GLENEAGLES, Scotland – The United States’ rookies are being thrown straight into the mix at the Ryder Cup.
American captain Tom Watson is sending out all three of his rookies for Friday morning’s opening session of fourballs at Gleneagles – including two of them paired together against a European duo featuring another rookie.
Rickie Fowler is paired with newcomer Jimmy Walker for the second match against Thomas Bjorn, the 43-year-old Dane playing in the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2002, and Martin Kaymer.
In the biggest surprise, Watson chose to pair first-timers Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth for the third match, where they’ll face Scottish rookie Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter.
Watson offered this message to his rookie pairing: “I’m going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver. You’re on your own. You get out there, and you get it done.”
Watson said it’s important to get the three rookies to play the morning session, rather than sending them out first in the afternoon foursomes.
“It’s a good place to get their feet wet,” Watson said. “You would like to get them to play all 18 holes, play their own ball and get them out that way.”
The 21-year-old Spieth, who has five top-five finishes this year on the PGA Tour, will become the youngest player in 15 years to play in the Ryder Cup. He’s back in familiar surroundings: He played in the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Scotland, winning all three of his matches.
“He’s on the fast track, because he played the Junior Ryder Cup here at Gleneagles,” Watson said. “He’s a very strong-willed man, and I’m very impressed with his attitude.”
Same goes for the 24-year-old Reed, who declared himself one of the top five players in the world after winning at Doral this year.
“When he gets it going, he thinks he can beat the world,” Watson said. “I like that attitude in a player.”
If Reed and Spieth can take down Gallacher and Poulter, it could provide a huge confidence boost and momentum swing for the underdog Americans.
Poulter has won seven consecutive matches dating to Celtic Manor in 2010 and was the catalyst in Europe’s great comeback at Medinah two years ago.
“I don’t think you could have picked out two people that we want to play against more,” Spieth said. “I feel like our job is to win a point. We can do that with those two guys. We’re going to really lower their team morale, I feel like.”
Europe captain Paul McGinley left out his two other rookies – Jamie Donaldson of Wales and Victor Dubuisson of France – for the morning. He was asked about Watson’s decision to play all three of his rookies.
“That might be a genius move by Tom, might not,” he said.
Walker is the veteran of the U.S. rookie trio. He’s 35 and has played on the tour for nearly a decade. He won events early this season and finished in the top 10 at three majors this year.
“I’ve been playing professional golf for a long time,” Reed said. “I’ve been on a couple of tours, made some big putts at key times, keeping my card, that type of stuff.
“I know this is a new event for me, but I’ve done a lot, so I don’t feel like a rookie.”
Reed is impatient for the competition to finally begin.
“This week seems like it’s lasted forever,” he said. “It just seems like Monday through (Thursday) has been such a long process, just waiting and waiting and waiting just to get there and play and represent your country.”
Reed’s wife, Justine, will not work as his caddie as she typically does on tour, with the duties going to Kessler Karain. Reed said Justine decided to “be the wife” and join in with the other significant others for the week’s activities.
“She’ll be cheering pretty loud on the sideline,” he said.
Spieth played in the Presidents Cup last year, something he feels gave him vital experience for this week. He’ll find out quickly enough.
“I still don’t know what to expect on that first tee,” Spieth said. “That’s a pretty incredible setting that they have here, but it’s a shot I’m looking forward to hitting. I hope that I’m one of those guys that elevates his game for this event.”