HAVEN, Wis. – If it wasn’t for a nightmarish day nine years ago the United States golfers and their supporters would already be in a celebratory mood at Whistling Straits. The U.S. went 3-1 in Saturday’s morning foursome matches for the third straight session to open a 9-3 lead.
The Europeans had their best session of the week in the afternoon four-ball, winning two of the matches, but the U.S. will have an 11-5 lead going into Sunday’s concluding 12 singles matches
Europe will need to go 9-3 in singles to retain the Ryder Cup, which might seem insurmountable were it not for the haunting memory of the “Meltdown at Medinah’’ In 2012. The U.S. had a 10-6 lead after the two days of foursome and four-ball competition that year but fizzled in singles and left with a stunning defeat that’s hard to forget.
Michael Jordan, the basketball legend and golfing addict, showed up for his 12th Ryder Cup this week. and he hasn’t forgotten. Jordan hasn’t been as active with this Ryder Cup team, but he isn’t ready to celebrate just year.
“I m a little nervous,’’ he said. “I was there when it was 10-6 at Medinah and things changed in a moment.’’
They certainly did. The U.S. has lost four of the last five and seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, but none of the defeats was more painful than that one
On the brighter side this Ryder Cup might go down as the “Whipping at Whistling’’ based on the U.S. domination the last two days, but that’s not a done deal yet..
With six rookies on this American side captain Steve Stricker, a player on the losing side at Medinah, had a radically different roster than the teams that have been dominated by the Europeans in recent years. Despite the comfortable lead, Stricker is warning his players about relaxing too much.
“We want to just keep building on the lead,’’ he said. “We’ve got them down a little bit, and our goal is to continue that, and continue that momentum.’’
Immediately after Stricker’s warning the American players were openly celebrating. Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger chugged beers and doubled as cheerleaders to the delight of the loud partisan gallery surrounding the first tee before the start of the final afternoon session of the competition.
“I don’t think any of us really expect anything,’’ said Thomas. We just expect to go out and play well. We are all good friends and know each other’s games.’’
“Other than a couple of us we have known each other since high school, or even grade school,’’ said Jordan Spieth. “We are having a blast off the course, and that’s feeding into the lightness in our rounds.’’
Stricker has his players in position for success on Sunday. Only Dustin Johnson, at 37 the oldest player on the team, played in all four sessions of the foursome and four-ball matches and he won them all. The others had at least one session to rest.
The Europeans, in sharp contrast, are struggling and it showed in captain Padraig Harrington’s match pairings. He sat Ian Poulter, the ringleader in Europe’s comeback at Medinah, for two consecutive sessions and his partner, Rory McIlroy, didn’t play on Saturday morning. They figured to be mainstays on the European team but neither score a point.
Only the Jon Rahm-Sergio Garcia pairing was a problem for the U.S. team. They won twice on Saturday, and that had historical significance for Garcia. He notched his 24th and 25th victories in Ryder Cup play. Garcia started the day tied for the most wins with Nick Faldo at 23 apiece. Rahm is the only European player to compete in every session.