JOHN MCHENRY: Four freshmen who must step up to the mark in heat of Ryder Cup battle

John McHenry dissects the pick of the Ryder Cup rookies.

EUROPE

Rafael “Rafa” Cabrera-Bello (Spain, 32)

Although a very accomplished amateur, ‘Rafa’s’ transition to top professional was slow. He turned pro in 2005 but did not win his fist European Tour title, the Austrian Open, until 2009.

But his second win, the 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic, highlighted his pedigree when he beat three of the world’s top four players.

This has been by far his most consistent and productive year as a professional with his performances earning him an automatic selection for his first Ryder Cup.

A consistent player, more technically sound than great compatriots like Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, this week Cabrera Bello will be hoping that he too can prove to be just as inspirational to the European team by demonstrating that same fighting spirit and short game wizardry.

Rating: Europe needs a performance from him this week.

Thomas Pieters (Belgium, 24)

The only rookie selected by Darren Clarke as one of his picks, Pieters will be under pressure this week to repay his captain’s faith.

Wonderfully talented and a very powerful modern player but this week marks his first venture into a whole new world of pressure and expectation.

With six rookies on the team, Pieters knows most of the freshmen will have to contribute points if Europe are to have any prospect of winning this week.

It seems as if Clarke sees something of himself in Pieters so if he’s on form, don’t be too surprised to see him get an early baptism high up in the order in the hope that his firepower can inspire others around him.

Don’t be too surprised either to see him paired up with Martin Kaymer.

Rating: Could be a game-changer if he performs.

USA

Ryan Moore (Washington, 33)

Up until recently no one would have dared talk about the injury-prone Moore as a possible Ryder Cup selection, but such has been the brilliant consistency of the former US Amateur champion and five-time PGA Tour winner over the past couple of months - a period that included a win in the John Deere Classic last month, two top 10 performances in the FexEx Cup play-offs and of course his impressive play-off loss last weekend - that he simply had to be recognised by Love.

Moore’s left ankle has given him trouble throughout his career, but now that he is fully healthy again for the first time in almost five years, no one is too surprised that he is once again demonstrating his full potential. Long off the tee box, Moore can also boast a tremendous short game. But Love has most likely picked him for his match-play pedigree and his tenacity and his determination to force himself into the reckoning for Ryder Cup selection than anything else.

Rating: He will deliver points to the US cause.

Brooks Koepka (Florida, 26)

Another big hitter, Brooks Koepka is one of the rising stars in the professional game. Now 26, he is already one of the most athletic and powerful hitters on the PGA tour ranking inside the top 10 while also hitting 60% of his fairways. He is also a great putter.

Quite unusually, Koepka started his professional career in Europe in 2012 but it proved to be an inspired decision as he won four times that season on the Challenge Tour before graduating to the main Tour, where his maiden victory came at the high-profile Turkish Airlines Open in 2014 and was quickly followed by the Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour in 2015.

If he is on form, I expect to see Koepka get a lot of playing time, especially in the fourballs.

The Ryder Cup format will suit his game and as one of only two rookies on the US team his infectious enthusiasm should prove a huge asset.

Rating: The US will count on him in the fourballs.


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