Members of Team USA stand for the national anthem during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota on September 29, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
CHASKA, Minn. -- Losing the Ryder Cup each the past three occasions -- and winning just four times in the past 15 competitions -- would bring enough burden to the United States team assembled this week to face the European team at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
U.S. captain Davis Love III answered the high expectations for his team by placing one more heavy item on their shoulders. Love, speaking last week with the Golf Channel, declared that he is leading "the best golf team, maybe, ever assembled."
Love wasn't worried about placing more pressure on his team. He said the comment was a bit misconstrued because of the context of his conversation. He also wasn't backing away from the idea as a motivational tool for the U.S. squad before the start of play Friday morning.
"The question wasn't, how do you rank this team in history?" Love said this week at Hazeltine. "It was, what are you going to tell your team to fire them up. So I would still tell them the same thing, you're a great team, let's go out there and have some fun, play your game, don't get in your own way."
Love's confidence is buoyed by a team led by veteran Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and the PGA Tour Player of the Year, Dustin Johnson. Zach Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker and Jimmy Walker all qualified for the American team on points.
Love chose Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes and Matt Kuchar as his captain's selections, then made Ryan Moore the final addition on Sunday. The 12 Americans will now try to prove themselves and their team after the entire U.S. contingent revamped its selection process, creating a committee and meeting several times in the lead-up to the 2016 Ryder Cup.
"We have a very different feel and, you know, we've had a lot of success together as a unit," Mickelson said. "Although it has not been at maybe this event, we've certainly had a lot of success in the Presidents Cups. And we've had a lot of success playing together, working together as a unit and bringing out some of our best golf."
On the other side, captain Darren Clarke and the Europeans can gain confidence simply by looking at history. Europe has won three straight Ryder Cup series. Europe posted a 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory two years ago at Gleneagles in Scotland. Four years ago, when the tournament was last held on American soil, the Europeans pulled out a 14 1/2-13 1/2 win at Medinah Country Club in Illinois.
Europe has won six of the past seven Ryder Cups.
"The odds frequently are against Europe, and so it's nothing different," said Clarke, who is from Northern Ireland. "So I'm certainly not worried about it and I'm just looking forward to the whole thing kicking off and starting on Friday morning."
Clarke believes in his team, which includes six Ryder Cup rookies, and he didn't use Love's comments as motivation.
"The guys have all seen everything that's been said," Clarke said this week. "But in terms of that, we have the Masters champion (England's Danny Willett), we have the Open champion (Sweden's Henrik Stenson), we have the Olympic champion (England's Justin Rose) and we have the FedEx champion (Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy). You combine that with all the experience and with all of the rest of the team and the way those guys have played, I don't really need to respond to that. I think I've got full confidence in our team."
Spanish veteran Sergio Garcia returns to the European team, as well as two veteran captain's picks, Germany's Martin Kaymer and England's Lee Westwood.
Willett is a newcomer to the event along with Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello, Belgium's Thomas Pieters (a captain's pick) and England's Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan and Chris Wood.
Koepka and Moore are the only rookies on the U.S. team.
Hazeltine has hosted plenty of championship golf, including the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships.
Play begins Friday at 7:35 a.m. CT with foursomes. During the opening ceremonies, the captains announced their opening pairings.
Spieth and Reed will face Rose and Stenson to open the tournament. Mickelson and Fowler will match up with McIlroy and Sullivan. Zach Johnson and Walker will head out against Kaymer and Garcia, and the morning rounds end with Dustin Johnson and Kuchar facing Pieters and Westwood.
"We put one really good player with another really good player," Love joked after the announcement. "They matched up well. Those are guys that have played a lot of golf together over the years, that have played a lot of practice rounds together. I keep telling them, this team of 12 has no record. They have never played together before. But they have played a lot of golf together before, and they know who they want to play with and who they are comfortable with."