MEDINAH, ILL. - Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson kept trying to celebrate every time they won a hole, and kept misfiring on their attempted high-fives and hugs, leaving two elite golfers looking like they had yet to master basic motor skills.
By Sunday afternoon, they might have practiced enough to get it right.
The Ryder Cup often leaves American teams looking grim. Friday afternoon, the U.S. turned the first day of the competition at the Medinah Country Club into a celebration of youth and enthusiasm, taking a 5-3 lead over Europe behind rookies who seem to view playing for their country a privilege rather than a burden.
Bradley and Mickelson won their morning match, with Bradley mashing long drives and pumping his fists, and then made six birdies in the afternoon match. Never before had Mickelson won two points in one day at a Ryder Cup, and he finished the day with a pin-seeking shot at the par-3 17th in the twilight that beat two of Europe's best players, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
"Without a doubt in my mind, that's the greatest shot I've ever seen,'' Bradley said.
Bubba Watson, sitting two down at the dais, interrupted. "You ever see that shot that I hit that one time?" Watson said, his teammates cracking up.
After a long day of golf, Webb Simpson yawned. Bradley chewed his fingernails and Watson tapped the mic, repeatedly, teasing his teammates every time they tried to answer a question. They looked like Cub Scouts. They played like young lions.
The four American Ryder Cup rookies, Bradley, Jason Dufner, Simpson and Brandt Snedeker, went 4-1 on Friday, and 4-0 after Snedeker and Jim Furyk lost the day's first match. The U.S. might have been able to start celebrating if not for European rookie Nicolas Colsaerts, who made eight birdies and an eagle to hold off Tiger Woods and partner Steve Stricker in the last match of the day.
"I didn't have a lot to do,'' said Lee Westwood, Colsaerts' partner.
Bradley spent the day pumping his fist and waving to the crowd, usually after he tilted his head to the right so he could read greens with his left eye. "He's got that weird eye,'' Watson said. "Still not sure what he's looking at when he does that. Scares the hole."
On a day when Woods and Stricker lost two matches, Bradley became the first Ryder Cup rookie to win two points on his first day since Sergio Garcia in 1999. He'll play with Mickelson again on Saturday morning, hoping he'll be able to make more New England references on Saturday night.
Bradley grew up in Vermont. He attended the '99 Cup near Boston. He called the noise at Medinah "like a Patriots game," and said of his birdie on No. 8, "It was like a Tom Brady touchdown pass."
Chicago welcomed the Ryder Cup with lots of noise, which increased when Watson went to the first tee and insisted that fans scream while he hit his first shot. The Young Americans embraced the joy of playing for crowd and country, where so many of their predecessors have treated it like a chore.
"I wish I could go 36 more," Bradley said. "This might have been the best day of my life."
"Phil knows how to pick a good partner," said U.S. captain Davis Love III.
The U.S. veterans who didn't get to play with Bradley, Furyk and Woods, finished 0-3, keeping Europe in striking distance. While Bradley was the most valuable U.S. player on Friday, Watson and Simpson were the most dominant, whipping Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson 5 and 4 in the first afternoon matches.
At one point during the morning, the U.S. trailed in all four matches. Watson and Webb gave the U.S. a 3-2 lead and incited a rowdy crowd.
"It's not really about me," Watson said. "It's about making Webb be the best player he can be. He's a U.S. Open champ, so obviously he knows how to play. I just made sure he was loose, and he kept making birdies.''
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org