All eyes on the debutants

(From left to right) Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood watch European team-mate Danny Willett hit off the tee during practice ahead of the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. Masters champion Willett is one of six rookies in
(From left to right) Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood watch European team-mate Danny Willett hit off the tee during practice ahead of the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. Masters champion Willett is one of six rookies in Team Europe. Chris Wood, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters are the other debutants.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

With half of Team Europe made up of debutants, they could decide Ryder Cup fate

CHASKA (Minnesota) • A captain can win the Ryder Cup at home with six rookies on his 12-man team. Colin Montgomerie and the Europeans proved it in 2010.

But since 1979, when the Ryder Cup entered its modern phase by becoming Europe versus the United States, no captain has ever won golf's premier team competition on the road with six or more newcomers.

This helps explain why the United States are the odds-on favourite to regain the Cup when play begins today at Hazeltine National Golf Club.

The six rookies on the European team, captained by Darren Clarke, range from Danny Willett, 28, an Englishman who won his first Major title at the Masters in April, to Thomas Pieters, a 24-year-old Belgian who has yet to make it to the Masters.

"It will be difficult, quite difficult," said Thomas Levet, a former European Ryder Cup player from France who is now an analyst for Canal Plus television.

  • Ryder Cup rookies to watch

  • Europe

    DANNY WILLETT, 28 (ENG)

    WORLD NO. 10

    He makes his first Ryder Cup appearance after capturing his first Major crown at the Masters in April, aided by a back-nine collapse by leader Jordan Spieth.

    The Englishman was the first European in 17 years to win at Augusta National. He also won at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.

    ANDY SULLIVAN, 30 (ENG)

    WORLD NO. 50

    He won three times last year on the European Tour, capturing the South African Open, Joburg Open and Portugal Masters.

    He made his best showing in seven career Major starts with a share of 12th at this year's British Open. Sullivan also helped a British-Irish Walker Cup squad win the 2011 trophy over the US team.

    THE OTHERS

    •Rafael Cabrera Bello, 32 (Esp) - World No. 30

    •Chris Wood, 28 (Eng) - No. 32

    •Thomas Pieters, 24 (Bel) - No. 42

    •Matthew Fitzpatrick, 22 (Eng) - No. 44

    United States

    BROOKS KOEPKA, 26

    WORLD NO. 22

    He matched his best Major result with a share of fourth at the PGA Championship in July. He won the 2014 Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour and added the PGA Tour's Phoenix Open last year.

    RYAN MOORE, 33

    WORLD NO. 31

    He became the second Ryder Cup debutant for the Americans when Davis Love made him a captain's choice last Sunday. Hours before, he battled Rory McIlroy in a play-off at the PGA Tour's season-ending Tour Championship before settling for second after the fourth extra hole.

    Moore has won five US Tour titles, the most recent of them at the John Deere Classic last month.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"But the rookies Darren has are very strong. And when we look at world golf now - and this is even truer with the women than the men - we see the emergence of great golfers at a very young age.

"Look at Rory McIlroy, who broke through early at a high level on the men's circuit. Look at Lydia Ko, who gets to No. 1 in the world at age 17. That wasn't happening so often before, so I think the notion of rookie doesn't mean what it used to mean."

And the destiny of the Ryder Cup may rest on how Europe's six rookies perform this week, according to Tony Jacklin, described by ESPN this week as the man who saved the biennial team event in the 1980s.

Jacklin, Europe's most decorated captain after winning twice and tying once in four Ryder Cups, says no one knows how Willett, Chris Wood, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick and Pieters will fare under the microscope.

"Everyone's pontificating about this and that and going on about statistics but the bottom line is that we don't know how these six rookies are going to perform," Jacklin, 72, told Reuters in an interview at Hazeltine on Wednesday.

"Some people rise to it and some don't respond quite so well so for me, someone who has been in the captain's seat, that would be somewhat of a concern."

The Ryder Cup is recognised as the greatest rivalry in golf and millions around the world will be riveted by the Hazeltine thrills and spills today, tomorrow and Sunday.

Two-time Major winner Jacklin, added that the European team would quieten down the home fans if they came charging out today.

"Already you can see the crowds are ready to burst at the smallest opportunity so if we can get our noses ahead early, that would dampen that down a bit and would help our cause," he said.

From the point of view of the US team, Jacklin suggested skipper Davis Love III should not attempt to over-analyse things too much.

"I think the Americans are so pre-occupied with statistics and numbers," he said. "If you use your eyeballs and see how the guys are reacting in the team room and use your senses and have a one-on-one with everybody, you've got an open mind.

"You can talk to them and say, 'If you're not happy, speak up now.'

"That's the way I did it. I think they get so panicked, they go over things five, six or 10 times, whereas sometimes you are best using your instinct," explained Jacklin.

"Just let it happen... and at the end of the day you need to do a lot of praying, I promise you that, because you need a hotline to God."

Compared to Europe's six rookies, the Americans have two - Brooks Koepka and the final addition, Ryan Moore.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'All eyes on the debutants'. Print Edition | Subscribe