Golf: Europe rookies ready for impact in Ryder Cup debuts

Team Europe's Andy Sullivan (right) poses for a picture by a fan during practice for the Ryder Cup on Sept 28, 2016.
Team Europe's Andy Sullivan (right) poses for a picture by a fan during practice for the Ryder Cup on Sept 28, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

CHASKA, United States (AFP) - Half of Europe's 12-man Ryder Cup roster will be first-time players, but the newcomers are determined to keep the trophy out of American hands.

Belgium's Thomas Pieters, Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello and England's Chris Wood, Matthew Fitzgerald, Andy Sullivan and Danny Willett - the Masters champion - make their debuts Friday at Hazeltine in alternate shot foursomes and four-ball matches.

"We're a strong group," Pieters said. "Team chemistry is really good. Really fun in the team rooms and I don't think we even think about being a rookie."

"We've not talked too much to each other about being rookies," Fitzpatrick said. "Everyone has had experience that has put them in good stead."

Europe captain Darren Clarke sees the six as the future core of Europe's Cup effort in a changing of the guard for a team that has won three Cups in a row, six of the past seven and eight of the last 10.

"I feel very fortunate they are here," said Clarke. "I have full belief in all those rookies. They are very talented players and I'm sure they will do their utmost this week."

Cabrera Bello, the 10th Spaniard in Ryder Cup history, is inspired by the legends who have come before, notably Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal as well as Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ignacio Garrido.

"Seve with his charisma, his game, his playing partner Ollie, hey, it's definitely very inspiring," Bello said. "But also more recently my friends Sergio, Miguel and Ignacio, I grew up playing with them.

"Sergio and Miguel have helped me a lot to get ready for this week mentally, foresee what things are going to happen and just to be ready so that when all those feelings arrive, I've already in a way experienced them or thought about them."

It's not like Bello is a novice even though he has not experienced Ryder Cup tension before.

"I am comfortable. I am happy. This is my 11th season as a pro," he said.

"Everything is new for me, but I don't feel a rookie in like the worst part of the word. I don't feel so inexperienced. I don't really feel like a new kid moving into a new city.

"I've played many events and many huge events in the US before. I'm glad those memories and experiences are helping me to stay calm and relaxed this week."

As Clarke put it: "Rafa has just slipped into the whole thing. You would think he had played quite a few Ryder Cups before."

Bello said his Ryder Cup dreams are not about trying to duplicate the iconic success Ballesteros and Olazabal enjoyed.

"It's going to be impossible for me to fill Seve's or Ollie's shoes. I wouldn't want that task ahead of me," he said. "I don't expect to be paired with Sergio all the time and to even consider trying to beat Ollie's and Seve's record.

"It would be an honour to play with Sergio. With us both being Spanish, it would mean a little extra for me."

Pieters was a captain's choice somewhat controversially over Scotland's Russell Knox after winning in Denmark last month to cap three top-four European Tour finishes in as many weeks.

"That's what Darren was looking for, somebody in form," Pieters said. "I handled the pressure pretty good in delivering in those three weeks, and that only gives me confidence going forward."

Fitzpatrick is the youngest player at the Cup at 22, but says, "It doesn't enter my mind. It's just a number. My plan was always to get here. It just happened a lot sooner than I thought it would."

Wins at the 2015 British Masters and last June's Nordea Masters put Fitzpatrick at Hazeltine with his idols.

"These are the guys I've looked up to since I was young, looking for autographs when I've been to tournaments as a fan," Fitzpatrick said.

"Now I'm playing in the same team with them. It's pretty cool."

Added Sullivan: "You just pinch yourself it's actually real. Putting on attire in the morning, it was just a dream come true."