The idea was for two of America’s most trusted teams to call the shots at Thursday’s Presidents Cup, and the outcome was predictable.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay made short work of Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama in the opening match. They failed to bogey in a 6-on-5 win and improved their tally to 5-0 in foursomes in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, best friends since she was 14, had clutch shots to atone for their mistakes and held back Sungjae Im and Corey Conners, 2 and 1.
Another strong top-to-bottom American team played at a high level on a hot day at Quail Hollow and walked away with a 4-1 lead after the first session.
“I told the guys last night that we need to set the tone — us and JT and Jordan’s match — and we did it,” said Schauffele. “Playing this format on a day like today and not making bogeys is exactly what we need.”
The international team, already underdogs in those games, suffered more injuries than the Americans from players who left the PGA Tour for Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf, including Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann.
It’s a harsh reality that the international team is facing, but there is determination within the team to keep going.
“We will keep fighting. That’s what we do,” said Trevor Immelman, captain of the international team.
“No one here expects us to win. We have to have that belief deep inside. We’re going up against what might be the strongest American team ever put together on paper. We cut our work out for ourselves, but like I said, we’re moving on, man. We’ll keep going until they ring.”
All that kept the international side from being left out was Si Woo Kim and Cameron Davis. They were four holes 2 down to play Masters Champion Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns when they capitalized on American errors and grabbed a 2-up victory.
Two of the eight rookies for the international team, Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, almost got another point. They were all going straight to the tricky par 4 final hole when Pereira hit a wild tee shot, Pendrith could only reach the right bunker and they bogeyed. Tony Finau and Max Homa walked away with a 1-up win and a point.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Finau said.
The other US point came from Collin Morikawa and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young, who soaked up the surroundings in front of a full house at Quail Hollow and produced a winning moment of his own.
They were in a close match against 20-year-old Tom Kim and KH Lee, all with six holes to play. Back then, the last three games could have gone either way. As easy as Cantlay and Schauffele looked in the opening game, it was just one point.
The Americans regained the lead when Morikawa stuffed a wedge in 2 feet for a birdie downwind on the 14th hole. The lead stayed at 1 and seemed to be headed towards the 18th when Young threw in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th to end the match.
“This moment is pretty much all I can ask for,” Young said. “Of course it’s the first day, but every point we get is important. And I’ve been waiting for this feeling for a long time.”
Cantlay and Schauffele first met on the long flight to Australia for the Presidents Cup in 2019, their first team games for both. Off the court they have become fast friends and on the ropes they become a tough team to beat.
They got plenty of help from Scott and Matsuyama – the two most experienced players on the international team – who missed many putts that could have won or halved holes along the way. Matsuyama missed the third hole from 4 feet and the Americans took the lead and ran with them.
They won three straight holes through the seventh par 5 to build a four-up lead and they won the last three holes by pars.
Thomas, who won the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, had a wild day. On the fourth par-3, he hit a 9-iron so badly that it appeared 40 yards from the green. He hit a shaft out of the bunker on the par-5 16th. He and Spieth didn’t lose either hole.
The match turned on the 15th – typically the 18th at Quail Hollow for stroke play tournaments – when Spieth’s drive landed on the left side of a creek, Thomas did well to get to the back end of the green and Spieth ran his downhill Putt something 25 feet through the hole.
Corey Conners and Sungjae Im were able to win the hole, 7 feet away for par, and end the match. Thomas pocketed the par putt, Conners missed and the Americans were 2 ahead and heading for another point.
“You win when you pick up your partner, and that’s what he did,” said Spieth. “That switch that we had on the 15th was unreal there. If we go straight, we leave the green 2 open instead. It was the difference in the game.’
Next up for Friday were five games of fourballs, and every point brings the Americans closer to a ninth straight win in those one-sided games. They have never lost on home soil since the Presidents Cup began in 1994.