USA, Europe aim to tame nerves in pursuit of Ryder Cup
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by Rebecca Bryan
KOHLER, United States - The Ryder Cup won't be won or lost on the first tee at Whistling Straits on Friday, but that doesn't change the heart-hammering intensity as Europe and America's best go toe-to-toe for golf's coveted trans-Atlantic trophy.
Ian Poulter is one of the 12 Europeans aiming to hang on to the Cup they captured in France in 2018 against a US team stacked with nine of the world's top 11 players.
Europe's talisman -- unbeaten in Ryder Cup singles -- said his synapses would be firing long before he stepped in front the crowds, partnering with Rory McIlroy in the last of four morning foursomes matches against Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
"When the alarm goes in the morning," Poulter said of when the nerves would start.
"You know it’s coming. It's been building all week. It's exciting. It's a nervy atmosphere to be in.
"It's great fun. It really is, from the moment you kind of walk out your tunnel to getting that tee peg and attempting to put the ball on the tee, it's a pretty fun ride."
Europe have won nine of the last 12 editions of the biennial match play event, including three of the past six on US soil.
They're counting on experience and match play savvy to carry them through against a US team stacked with nine of the world's top 11 players.
The first match of the contest, delayed one year by the coronavirus pandemic, pits Americans Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth against Spanish compatriots Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia.
"It's going to be nervy on the first tee but that's what the Ryder Cup is all about," Garcia said. "I've been there before, and I'm very, very excited and I hope that we can play great like I know we can and;
Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa take on Europe's Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland, then it's Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger for the USA against Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick.
Some 3,500 spectators are expected at the first tee at Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan, where players are expecting slightly warmer temperatures and slightly less wind than they've encountered during the practice days.
That won't match the 7,000 at Le Golf National near Paris in 2018 that created what Thomas called "a total out of body experience.
"I hit a 5-wood off the first tee and I don't put it on a tee when I do that. I just kind of put it on the deck.
"I've always said if I had to put it on a tee, I don't think I could have. I would have been too nervous, to where I would not have been able to get a ball on the tee."
- Whole world watching -
Thomas should be feeling more confident come Friday, playing alongside his longtime friend Spieth.
The two played four matches together in 2018, winning three, as the United States fell 17.5-10.5.
This time they'll be taking on a duo that Europe captain Padraig Harrington hopes will produce the same kind of fireworks as legendary Spanish pair Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
"The whole world will be watching that one," Harrington said.
The alternate-shot format of foursomes has sometimes stymied the Americans.
But Cantlay and Schauffele could have an edge, even against the experienced duo of McIlroy and Poulter.
Not only is Schauffele the Tokyo Olympic gold medallist and Cantlay the recently crowned US PGA Tour FedEx Cup champion, they won both of their foursomes matches together in the United States 2019 Presidents Cup triumph.