It began with a spritz of blue. Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia, the Spanish duo out to evoke an emotionally charged history, led from the front, took the ascendancy and never faltered against a formidable US pairing of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. But what followed on the opening morning of the foursomes, as the Ryder Cup finally got underway at a soft and sunlit Whistling Straits, soon amounted to a crimson bloodbath.
The session ended 3-1 in Team USA’s favour, but the emphatic nature of those individual points confirmed a truth Padraig Harrington will have feared. The immense quality of this American team runs deep – with the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau still waiting in reserve – and that fact was no more obvious than in the final group.
Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy, so often the heartbeat of Team Europe, were the victims of a ruthless ransacking by Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. The result read 5&3 but far worse had beckoned when the Californian pair won the first five holes in succession, two rookies unfazed and virtually faultless in the face of their unravelling opponents. McIlroy’s driver was volatile, Poulter’s putter ran colder than an arctic front, and they made the turn in 39 with far too much ground surrendered to mount any substantial fightback.
In fact, even when McIlroy and Poulter did rediscover their talents at the turn, Cantlay and Schauffele were able to raise the bar to yet another supreme height. The Tour champion and Olympic champion, they matched one another’s precision blow-for-blow and finished with a hat-trick of birdies. Schauffele’s exquisite tee-shot at the par-3 12th, pitching just a few feet shy of the hole on the most precarious ribbon of green, was the pick of the bunch but far from a lone example. They walked off victorious on the 15th green and seemed in no way spent by their efforts.
The one-sided nature of that match set an early tone from the rear, the roars of home support going up in beacons, acting as distress signals to European hopes. There were swings back-and-forth, but soon the tide along Lake Michigan was pulling in a certain direction, even if Rahm and Garcia remained oblivious, the world No 1’s putting unwavering under the most exacting pressure. It was Spieth who produced the most memorable moment of the match, somehow procuring a flop shot from against the cliff beside the 17th green, but that could not halt the Spanish march as they closed out a 3&1 victory and took first blood in the tournament.
Their celebrations were to be solo ones, though, and Brooks Koepka made sure to slight those who’ve cast him as an unremitting individualist. The four-time major champion teamed up with Daniel Berger and the pair rarely weakened their stranglehold over Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick, also closing out the match on the 17th green. That perhaps did an injustice to their clear superiority for much of the contest, with the Americans always playing to their own rhythm as the Europeans failed to click and capitalise on any rare mistakes.
A similar fate befell Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland, even if they did proffer more resistance, briefly taking a lead over Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa on the front nine. The American pair, though, were not only as phenomenal as their individual records suggest – both two-time major champions, albeit at vastly different stages of their careers – but a perfect marriage of power and precision, their characters calm and unflustered. They closed out a 3&2 victory on the 16th and looked ominously closer to their peaks after a fallow patch of recent form.
They were traits, though, that could be said of all the players who helped to spur the US into their morning ascendancy. They have made a habit of winning the opening session in the past, and that has hardly always been a signifier of the final result – quite the opposite, in fact – but it unmistakably leaves Europe with a hill to climb.