CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The must-make par putt slid by the cup, and the American crowd unleashed the same cheer that has been ringing in the ears of Trevor Immelman and Adam Scott and every International supporter over the past two decades of this Presidents Cup.
“U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”
They may as well have been chanting a different tune: “Here we go again.”
With another dominant performance in foursomes, the Americans burst out to a 4-1 lead at Quail Hollow that makes it already feel as though history is repeating itself.
It's 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 throughout at home but were passed on the final day by a Tiger Woods-inspired rally. Problem is, Cameron Smith, Louis Oosthuizen, Abraham Ancer and Joaquin Niemann aren’t stepping in to help them this time.
The Americans capitalized on the format that has historically befuddled their opponents, trailing for all but three holes – total – as they took a commanding early lead.
Of the 23 foursomes sessions in Presidents Cup history, the U.S. has won 18 of them.
“There’s a real advantage to trying to get red up on the board as early as possible,” Patrick Cantlay said. “I think it just gets everyone a little more comfortable and inspires them to just follow suit.”
U.S. captain Davis Love III sent Cantlay and Xander Schauffele out first, trying to match the strength of the Internationals’ most seasoned partnership of Scott and Hideki Matsuyama. Right behind them were Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas – another proven, dependable pairing for the Americans.
Cantlay tapped out a text to the other three players on the eve of the opening session: “Let’s try to set a tone.”
And in the first match, the American duo ripped off four straight wins on the front nine and improved to 5-0 in the alternate-shot format. Their 6-and-5 victory was the most lopsided foursomes 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 win.
Just as Cantlay instructed, two early points were on the board.
“We know each other’s games. We know how to feed off each other. We know how to help each other. We know how to stay out of each other’s way,” Thomas said of Spieth, who remained unbeaten (6-0) in foursomes play in this event. “We did what we need to do – and that’s get a point for our team.”
At one point Thursday, the Americans held the lead in every match on the back nine, seemingly poised to sweep the session and trigger fears that another rout was on.
“It looked red all day,” Love said, “but somebody came on the radio and said, ‘Yeah, but we’re 1 up in three matches, and those can flip real quick.’”
Indeed, the day turned decidedly tenser once a blustery cold front passed through 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 victory with sharpshooting Collin Morikawa. Also getting on the board was another first-timer, Max Homa, who took advantage of Tony Finau’s massive drives and pulled out a 1-up win when Taylor Pendrith’s must-make 10-footer missed right.
“I’m proud of all of them, but especially those two guys,” Love said of Young and Homa. “To get a point today was awesome.”
The only disappointment for the Americans was the finish by Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, best friends who combined for seven Tour wins last season and now were paired together for the first time in team competition. Three up through seven holes, they won only one hole the rest of the day, falling to the International team of Si Woo Kim and Cam Davis when Davis stuffed an approach into 17 and then Burns hit it wildly off the tee on the home hole. That allowed the Internationals to salvage at least a point in the opening session, but their task is made decidedly more difficult this year: They’re on the road, with eight rookies, against one of the strongest American teams ever assembled.
“We’re going to keep fighting. It’s what we do,” Immelman said. “It’s the type of mentality that this team has. We’ll regroup.”
They better, because the American fans ringing the 18th green were already warning them of what was to come as they headed toward their team room.
“It’s going to be a loooooong weekend!” one yelled. “A long weekend!”
Perhaps not. With more sessions like this, it could be over quickly.