CHARLOTTE, NC – The unmissable par putt slid past the cup, and the American public unleashed the same cheers that have ringed the ears of Trevor Immelman and Adam Scott and every international supporter for the past two decades of this President’s Cup.
“UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!”
They might as well have been singing a different tune: “Here we go again.”
With another dominant foursome performance, the Americans burst out to a 4-1 lead at Quail Hollow that already makes it feel like history is repeating itself.
It is the seventh time in the past eight cups that the Americans have won the opening session. The only one they didn’t was three years ago, at Royal Melbourne, when the Internationals led the way at home but were passed by a Tiger Woods-inspired rally on the final day. The problem is that this time Cameron Smith, Louis Oosthuizen, Abraham Ancer and Joaquin Niemann are not intervening to help them.
The Americans took advantage of the format that has historically confused their opponents, trailing all three holes – in total – when they took an impressive early lead.
Of the 23 foursomes sessions in Presidents Cup history, the US has won 18.
“There’s a real advantage to getting red on the board as early as possible,” said Patrick Cantlay. “I think it just makes everyone a little more comfortable and inspires them to just follow.”
American captain Davis Love III sent Cantlay and Xander Schauffele out first in a bid to match the strength of Scott and Hideki Matsuyama, the Internationals’ most experienced partnership. Right behind them were Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas – another proven, reliable couple for the Americans.
Cantlay texted the other three players on the eve of the opening session: “Let’s try to set a tone.”
And in the first game, the American duo took four straight wins over the top nine and improved to 5-0 in the alternate-shot format. Their 6-and-5 win was the most lopsided foursome result in this event since 2011. With the tone set, Spieth and Thomas led from the third hole on their way to a 2-and-1 victory.
As Cantlay instructed, there were two early points on the board.
“We know each other’s matches. We know how to feed each other. We know how to help each other. We know how to stay out of each other’s way,” said Thomas of Spieth, who went unbeaten in this event (6-0) in fours “We did what we had to do – and that’s a point for our team.”
At one point, the Americans were in the lead in every game on the back nine, seemingly poised to win the session and arouse fears of another defeat.
“It looked red all day,” Love said, “but someone came on the radio and said, ‘Yeah, but we’re 1 in three games, and those can turn very quickly.’”
Indeed, the day became decidedly tense as a stormy cold front passed by late in the afternoon.
Long-hitting rookie Cameron Young rattled in a 25-footer for birdie on the 17th green to secure another point for the Americans, a 2-and-1 win over sharpshooter Collin Morikawa. Max Homa also came on the board, taking advantage of Tony Finau’s huge drives and taking a 1-up win when Taylor Pendrith’s indispensable 10-footer missed the right.
“I’m proud of them all, but especially those two guys,” Love said of Young and Homa. “Getting a point today was great.”
The only disappointment for the Americans was the finish by Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, best friends who had seven Tour wins together last season and were now paired up together in team competition for the first time. Three for to seven holes, they won just one hole the rest of the day, falling for the international team of Si Woo Kim and Cam Davis when Davis stopped an approach in 17 and Burns hit wildly off the tee on the home hole. That enabled the Internationals to salvage at least a point in the opening session, but their task is definitely made more difficult this year as they head out, with eight rookies, against one of the strongest American teams ever assembled.
“We keep fighting. That’s what we do,” said Immelman. “It’s the kind of mentality this team has. We’ll regroup.”
They could do better, as the American fans who rang the bell of the 18th green were already warning them of what was to come as they went to their team room.
“It’s going to be a long weekend!” cried one. “A long weekend!”
Maybe not. With more sessions like this it could be over soon.