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Column: How to win a Ryder Cup? Have the best players

September 24, 2021 GMT
Team USA's Justin Thomas reacts to his birdie putt during a four-ball match the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits Golf Course Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Sheboygan, Wis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Team USA's Justin Thomas reacts to his birdie putt during a four-ball match the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits Golf Course Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Sheboygan, Wis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Team USA's Justin Thomas reacts to his birdie putt during a four-ball match the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits Golf Course Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Sheboygan, Wis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

SHEYBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — Ever since the Europeans started winning Ryder Cups in bunches, various brain trusts from the American side have tried to figure out ways to turn the tables.

They’ve made pods, studied pairings like they were complicated algorithms, and added so many assistant captains that you half expected Phil Mickelson to walk out and play a few shots as he followed Bryson DeChambeau around at Whistling Straits.

Not much worked. They never figured out how to make U.S. players care as much about their teammates as the Europeans always seem to do.

Maybe they don’t need to anymore. Maybe they’ve finally found the secret to success.

Having the best players in the world — and lots of them — should be enough to win this Ryder Cup.

It sure looked that way Friday as the Ryder Cup opened before massive throngs doing their part to root the home team to victory. The U.S. team jumped out to a lead in the morning session, then followed up with an afternoon performance that had nearly everyone wearing red, white and blue smiling afterward.

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“I think everyone has been waiting years for this to happen,” said Xander Schauffele, who won two points in one day in his Ryder Cup debut.

Five years to be specific since the U.S. last won at Hazeltine, the only win out of the last five for the Americans. They got spanked the last time out in Paris and had to spend an extra year because of the pandemic to have a chance to redeem themselves.

On this day, 11 different U.S. players contributed points in eight matches. Dustin Johnson dominated in his two outings, DeChambeau hit a drive 417 yards, and Justin Thomas made a key eagle on the 16th hole as the U.S. roared to a 6-2 lead after the first day.

Along the way, some cracks were exposed on a European team that for years has relied on camaraderie and closeness to win cup after cup.

Lee Westwood, playing in his 11th Ryder Cup, looked every bit his age of 48 as he was on the losing side in morning foursomes. Ian Poulter’s incredible record of 14-6-2 became 14-7-2 after he and Rory McIlroy were wiped out 5-and-3 by Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.

And after McIlroy and Shane Lowry were beaten badly by Tony Finau and Harris English in afternoon fourballs, European captain Padraig Harrington had to be wondering about any strategy that relied on the former world No. 1 to lead his team to victory.

It could be written off as just one bad day on the links. But it just might be that the recipe that has won four of the last five Ryder Cups for the European team has finally gone sour.

Yes, it’s hard to win on the road when the boisterous home crowd is going apoplectic over every U.S. birdie. But, on this day, the Europeans never came close to getting on the kind of collective roll they have used to such great advantage in previous cups.

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They couldn’t silence the crowd. They couldn’t match up against a U.S. team filled with 11 of the top 20 players in the world — with Scottie Scheffler at No. 21.

They couldn’t do what they usually do — win holes no matter who was doing the cheering.

Even when Tyrell Hatton’s birdie putt on the 18th hole dropped to salvage a half point in his match, the fist pump and celebration that briefly got the adrenaline going among the Europeans came way too late in the day to matter.

Still, McIlroy held out hope as he watched the final pairing from inside the ropes.

“We can come back from 6-2,” he said. “If it’s 6-2, we can come back.”

That would be a monumental task on either side of the pond, but it figures to be almost impossible at Whistling Straits. The Americans have momentum, the wild support of the home crowd, and a quiet confidence that the days of European dominance are over.

Yes, it was just one day. But it was a day that seemed different than the others, a day it seemed that things have changed.

A day the Americans finally began to reclaim their rightful spot in team golf.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg