Credit US Ryder Cup revamp with rare session sweep


More careful planning and greater input from players might just have been the magic touch the United States needed to break Europe’s domination of the Ryder Cup.

The Americans pulled off a rare 4-0 sweep over Europe in Friday morning alternate shot foursomes matches to seize command of the 41st team golf matches at Hazeltine.

“The guys just played some incredible golf,” Mickelson said. “There were some really spectacular shots hit this morning. It was fun to be a part of that.”

It was only the ninth 4-0 session sweep in Ryder Cup history, with the whitewashing team becoming the eventual trophy taker each time.

Mickelson, a 46-year-old US left-hander on his record-tying 11th Ryder Cup team, and Rickie Fowler were both on the US Ryder Cup task force formed after a woeful 2014 flop at Gleneagles.

“Given the buildup over the last couple years, the criticism, the comments, what have you, the pressure was greater than I’ve ever felt,” Mickelson said.

“I could have copped out and asked to sit. That would have been a weak move. I wanted to get out there. I enjoy that pressure.”

So he and Fowler captured three of the last four holes for a 1-up victory over Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan. That completed the first US sweep of an opening session since 1975, when the team captain was Arnold Palmer, the iconic figure who died Sunday at 87.

“With everything going on, me not having a point and Phil being a big part of getting this task force and getting the players a lot more involved and getting everyone on the same page, to Arnie passing and him being a huge part of this week, this is big for us this morning,” Fowler said.

A 12-member committee took a page from Europe’s book and worked on small details with advice from players to produce an improved effort.

“The preparation — we were all put in a position to prepare the same way we would have for a major championship,” Mickelson said.

“The variables were removed, which allowed me to practice and prepare properly. Those little things allowed us to play some of our best golf.”

Momentum built early as Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed beat Olympic champion Justin Rose and British Open winner Henrik Stenson 3 and 2 in a matchup of unbeaten duos from 2014.

The American duo never trailed and neither did US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar in beating Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters 5 and 4.

“We all kind of sensed, had a good feeling heading into today, that the morning was going to go well,” Mickelson said. “We didn’t know it would go that well, but we knew we were going to have a good morning.”

– Confidence breeds momentum –

Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker beat Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer 4 and 2 by winning the final five holes.

“Once you see some red up there and see positives outside of your own group, there’s a confidence that comes from that and confidence breeds momentum. That’s just what we witnessed this morning,” Zach Johnson said.

“We’re not shocked by the morning outcome. However, if it didn’t end up like that, trust would not have wavered. We would have gotten back out and fought.”

And as Fowler noted, that’s what Europe will do, the Cup far from decided simply because the USA managed its best start in 41 years.

“They are going to come back,” Fowler said. “We’re going to have to keep fighting.”

© 2016 AFP

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