ROOKIE POWER

Ryder Cup 2021: Xander Schauffele leads 'changing' of the guard' for U.S. on Day 1

By Tod Leonard  

Xander Schauffele. Patrick Smith

HAVEN, Wis. — On a plane flying back from Atlanta and the Tour Championship earlier this month, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay were counting their blessings. Cantlay had just captured the FedEx Cup title and its $15 million reward.

Schauffele was travelling with the Olympic gold medal he won in Japan.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Would you trade?’” Stefan Schauffele, Xander’s dad, recalled with a chuckle on Friday at Whistling Straits. “We said, no, the gold medal is pretty good. We think it’s worth more than $15 million. We had a good chuckle about it.”

Olympic medals, monstrous paydays, Ryder Cup heroism. The good times just keep rolling along.

As rookies in this Ryder Cup, Schauffele and Cantlay were paired together on Friday in the morning foursomes by American captain Steve Stricker because they are close friends and enjoyed success as partners in their first Presidents Cup. And they looked anything but green in waxing two European vets in Rory McIroy and Ian Poulter, 5 and 3.

Then, curiously, Stricker split them up for the afternoon four-ball, and Schauffele responded by teaming with a hot-handed Dustin Johnson to never trail in a 2-and-1 win over Paul Casey and Bernd Wiesberger.

Cantlay, meanwhile, went out in the afternoon with Justin Thomas, and they battled back from a 2-down deficit to earn a half-point as the Americans took a 6-2 lead after Day 1.

It was a strong day for all of America's rookies, with five of the six involved in wins, and Schauffele leading the way with two. Daniel Berger (with Brooks Koepka in foursomes), Harris English (Tony Finau, four-ball) and Collin Morikawa (Johnson, foursomes) each had one victory. Scottie Scheffler joined Bryson DeChambeau with a halve in four-ball.

Schauffele and Cantlay will again play together in Saturday morning's foursomes against Englishmen Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick, who lost Friday in foursomes, 2 and 1, to Koepka-Berger.

“I think those younger guys have a little bit of an attitude,” Stefan Schauffele said. “It’s a changing of the guard, right?”

The elder Schauffele was pleased with his son’s results, but also marvelled at what he thought was an “epic” mistake by European captain Padraig Harrington when he sent Poulter out with McIlroy in alternate shot. Neither European has been in sharp form of late.

“I don’t know why in the world you would play Poulter in foursomes,” Schauffele said. “When they did that, it was wonderful. I was, like, really? Thank you very much.”

Xander Schauffele and Cantlay made three birdies in their first five holes to burst to a 5-up lead and finished with four straight birdies in their morning blitz. The afternoon was a bigger struggle for everyone because of gusting winds, and though Schauffele and Johnson always looked in control, they only combined for six birdies playing their own ball.

In walking the 36 holes with Xander on Friday, Stefan enjoyed hearing his son’s name screamed like never before following his Olympics triumph. Too, he’s happy for Cantlay, who is very much like Xander in taking a low-key, thoughtful approach to what they do.

“They just understand each other,” Stefan said. “People have a hard time understanding Patrick. He’s always been like this, but people don’t pay attention. The fact that winning takes care of everything is always true. You don’t have to create some alter-ego or have some stupid shenanigans. There’s other people who do that, and they can continue to do that if they want to. That’s not Patrick’s style, and it’s not Xander’s style.”

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