must have been a bow to Pieters’ ookie nerves, since the Belgian is a noted long hitter.
Westwood hit his tee shot short and to the right. Dustin Johnson stepped up and hammered a 330-yard drive through the morning haze to the middle of the fairway.
Kuchar’s approach shot was a clunker and Europe had a chance to get off the first green even. Pieters missed his par putt and, just like that, the ham ‘n eggers were one down.
Pieters returned the favor of a poor tee shot to Westwood and put him in the left bunker on No. 2. Another bogey and the Johnson-Kuchar combo was 2-up without having done anything impressive, other than Dustin’s bomb off the first tee.
Next was the par-5 third. Johnson hit it long and in what passes for rough at trimmed-up Hazeltine. Westwood then bent it right again, this time over the mound and in the muck near the fencing and behind the tree line.
Perhaps out of embarrassment, Westwood didn’t come over to take a look at the mess in which he had left his partner. Pieters’ ball was allowed to take a drop away from the fencing but still in the muck.
He considered his options and went with a straightforward attack over the trees. He succeeded in hitting it clean, while leaving an incredibly shallow divot in the mud.
That amazing recovery gave Westwood a chance to hit the green and the Euros wound up matching par-5s with Johnson and Kuchar.
It was only a temporary reprieve. The U.S. pair got to 3-up with a birdie on No. 5, and then Westwood’s play officially became an embarrassment on No. 7. This is the actual No. 16, the famous par-4 that resides next to Hazeltine Lake.
Westwood hit the tee ball on the water line, it was lost, the Euros took a double-bogey and they were 4-down after seven holes.
Instructive though it was about the teams’ comparative depth of talent, the eventual 5-and-4 loss for the Westwood and Pieters was only a footnote in a morning of disaster for Europe.
The U.S. won all four matches in foursomes. They had not done that in a session since 1981.
It was clear before noon of Day One that Europe’s tradition ham ‘n egging wasn’t going to cut against this United States collection of wondrous talent.