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For the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, Motivation Burns Naturally

  • September 24, 2021

There were few surprises in the pairings for the Europeans, who often have countrymen competing together. For the initial match of the event, the Spaniards Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia are teamed, as are Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick of England.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who often responds well to an emotional, high-energy partner, was paired with England’s Ian Poulter, one of the most passionate and successful Ryder Cup players of this century. Harrington also chose to combine Casey, a Ryder Cup veteran, with a first-time player, Viktor Hovland, the first Norwegian to compete in the event.

On the American side, Stricker has appeared to lean toward the methods successfully employed by the American captain Paul Azinger at the 2008 Ryder Cup.

In what he called a “pod system,” Azinger divided his 12-man team into four-man units that would spend the pre-event period doing everything together, from eating meals to playing practice rounds before eventually being paired together in the competition. The hope was to develop a bond among certain groups of players that would be similar to the kind of unity the Europeans have seemed to naturally exhibit.

The four-man pods led to a runaway victory in 2008, the Americans’ first in nine years. Since then, Azinger’s approach has been largely abandoned. But based on the initial four pairings chosen Thursday, and the practice groups Stricker sent out the past three days, some four-man groupings seem to be forming on the American team.

The first pairing announced by Stricker was Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who will play against Rahm and Garcia on Friday morning. The Thomas-Spieth combination was a rare bright spot of the Americans’ losing effort at the Ryder Cup in 2018, when the two were teamed four times in the first two days and won three times. Thomas and Spieth have known each other since childhood, when they competed in prominent junior golf tournaments, and they have become close friends as professionals.

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