SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Justin Thomas embodied the energy of the moment. He sank an eagle putt, lifted his hands to his side, unleashed a furious fist pump, and smacked palms with teammate Patrick Cantlay, tugging him in for a shoulder bump. The raw emotion only amplified the eruption from the gallery at Whistling Straits.
It wasn't a winning putt — it helped secure a tie in a Ryder Cup match that once appeared hopelessly lost — yet it proved to be a signature moment Friday in a lopsided opening day in favor of Team USA.
Although Europe has won four of the last five Ryder Cup tournaments, this was a taste of sweet redemption for the Americans, who went 3-1 in the morning session, and picked up three more points in the afternoon with two wins and two ties. The Europeans, cheered on by maybe 5% of the crowd, ended the first day in a 6-2 hole.
The day was as much a patriotic coronation as a competition, with the crowd of more than 3,000 in the grandstands surrounding the first tee breaking into a spontaneous rendition of the national anthem as the sun rose over Lake Michigan. The gallery included NBA legends Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Some fans wore rubber eagle masks, others had oversized red-white-and-blue top hats, still others donned American flag pajama pants.
"Man, it was awesome," said Harris English, who along with Tony Finau cruised to the most decisive victory of the afternoon matches. "The atmosphere was incredible. The adrenaline was pumping like no other. So it was easy to get up for playing golf today."
Half of the 12 Team USA members are playing in their first Ryder Cup, and each collected at least one victory or a tie: English, Cantlay, Daniel Berger, Collin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler and Xander Schauffele.
Cantlay and Schauffele won in the alternating-shot format in the morning, and Schauffele paired with Dustin Johnson for a four-ball win in the afternoon.
Morikawa, who is ranked third in the world, won with Johnson in the morning session. That paired the oldest and youngest U.S. players — Johnson is 37, Morikawa is 24 — and they collected seven birdies in 16 holes.
"Dustin has been one of the best players in the world for a long time," Morikawa said. "And to have someone like that, to have my first match in the Ryder Cup, I trust him a lot and it felt very comfortable."
Since only four holes are in play at any given time, the crowds were 10 deep or more in places, with fans taking advantage of the undulating topography, which emulates the traditional seaside links courses of England and Ireland. The weather changed constantly, from gusting winds to balmy sunshine to sprinkling rain. The players were in a continuous state of pulling on and off layers of clothing.
Particularly fascinating to the spectators was Bridgestone-bashing Bryson DeChambeau, who could seed the clouds with his stratospheric drives. On the 581-yard, par-five fifth hole, a dogleg right over water, he lined up his tee shot over the fans standing to the right of the tee box. Everyone else was hitting left toward the fairway.
"I just aimed at the green and bombs away," DeChambeau said.
This time, his high-risk, high-reward strategy paid off. He ripped a 417-yard drive that left him 72 yards from the hole, whereas Scheffler, after a respectable drive to the left, still had 274 yards remaining. DeChambeau eagled the hole.
In the end, all that power didn't make enough of a difference. DeChambeau and Scheffler were 1-up down the stretch but wound up halving the match when Tyrrell Hatton — paired with world No. 1 Jon Rahm — made a seven-foot birdie putt on 18.
It was a miserable day for one of the most seasoned Ryder Cup veterans. Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, playing in the tournament for the sixth time, lost alongside Ian Poulter in the morning and Shane Lowry in the afternoon. Neither match was close.
Said McIlroy, who lost to Cantlay and Schauffele, then Finau and English: "When you have got a couple of pairs like that on form, on a difficult golf course where it's sort of hard to make birdies and they go on runs, if you're not quite a hundred percent on top of your game, it's tough."
Padraig Harrington, captain of Team Europe, said he was pleased by the ball striking but disappointed in the putting.
"Obviously the U.S. played well and obviously they holed the right putts at the right time and fair play to them," Harrington said. "We're certainly not second-guessing the way they played. We would like to hole a few more putts ourselves [Saturday] and create a little bit more good feeling and vibes for ourselves."
McIlroy will not play in the four-ball Saturday morning. The matchups are Brooks Koepka and Berger against Sergio Garcia and Rahm, Johnson and Morikawa vs. Paul Casey and Hatton, Jordan Spieth and Thomas — the only U.S. pairing to lose Friday — vs. Viktor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger, and Cantlay and Schauffele vs. Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick.
By sundown Friday, the rain was coming down in sheets. For a day, at least, the Americans were truly men for all seasons.©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.