The 2021 Ryder Cup represents a slight changing of the guard for the United States. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been the leaders of the US team for the better part of two decades, but that appears to be changing this year.
This Ryder Cup team is a much younger group than in year’s past, and it appears that Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas have taken the main leadership roles on this year’s team.
With so many young players having immediate success after arriving on Tour, this group of rookies don’t feel like rookies.
Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Daniel Berger, Harris English, and Patrick Cantlay are making their first Ryder Cup appearances this week at Whistling Straits.
With these rookies, it’s easy to forget that they are indeed rookies.
Morikawa is a two-time major champion and was still an amateur during the last Ryder Cup in France. Cantlay comes in fresh off a four win, player of the year season that included capturing the FedEx Cup. And Schauffele won the gold medal in Tokyo just a couple months ago. Scheffler, Berger, and English are the only players who truly feel like rookies, and they are still some of the best players in the world.
Morikawa understands that even though there are so many rookies, these players have all played on some of the biggest stages in golf, but he also acknowledged that the Ryder Cup is different.
“Even though we're a fairly young team, we've got a lot of guys that just have had experience in golf in general,” Morikawa said. “Obviously the Ryder Cup is a whole different kind of beast of itself, but I think we're all meant for this stage, and we look forward to it.”
For Schauffele, the trip the US team took to Whistling Straits before this week has helped him.
“We came out early, about a week ago, to sort of get comfortable, and I think that did help me sort of not feel like a rookie,” Schauffele said. “When I think of rookie I think of my rookie year, and I feel I show up to properties and I was texting certain guys I knew on TOUR, where is registration and where is the locker room, and things like that. So small things like that make you feel very comfortable.”
Scottie Scheffler is the least accomplished player on the American team—he is yet to win on the PGA Tour—but he didn’t hesitate when asked if he thought he belongs on the team.
“I feel like I belong on this team. The guys have done a really great job of making me feel like I belong,” Scheffler said. “I feel like if I showed up on this team and either didn't have friends or the guys weren't being nice to me it would feel a lot different, but I feel like it's been a seamless transition for me being on this team. The guys have been nothing but kind.”
On the other side of the spectrum, English arrives at Whistling Straits as the second oldest player on the American team. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar for the Ryder Cup before his breakthrough season in 2020-21 that saw him win twice and contend in major championships. There is an extra accomplishment for English given his age and the amount he’s had to grind for this opportunity.
“I think being 32 years old, it means a lot more now than it would be if I had made this my first or second year on Tour,” English said. “This is my 10th year on Tour. I've tried to make this tournament, what, four or five times and haven't made a team. But put in a lot of hard work the last couple years and this has definitely been a goal of mine.”
By comparison, the European team is sticking with experience as they have just three rookies on the team. Shane Lowry is the most accomplished of the three being a major champion, Viktor Hovland is one of the best young players in the game, and Bernd Wiesberger has eight career wins on the European Tour.
Additionally, two of the three European captain’s picks are experienced players who have been Ryder Cup stalwarts—Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter. Lee Westwood qualified for the team on points and makes his 11th Ryder Cup appearance, tied with Nick Faldo for the most all-time for the Europeans.
Garcia isn’t far behind as he makes his 10th appearance, Poulter is making his 7th appearance and has been known as a player who always rises to the occasion during Ryder Cups.
In all, five of the 12 members of the European team have played in at least four Ryder Cups. For the US, Dustin Johnson is the only player making his fifth experience.
The European and American strategies for team selection couldn’t be more different this year. Does experience trump youth in Ryder Cups? We’re about to find out.