2021 Ryder Cup Preview: U.S. Team Hoping New Faces Lead to Different Result at Whistling Straits

2021 Ryder Cup Preview: U.S. Team Hoping New Faces Lead to Different Result at Whistling Straits article feature image
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Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images. Pictured: Collin Morikawa.

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – This all feels so familiar.

A heavily favored United States team, loaded with a dozen individual superstars and perhaps a little too much confidence for their own good.

An underdog European squad, plucky and motivated, relishing the perceived role of bonding together and pulling off an upset.

If it seems like the Ryder Cup has endured more sequels than the Fast and the Furious franchise, that’s probably because it’s true, with each edition of the (usually) biennial event taking on a mutated form of the previous one.

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The end result has been Europe winning seven of the last nine titles. The other end result has been years of frustration for American players and fans alike, the long-term strategy resembling the definition of insanity – you know, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This week, though, the U.S. team would like us to believe the narrative has shifted.

And you’ve gotta hand it to ‘em: They have a valid point.

This is a 12-man roster which includes rookies in half the spots. The average player age is 29.1, more than five years younger than their European counterparts, and only Dustin Johnson is older than 32.

Not only have they competed in fewer than one-third of as many Ryder Cup matches, but the entire team has combined to win 25.5 points in this competition previously – the same number as European veteran Sergio Garcia by himself.

That lack of experience in this type of pressure-cooker is often viewed through a negative prism, but based on all of those previous sequels, maybe it shouldn’t be. After all, if seasoned stalwarts haven’t succeeded in those prior iterations, then new blood could be the preferred recipe this time around.

“I’ve watched many Ryder Cups on TV, and it’s who makes the putts, who flips those matches, who grinds out the halves and who gets it done,” said Justin Thomas, competing in his second Ryder Cup this week.

“I’d go to war with these 11 other guys and our captains like I’m going to do this week, and I have all the faith in the world in all the rookies. I think their experience proves that they are beyond rookies.”

That’s a sentiment echoed throughout the U.S. team room.

“It’s hard to call guys rookies here given the experience they have on the world’s biggest stage in golf, so I don’t really like using that term for these guys,” explained Jordan Spieth, making his fourth appearance.

“I was talking with Justin about it. We’ve known everyone on this team since grade school except for Dustin and Tony. I mean, it’s pretty special. So you have a camaraderie. It’s kind of more like a really light setting. Guys have known each other for a long time.”

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That isn’t an exaggeration, either.

Two-thirds of the roster is between the ages of 24 and 29, players who not only compete against each other on the professional level every week, but played together regularly in college, amateur events and even as juniors, dating back to their pre-teen years.

Then there’s the point that the term “rookie” implies some lack of certain achievements, but that, of course, is hardly the case with this bunch.

“Your rookies are a two-time major champion in Collin Morikawa, a FedEx Cup champion in Patrick Cantlay and a gold medalist in Xander Schauffele,” Thomas added. “When you’re looking at guys like that who are your rookies, that says a lot about your team.”

This is the first time since 1993 that Phil Mickelson – now a vice captain – isn’t a competitive member of this team. Gone, too (for now, at least), are the likes of Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler.

None of those players individually was an unwelcome sight on the roster or failed to give full effort, but their presence on the team represented an era that was largely littered with failures.

This week might be another in a long line of those sequels to the franchise, but there are new characters foisted into those main roles.

By Sunday evening, we’ll know whether the U.S. team will suffer a similar fate as so many previous editions of this event, but so much else should be different.

The guys in red, white and blue are still the heavy favorite and still loaded with confidence, but replete with rookies and new, young faces, it’s clear that so much else has already changed.

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