Would Danny Willett have done a better job?

Such is the enormity of the occasion that for a number of weeks now Darren Clarke would have been silently praying he would only have to play two rookies in the opening foursomes series of matches in the 41st Ryder Cup.

Would Danny Willett have done a better job?

Why? Because Clarke knows foursomes golf is by far the most difficult of all of the three disciplines played this week. It offers no respite to a team if one player is off-form or nervous, so while outwardly confident in the ability of all of his players, it was not too surprising to see Clarke eventually selected the proven partnerships of Stenson/Rose and Garcia/Kaymer, while he gambled more in hope than anything else with the selections of McIlroy/Sullivan and Westwood/Pieters.

For 10-time Ryder Cupper Westwood, this is by now a very familiar role, having already helped the likes of Kaymer, Jamie Donaldson and Nicolas Colsaerts settle into the European Team before shepherding them around the course on the morning of their Ryder Cup debuts As a Ryder Cup partner, who has been there and done all of that before, Westwood is credited continuously for his leadership and his calming influence both on the course and in the team room but as we saw in yesterday’s round he can not perform miracles, especially with a rookie like Pieters who was quite simply too intimidated to play his own game.

Experience means something in the Ryder Cup so it begs the question as to whether Danny Willett would have been a better choice for the opening foursomes with Westwood? On form, you would think so, as he has more big game temperament but perhaps we will only fully understand in time the real impact of his brother Pete’s negative article (about US galleries) on him, his teammates and this selection.

Rory McIlroy was the other man tasked with the responsibility of shouldering a rookie yesterday. But where Thomas Pieters’ body language at the photo shoot on the first tee box suggested absolute fear, Andy Sullivan’s oozed confidence.

Rory’s obvious faith and belief in him had the desired effect. He was visibly comfortable with his surroundings - even smiling while recognising family members in the crowd and if there were nerves then they too were fully shed after his very impressive opening tee shot, which split the fairway. However, the pair were guilty of dropping too many silly holes at key points in the round. On the American side, I was impressed with the balance of the US morning pairings. The Spieth/Reed and Johnson/Kuchar pairings were particularly strong while you always felt the US could squeeze something out of the other two (Fowler/Mickelson) and (Johnson/Walker).

One American I was particularly impressed with in the morning session was Patrick Reed. Tasked with leading out the first US pairing with Jordan Spieth, his composure and accuracy all morning was quite phenomenal, something that shouldn’t be too surprising given that he has been soaking up advice all week from his boyhood idol Tiger Woods, who has been overseeing his pod. Not that he needs much advice. Although poles apart, in terms of their swings (Reed’s is uncomplicated), the way his mind works on the course is very similar to Tiger in his prime.

Playing with all the confidence in the world, I now fully expect him to play all five matches for the US team this week and to be a key contributor to their final points tally.

Losing the opening session four-zero represents a very poor return for the European Team - but the show goes on and the challenge now is for Europe to build momentum so a confident American team don’t become rampant.

From Davis Love’s point of view, the US Team are in control of their own destiny but Clarke, whose worst nightmare was realised yesterday, must find the leadership to instil the necessary belief and motivation amongst his players to get back into this match one game at a time.

At the very least, they have to make the US team work much, much harder!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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