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RYDER CUP: Luke Donald out-captains Zach Johnson while Brooks Koepka calls Jon Rahm ‘a child’

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Luke Donald, captain of Team Europe speaks in a press conference following the Friday afternoon fourball matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup.
Luke Donald, captain of Team Europe speaks in a press conference following the Friday afternoon fourball matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup. Getty Images

Team U.S.A. should have known it was in trouble in Rome when Luke Donald delivered part of his opening ceremony speech elegantly in Italian, while Zach Johnson’s attempt had all the polish of a Michael Scott Christmas party speech.

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In what has become a Ryder Cup tradition, European captain Donald seems to have played all the right notes at home, while American captain Johnson literally and figuratively couldn’t get out of his own way on Friday at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.

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The result was a likely insurmountable Europe lead of 6.5-1.5 over Team USA, matching the largest Day 1 lead in Cup history. Friday was also the first time the Americans failed to win a match over an entire day, picking up just three half-points for ties.

After making the somewhat controversial choice of including a struggling Justin Thomas on the team and explaining the decision was basically made because he is the heart of the American team, Johnson opted to sit down Thomas and partner Jordan Spieth in the morning foursome session. He also decided to give Brooks Koepka the morning off.

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Walking into the fever pitch of Friday morning at the Ryder Cup and looking for the first victory on European soil in 30 years, captain Johnson chose to leave three men with 10 major championships on his bench.

The result was a 4-0 pantsing of the morning session by team Europe.

On the other side, Donald did the opposite, choosing to protect rookies and players he deemed vulnerable either by sitting them out Friday morning to avoid the wildness of the first tee chaos, or by pairing them with team leaders.

His plan worked like a charm as rookies Nicolai Hojgaard and Robert McIntyre sat in the morning and debuted in the afternoon, leaning on partners Jon Rahm and Justin Rose to contribute in the Four Ball session.

Donald did sit two major champions on Friday morning, but at least there seemed to be strategy to his decisions. Former U.S. Open champ Matt Fitzpatrick was left on the bench in the morning by captain Donald, who perhaps thought the young Englishman would be a little too anxious to try and wash away the bad taste of going pointless in his Ryder Cup debut two years ago.

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The move paid off as Fitzpatrick not only broke his winless streak, but was the star of the afternoon, going six-under thru six holes on his own golf ball paired with superstar Rory McIlroy in a 5&3 drubbing of Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa.

Justin Rose also sat out the morning session, but avoiding a 36-hole opening day makes sense for the 43-year-old 2013 U.S. Open winner.

While Friday turned into a bit of a garden party for captain Donald, there was a report from Barstool’s Dan Rapaport that captain Johnson twice had to be asked by members of Team Europe to quit standing so close to the tee.

The Ryder Cup never disappoints on the spicy-meter — just ask Koepka. After birdieing the final five holes with partner Scottie Scheffler, but being stung by two Jon Rahm eagles over the final three holes to force a tie, Koepka was asked how he was feeling after Friday’s round.

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“I mean, I want to hit a board and pout just like Jon Rahm did,” Koepka said. “But, you know, it is what it is. Act like a child. But we’re adults. We move on.”

The odd comment possibly was a reference to Rahm’s reaction over his match-tying eagle on the 18th slamming into the back of the cup before finding the bottom, or perhaps it dates back to Rahm’s frustration at the U.S. Open in June where he gently hit a sign board with his club.

It’s all a mystery really, but one thing is certainly clear, the Ryder Cup is underway.

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Wyndham Clark was right about one team leaking oil at the Ryder Cup, but he had the wrong team.

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Earlier in the week, the reigning U.S. Open champion said that there was a possibility that Team Europe would be too tired from the DP World Tour schedule playing into September and that it could be an advantage for his well-rested fellow PGA Tour teammates.

“I think the European team, it’s great that they got to play, but I also think they might be maybe a little mentally fatigued as this week goes on,” he said. “This is obviously a very intense environment and mentally challenging, and then also you put in a pretty physically demanding golf course being so hilly and up and down that maybe come Sunday they might be leaking oil and we’ll be fresh.”

Turns out, Team USA was so fresh that it might have been rusty. Team Europe looked far sharper than the Americans on Friday, sweeping the morning session 4-0 and jumping out to a 6.5-1.5 lead after Day 1.

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