NEWPORT, Wales – Experience has its place in golf, but not necessarily at this Ryder Cup.
Nearly half the field – five Americans and six Europeans – will be making their Ryder Cup debuts at Celtic Manor.
The American team could get starring roles from hard-luck Dustin Johnson or 21-year-old Rickie Fowler.
Europe has Edoardo Molinari and his younger brother Francesco. The Italians expect to get a lot of playing time together, and surely no pairing will have more chemistry than the first sibling teammates at the Ryder Cup since 1963.
The 11 rookies are the most at a Ryder Cup since 1979, the first time the competition was opened up to the entire European continent. That year, a U.S. team featuring eight first-year players defeated a European squad with five.
“I don’t want to let myself down this week. I don’t want to let anyone else down this week. That’s the big thing,” said 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, another of the European rookies. “You are not just playing for yourself, you’re playing for 11 other guys, plus all of the backroom staff and most of Europe, as well.”
European captain Colin Montgomerie has played in eight Ryder Cups, and he’s hoping his first-year players – there’s also Martin Kaymer, Ross Fisher and Peter Hanson – will be able to draw on some of his experiences.
“I’ve always hit my putts slightly firmer in Ryder Cup play, personally, and I’m trying to pass on that knowledge to the rookies,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky with the partners that I’ve had in my foursomes and fourball play. … It’s allowed me the freedom to hit my putts firmer than I would have done normally, and it’s amazing how many of them go in.”
Montgomerie was mindful of his team’s youth when he chose three-time major champion Padraig Harrington with one of his three wild-card picks. Plus, he’s got some possible pairings that will mitigate the inexperience factor. The Molinaris are the most obvious example. And he’ll likely put McIlroy with U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell in a Northern Irish duo.
The U.S. showed at the last Ryder Cup that it’s possible to claim the cup when 50 percent of the 12-man squad has never been there before. Anthony Kim was the emotional leader. Boo Weekley kept everyone at ease with his colorful antics. Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes played like veterans, and two other rookies – Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis – filled out the roster.
“You know, it’s not life or death out there,” Mahan said. “It’s just golf and likely we have all done this before. If it was chess or something like that, I would be sweating.”
The other American rookies at this Ryder Cup are Matt Kuchar, Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson.
“I would just tell them, 'Have fun,”’ Mahan said. “The first shot is going to be fun. These fans are going to be crazy and they are going to be obviously cheering for Europe hard and you should use that, and have fun with it. It’s not personal out there. You know, it’s not like they really dislike you or anything like that. It’s just golf.”
At least Mahan brings some experience in team golf to his first Ryder Cup. He played on the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2007.
None of the American rookies on this year’s team has that to fall back on.
As for the Americans, they’re hoping to recapture the camaraderie they had two years ago, despite having only five holdovers from that team.
Watson has emerged as the candidate to fill Weekley’s role as team jester.
“Bubba is not quite as funny as Boo,” Stricker said. “What is the word, 'compatibate,’ that Boo came up with at Valhalla? We have not got to that point with Bubba. But he’s very light. He’s very vocal at times.”
Stricker said he’s comfortable with the makeup of the U.S. team, even with so many newcomers. As the Europeans have shown so many times – and the Americans picked up on in 2008 – being able to “compatibate” often plays nearly as important a role as pure shot-making in a Ryder Cup.
“It’s a great mix of guys,” Stricker said of his team. “We have some guys that have a tremendous amount of experience, and we have some guys with no experience, and we have some guys in the middle. We are all getting along nicely. It’s fun to go in the team room. Everyone is very relaxed and light so far, and hopefully we can keep it that way.”
First-timers look to stand out at Ryder Cup
NEWPORT, Wales – Experience has its place in golf, but not necessarily at this Ryder Cup.
Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1
There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).
No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.
On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.
The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.
"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."
It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, given how his career has unfolded, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major.
"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."
Ahead by four, No. 1 ranking within Koepka's grasp
Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.
Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)
What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One behind overnight leader Scott Piercy to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.
Round of the day: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.
Best of the rest: Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama and Emiliano Grillo signed for 66. Casey went seven straight holes without a par, Matusyama was bogey-free, and Grillo did all his damage on the back nine after nine consecutive pars on the front.
Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.
Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.
Watch: Koepka flies ball 330 yards, drives green
It's a good thing par doesn't actually matter in tournament play, because if it did, the PGA Tour would have to consider 350-yard par-3s, and even those might not stop Brooks Koeopka.
Already ahead by two during Saturday's third round at the CJ Cup in South Korea, Koepka drove the green at the par-4 14th, carrying his ball 330 yards to the front edge.
The back-to-back U.S. Open champ would go on to two-putt for birdie and push his lead to three.
... The USGA is going to try that 350-yard par-3 idea, isn't it?
Bend it like Garcia? Sergio scores in player-caddie soccer match
Sergio Garcia has always been able to work his golf ball from left to right, but he's also - apparently - proficient at playing a draw with a soccer ball.
This year's Adalucia Valderrama Masters is suffering through some weather issues. But the highlight of the week - and, according to the Felipe Aguilar, "the year" - was always going to be the event's player-caddie soccer match, which you can see here:
Players Caddies— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) October 19, 2018
The biggest football derby in golf. pic.twitter.com/nplylmVJeE
The standout highlight? This bending, left-footed(!) strike from defending champion Sergio Garcia:
"Just a little bit of fun with the caddies and some of the players," Garcia nonchalantly says in the video. "Yeah, just a little bit of running and it was good fun."
Garcia, a diehard Real Madrid fan who kicked off El Clasico in his green jacket back in 2016, has previously appeared in professional matches for CF Borriol, a Tercera Division club in Spain.
"It's good fun and whenever I'm around I get to practice with them a little bit and play a little bit here and there. This season, I've played probably five games, so not a lot, but I enjoy it," Garcia told CNN back in 2013.