PGA: U.S. downplays 30-year drought, welcomes Rome ‘road game’

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The idea of winning on unfamiliar turf isn’t new to Xander Schauffele.

He brings an Olympic gold medal and significant success on his team golf resume to Rome, yet somehow there still is a novelty involved in his experience this week.

The 2017 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year said he lost a bit of money to Jordan Spieth in a foursome Monday that also included Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay, who is playing in his second Ryder Cup, but played a key role in helping the United States enter the Ryder Cup on Friday as the reigning champions.

“It will be a much difference experience being a road game,” Cantlay said contrasting the American win at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin two years ago.

Schauffele is 3-1-0 in Ryder Cup play and tackled the course with Cantlay on Tuesday in a likely pairing Thomas and Spieth characterized Tuesday as without a weakness.

Marco Simone Golf & Country Club outside of Rome has been unique in every sense of the idea from Schauffele’s perspective. He said the course itself doesn’t compare to anything he’s played before.

“I can’t say that it does,” Schauffele said. “I don’t think so. The greens are really pure. There’s a couple forced layups on a couple of holes. It doesn’t really seem to be like anything I’ve played.”

Schauffele said he gets a kick out of the sing-song chants and taunts on the first tee box on enemy soil. Spieth said fans rooting for misses on the putting green is more entertainment than offensive, and part of what makes playing “golf as a team sport” special.

“I’ve been called a number of things, you just have to learn to brush it off,” Spieth said of being taunted at Tour events.

Spieth described a mentality of “blocking out the noise,” and taking the approach of realizing it’s all part of sports.

“That’s what this tournament’s about — I think we enjoy that. There’s a uniqueness to this event and part of that is the crowd,” Spieth said, offering a guess the crowd in Rome will be more boisterous than it was in France five years ago, with a new bar expected in Ireland for the next Ryder Cup on European soil in 2027.
“I feel like I’ve been good to fans, and I feel like I’ve been treated well in return. I try not to take too much on the chin and recognize when I go to a sporting event sometimes I’m that guy. In team sports, people play away games and you root against them.”

Six straight “road” Ryder Cup losses follow captain Zach Johnson’s team to the site in Italy. Five players on the American team in Rome weren’t born the last time the United States won a Ryder Cup away from home, and Tiger Woods was a high school senior. That was in 1993 at The Belfry in England.

The Europeans have been victorious in every event on their home soil since 1997 at Valderrama in Spain.

Thomas said Tuesday he expects this particular team to thrive in the hostile, yet good-natured, environment.

“The only thing that matters is beating that person you are playing against, going out and grinding it out with your partner,” Thomas said.

Spieth said he’s aware of teammates who thrive when crowds get loud or veer toward getting personal. He tends to keep it even-keeled, and often his first reaction to aggressive fans is, “he’s drunk.”

Thomas was one of the few bright spots for the U.S. squad in Paris. He said he enjoyed his only previous foreign Ryder Cup and, like Spieth, doesn’t feel any added pressure of the 30-year European drought.

“A culture of winning within a team of a decent number of the same guys is always a good thing,” Spieth said. “No doubt, it can be something you try and draw on. Having said that, there’s a lot of differences as well to two years ago. We’ve been made very aware of how long it’s been. More than half our team wasn’t born the last time we won here. Most of the guys weren’t on any of those losing away teams. I was on two of them, but I felt like I played good golf.”

The part of the Ryder Cup that Thomas wants to avoid is a celebration by the opposition.

“After that last putt falls, they all start celebrating and we’re all just standing there. It’s a pretty crappy feeling,” Thomas said of watching the Europeans celebrate in France. “When you’re sitting there and you’re watching them and the joy and the champagne and everybody cheering, it’s not fun.”

–Field Level Media

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