European rookies relish first Ryder Cup experience


Some fresh-faced rising stars are replacing familiar Ryder Cup stalwarts, giving Europe a fighting chance of winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive Ryder Cup title over the United States.

This year’s European squad is a vastly different outfit than the teams that beat the Americans in six of the last seven Ryder Cups.

European fixtures like England’s Ian Poulter and Luke Donald and Irishman Padraig Harrington have given way at Hazeltine to the likes of Belgian Thomas Pieters, Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and England’s Chris Wood and Danny Willett.

Englishmen Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick are also making their Ryder Cup debuts in the showdown, which concludes with 12 singles matches Sunday.

European captain Darren Clarke said Saturday he has full confidence in his rookies.

“No doubt, Rory (McIlroy), Henrik (Stenson), JR (Justin Rose), Sergio (Garcia), Lee (Westwood), Martin (Kaymer) are all the senior guys. But in terms of the whole thing, everybody’s exactly the same,” Clarke said.

Europe’s rookie contingent won four, lost four and halved one match through the first three sessions.

Cabrera Bello is unbeaten while being paired with Garcia as they defeated JB Holmes and Ryan Moore 3 and 2 in fourball on Friday. They followed that up by halving an alternate shot foursome against Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed on Saturday.

“There are six rookies on this team that need time to get used to the Ryder Cup experience,” said England’s Wood after he won his first Ryder Cup match Saturday morning while teammed with Olympic champion Rose.

The biggest star of the newbies for Europe has been 24-year-old Pieters, who has been paired with world number three McIlroy and will have played in all five matches when players from both sides compete in 12 singles matches on Sunday.

Belgium’s Pieters, who made the team as a captain’s pick, said he was nervous at the beginning of his first Ryder Cup but is starting to feel more comfortable around the other players.

“It was cool to see how passionate those guys are, and I think that I still need to learn because I’ve been pretty quiet,” Pieters said.

Pieters said earlier in the week that the veterans have made the rookies feel welcome.

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

– Spanish tradition –

Cabrera Bello is also making plenty of noise this week as he and Garcia are doing a good job of maintaining a tradition of Spanish excellence at the Ryder Cup.

Some experts feel Cabrera Bello could be the next great Spaniard, following a path blazed by Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Garcia.

“His first Ryder Cup and he reminds me of a little Spanish guy a few years ago,” Garcia said of Cabrera Bello.

Masters champion Willett has held up not only physically but also mentally in what has to be one of the toughest Ryder Cup debuts ever.

The 28-year-old Willett and his family members have been the object of some boozy hecklers at Hazeltine after his brother, Pete Willett, called US fans “fat, stupid, greedy, classless bastards” in an article on a European golf website.

“Just like when the Americans come to Europe, they gave me a little bit more,” said Willett.

© 2016 AFP

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