Europe’s hopes of keeping the Ryder Cup are likely to depend upon how well six rookies handle the tension and pressure of opposing fans and a determined United States squad.
Leading Europe’s charge will be four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, Open champion Henrik Stenson, 2013 US Open winner Justin Rose, two-time major champion Martin Kaymer and veterans Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.
But they are joined by a new generation of golfers, Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and 20-something Ryder Cup newcomers Andy Sullivan, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood and Masters champion Danny Willett of England plus captain’s choice Thomas Pieters of Belgium.
“The rookies are going to experience things that they have probably never experienced before on a golf course. It’s just to make them aware of that and sort of try to help them embrace that,” McIlroy said. “It’s a tough environment to come to, especially in an away Ryder Cup. There’s going to be things said. I just have to make sure that the guys know that and they are ready for that.”
There’s no lack of drama in a Ryder Cup. Six of the past 12 have been decided by a single point. And there’s a reason many of them bear such nicknames as ‘War on the Shore’, ‘Battle of Brookline’ or ‘Miracle at Medinah’.
“First match in the Ryder Cup is going to be like playing a final round of a major for all 18 holes,” McIlroy said. “That’s what it’s like. It’s a tournament where you get feelings that you’ve never had before.
“A Ryder Cup away from home is difficult. You have people chirping at you and you really have to try to keep your concentration because you are not just playing the 12 guys on the American team. You are battling a crowd that’s rooting against you as well. For most of the guys that’s quite an unusual scenario. Being the away team is quite difficult.”
Rio Olympic runner-up Stenson is confident the Ryder Cup rookies will react well to the tensions of the trophy fight.
“It’s always good to have some fresh blood on there and I think we have a strong team despite it having a lot of rookies,” said Stenson. “They are good players, even though they might be Ryder Cup rookies. When you have the current Masters champion, you don’t really put him in the rookie category.”
There were six rookies in the victorious 2010 team at Celtic Manor, while seven made the team that was beaten at Brookline in 1999.
Three of those players – Jarmo Sandelin, Jean van de Velde and Andrew Coltart – famously did not feature at all for the first two days as Europe built a 10-6 lead, only for all three to lose their singles matches as the home side staged a remarkable fightback.
The 48-year-old Clarke cannot see himself repeating Mark James’s approach.
“I don’t mean any disrespect to the guys that didn’t play until Sunday at Brookline, but the guys are global players nowadays,” Clarke said. “The rookies that we have now are more comfortable in America because they have been playing more over there, so it’s somewhat different to what it was back then.”
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