Pádraig Harrington is doubling down on experience in the opening foursomes session to start the 43rd Ryder Cup.
The European captain sent out all of his most seasoned Ryder Cup veterans at the jump, spreading the experience among all four partnerships that will take on a young American team with four rookies making their debut in the morning matches. Viktor Hovland of Norway, who will partner with five-time Ryder Cupper Paul Casey, was the only European rookie to play the opening foursomes.
“Obviously I'm comfortable with the team I've put out there – strong, experienced team,” Harrington said. “I had 12 players who could play foursomes, so that was a pretty tough decision to have to rest four. It wasn't a very easy decision. I think it was pretty clear to me where we were going though. Very happy with the partnerships I've put out there and clearly it's interesting when you see the matchups.”
Anticipating their opponents’ opening gambits, both captains led with their strengths. Harrington sent out the Spanish team of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia against the tested U.S. team of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
“I’m sure the whole world will be watching that,” Harrington said of the heavyweight opening match pitting four major champions.
The fourth anchor match was also predictable, with Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter teaming up again to face the established American duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. McIlroy and Poulter went 1-1 in foursomes play in Paris, and sending them out in the last match avoided a rematch with Thomas and Spieth which the European combo lost 4 and 3 in 2018.
Match 1: 1.05pm Jon Rahm & Sergio Garcia vs Justin Thomas & Jordan Spieth.
Match 2: 1.21pm: Paul Casey & Viktor Hovland v Dustin Johnson & Collin Morikawa.
Match 3: 1.37pm: Lee Westwood & Matt Fitzpatrick v Brooks Koepka & Daniel Berger.
Match 4: 1.53pm: Rory McIlroy & Ian Poulter v Patrick Cantlay & Xander Schauffele.
“Rory and Ian have played well in the past," Harrington said. "Probably going up against their new young guns, Patrick and Xander look like a partnership that they may be looking for for the future going against an established partnership of ours.”
The second match will feature Paul Casey and rookie Hovland against Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa, while the third match pits 11-time Ryder Cupper Lee Westwood and fellow Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick against Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger.
The first match starts at 13:05 Irish time, which each subsequent match starting in 16-minute intervals. McIlroy and Poulter will tee off at 13:53 pm Irish time. Harrington added that all 12 of his players will play on Friday, meaning that Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Bernd Wiesberger will play in the afternoon four-balls.
“We have an experienced setup no doubt about it but it was our strong setup and just happened to be experienced,” Harrington said of his foursomes lineup. “I was happy with that because no doubt when it came out like that and you look at it and you go, ‘Yeah, that is very experienced; that is a big bonus.’ But it was also a very strong setup, but it didn't weaken our fourballs. That's very important. We still have a very strong fourball setup, and we haven't taken from the afternoon by going with a strong setup in the morning.”
Harrington said he knew his partnerships before the team ever arrived in Wisconsin on Monday, but he never sent out the same four players out in practice rounds. But there was more behind his thinking on that strategy than just trying to conceal his hand. He didn’t want them to get bored with each other.
“I wanted everybody on my team to play with everybody in the team and not turn up on a week like this and by the end of the week go, ‘I never saw a player; I never experienced that player and I never got to see what they were like in this situation,’” he said. “I was very keen on the players to mix with each other and get the full experience of the other 11 players in the team. I knew the partnerships were looking after themselves.”
US captain Steve Stricker says his pairings for every session have been set and his players have known since Monday and he plans to stick to the plan throughout the weekend. While the American team is short on experience, its morning groups aren’t unfamiliar in international team play.
“Some teams that have played together over the years, whether in Ryder Cups or some Presidents Cups, so we wouldn't put them out there if we didn't feel good about them, let me just put it that way,” Stricker said. “So we are extremely excited about how these guys are playing, and the order of which they are going out.”
Thomas and Spieth partnered all four sessions at the 2018 Ryder Cup and went 3-1, losing only the first day’s afternoon foursomes session against the European juggernaut of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood.
Koepka and Berger partnered together in the first foursomes session in the 2017 Presidents Cup at Liberty National when Stricker served as the American captain. They lost 3 and 1 to the South African team of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace.
“They like playing together, bottom line, and they do well together,” Stricker said of the former collegiate teammates and Floridians.
Cantlay and Schauffele partnered all four sessions at the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia, going 2-2 and winning both foursomes matches.
The only new matchup is former world No 1 Johnson, playing his sixth Ryder Cup, with Morikawa, a two-time major winner but Ryder Cup rookie. They will face the similarly experienced team of Casey and Hovland in the second match of the morning.