KOHLER, Wis. — Will youth serve or be served at the Ryder Cup this week?
Will it kill or be killed?
These is the most pressing questions facing the U.S. Ryder Cup team as it prepares for the 43rd edition of these matches, which begin on Friday at Whistling Straits, with a record six rookies on its 12-man team, twice as many as the Europeans.
To put into context just how much younger and inexperienced the American side is, its six players who have Ryder Cups experience have combined to win 25 ½ points in their history — the same number of points Europe’s Sergio Garcia has won on his own in his nine appearances.
A few good young men.
The U.S. has a lot of them, which impresses 48-year-old European veteran Lee Westwood, who’s accounted for 23 career points in his 10 Ryder Cup appearances.
“I think it’s good that they’ve got a lot of young players coming through,’’ Westwood said Tuesday. “I think with golf in general there’s a lot of good young players coming through. There are good young players around the world. It just so happens at this moment in time the United States have got a few good young players playing for their team this way around.
“That’s a balancing act, I suppose. Because the Ryder Cup is so different, do you think that experience counts for a lot this week or do you think because there’s a lot of golf, youth is going to count for a lot this week? I think it’s got to be a balance of both.
“I think in an ideal world, you’d like to filter your young players in gradually a few at a time, not necessarily bang all at once in a team as rookies. But that just happens like that every now and again. When I look at the United States’ team, I think they’ve got a lot of strong players. It is almost like a changing of the guard for them.’’
Indeed, Tiger Woods, still recovering from his horrific February car crash, is not here this week. Phil Mickelson, who’s played in previous 12 Ryder Cups, is a vice captain this week.
A changing of the guard, indeed.
“It’s a wave [of players] where I was talking with Justin [Thomas] about it — we’ve known everyone on this team since grade school except for Dustin [Johnson] and Tony [Finau],’’ Jordan Spieth said. “I mean, it’s pretty special. Guys have known each other for a long time.’’
So, don’t rule out the kids.
Also: The last time the U.S. had this many rookies on the team was in 2008, when it defeated Europe at Valhalla in Louisville.
More: U.S. team captain Steve Stricker, who is very analytics-driven, compiled the record of the U.S. rookies since that 2008 Ryder Cup and they’re 40-29-17.
The Americans will sign up right now for a little more of that success this week.
“I love the idea of fresh blood,’’ said Paul Azinger, who was the U.S. captain in 2008 and this week is the lead analyst for NBC. “I think all of our guys on our team were real energized and I think got them engaged.’’
When Thomas ran down the list of rookies Tuesday, he found it difficult to call them rookies based on their respective accomplishments outside of the Ryder Cup.
“I think when you look at your rookies, [there is] a two-time major champion in Collin Morikawa or a FedExCup champion in Patrick Cantlay and a gold medalist in Xander Schauffele,’’ Thomas said. “When you’re looking at guys like that that are your rookies, that says a lot about your team.’’
It cannot be overlooked that Morikawa is ranked No. 3 on the world, Cantlay’s No. 4, Schauffele No. 5. Harris English, a two-time winner in 2021, is No. 11, Daniel Berger is No. 16 and Scottie Scheffler is No. 21.
Only four of Europe’s 12 players are ranked higher than Scheffler — Jon Rahm (No. 1), rookie Viktor Hovland (13th), Rory McIlroy (15th) and Tyrrell Hatton (19th).
Thomas doesn’t buy into inexperience being a disadvantage.
“At the end of the day, whatever team plays the best is going to win,’’ he said. “We have 12 unbelievable players, they have 12 unbelievable players, and it’s really just who’s going to go out there and get it and who’s going to go out and execute the best.
“I’d go to war with these 11 other guys and our captains like I’m going to do this week, and I have all the faith in the world in all the rookies. I think their experience proves that they are beyond rookies.’’