Stricker in the spotlight at Ryder Cup Opening Ceremonies

HAVEN, Wis. – Thursday’s Opening Ceremonies for the 43rd Ryder Cup was not without the unexpected.  U.S. captain Steve Stricker provided it.

First Stricker broke into tears while introducing his wife and daughters to a standing room only crowd who ignored a late afternoon rain to gather at the Dye Pavilion at Whistling Straits.

“I had a couple beers to help me get through that,’’ said Stricker, “but I just couldn’t do it.’’

Then Stricker told a gathering of mostly Green Bay Packers’ fans that he preferred the Bears.  He got some jeers for that one, causing Stricker to plead “Don’t turn on us now. I cheer for the Packers except when they play the Bears.’’

Stricker, one of the most popular American players, grew up in Wisconsin but played college golf for the University of Illinois. And he was not done with surprises when it came time to naming the eight players who would kick off the competition in Friday’s morning best ball matches.  Bryson DeChambeau, one of the U.S. teams strongest players and No. 7 in the world rankings, will sit out while Europe will lead off with its strongest pair – the Spanish team of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia.

Rahm is the first No. 1-ranked player in the world to play for Europe since Rory McIlroy did it in 2014. Garcia has long been a stalwart for the Euros in the biennial matches.

“Being from Spain, you learn about the Ryder Cup early,’’ said Rahm, the latest in the line of Ryder stars from the country that previously contributed the late Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.  “It’s a lot to live up to.’’

Rahm and Garcia will take on Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. While DeChambeau sits out, Brooks Koepka will go out in Match 3 with Ryder Cup rookie Daniel Berger. They’ll square off with 48-year old Lee Westwood, Europe’s veteran player, and Matt Fitzpatrick.

Koepka dismissed the silly feud he’s been having all season with DeChambeau in a morning interview but he wasn’t surprised about Stricker’s show of emotion.

“He’s so passionate.  He’s a softie, he cares so much,’’ Koepka said of his captain.“It’d be nice to see him cry on Sunday.’’

That might happen if the U.S. team wins. While the American side is rated the favorite in some betting organizations, Team Europe has won four of the last five Ryder Cups.

Match 2 will have the oldest U.S. player, 37-year old Dustin Johnson, and rookie Collin Morikawa taking on Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland, the first Norwegian golfer to play in the Ryder Cup. The morning session will wrap up with the powerful European duo of McIlroy and Ian Poulter facing Patrick Cantlay, winner of the FedEx Cup Playoffs two weeks ago, and Xander Schauffele.

There’ll be four more best ball matches in the afternoon, and Stricker and European captain Padraig Harrington will announce their participants after the first four matches are completed. In addition to DeChambeau, the rested players available to Stricker include Harris English, Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler – all on the Ryder Cup team for the first time.

The four Europeans sitting out Friday’s morning matches are Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger – the first golfer from Austria to make a Ryder Cup squad..