AT Whistling Straits, Team Europe had found themselves in dire straits.
Whatever unravelled in the second session of the 43rd Ryder Cup as the old newsprint birled through the presses, the visitors had been left on the backfoot during a start that was as slow as the movement of traffic on the forecourts of Britain’s beleaguered petrol stations.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. The USA hadn’t lost an opening exchange since 2006 while, in their own back yard, the US had taken the lead on 13 occasions down the years and had emerged as ultimate winners every time.
The size of the task facing Europe against, statistically, the strongest American side ever assembled was bigger than a Bryson DeChambeau drive.
And, my goodness, those clatters were big. On the fifth hole of the fourballs last night, for instance, DeChambeau unleashed a howitzer that travelled an eye-popping 417 yards.
No wonder there’s an energy crisis with the amount of power that box office Bryson uses when he rips a corker out of the screws. Prior to that rocket, DeChambeau marked his entrance to the fray by hitting a female spectator on the shin with his opening drive off the first.
Team USA were certainly trying to hit Europe where it hurt. Wisconsin is known as the USA’s dairyland and poor old Padraig Harrington, the European captain, wore the shuddering grimace of a man who had just swallowed a mouthful of soor milk as Europe fell 3-1 behind after the morning foursomes.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. The inspired Spanish pairing of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia were the shining lights for the visitors as they reeled off half-a-dozen birdies in a terrific 3&1 win over Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Vamos, indeed.
Spieth just about ended up in Lake Michigan with an astonishing salvage operation of a shot from the bank on the 17th but it was all in vain as Thomas missed the putt to keep the match going.
Europe had posted the first point on the board of this contest but the joy was short-lived for Harrington’s men.
With European support in the galleries diminished by on-going travel restrictions, the partisan nature of the first tee was cranked up.
The away side were booed on to the tee. Had there been more European fans on site, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy may have been booed off the 15th green having succumbed to a demoralising 5&3 defeat to the US pairing of Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
Five down after five, the Poulter and McIlroy alliance weren’t at the races. “I don’t know if anyone could have beaten Xander and Patrick today, they played really good,” suggested McIlroy. That the Europeans reached the turn in three-over didn’t give that particular assessment much weight.
Their morning was summed up on the eighth when they had a chance to get a much-needed hole back but three-putted and had to settle for a poor half. It was sobering stuff.
Against European talisman Poulter and former world No 1 McIlroy, the Ryder Cup rookies of Schauffele and Cantlay prospered. “We wanted those kind of matchups,” said Cantlay.
“We were excited when we saw that pairing and all the pressure was on them. They have seen it all and they are expected to maybe have a little veteran edge.”
Foursomes is a format Europe tend to prosper in although they were whitewashed 4-0 in the opening session at Hazeltine in 2016. In Paris three years ago, however, the Europeans performed a similar demolition job having lost the opening fourballs. It was the Americans who stamped their authority on this bout, though.
Dustin Johnson and Open champion Collin Morikawa beat Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland 3&2 while Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger edged out Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick 2&1.
Thank goodness for Rahm and Garcia. Stirring memories of the iconic partnership of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, this latest Spanish Armada set sail for the first time and made great waves. Rahm holed a monstrous putt of some 40-feet on the fourth as he quickly found his touch. The duo dovetailed superbly.
“There was a little bit of pressure to play with somebody like that (Garcia), but with his ball-striking, I knew my job was going to be to make some putts, and that’s exactly what I did early on, and we kept the vibe going.” said Rahm.
Europe needed to get going in the second session. But there’s plenty golf to be played yet.