Brandel Chamblee criticizes ‘bizarre’ Zach Johnson Ryder Cup decision
Looking for their first Ryder Cup win on European soil in 30 years, the Americans already had a tough road ahead of them this week at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.
But things just got that much more difficult. The Europeans dominated the opening day on Friday — including a 4-0 sweep in the morning foursomes — to take a 6.5-1.5 lead heading into the weekend. In fact, it’s the first time the Americans had a winless day at the Ryder Cup, as they came away with only three ties in the afternoon session.
Now this is where the second-guessing might begin — and it could easily start with the first match of the day. Europe Ryder Cup veterans Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton were put out first by captain Luke Donald, and U.S. captain Zach Johnson countered with Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns as his leadoff duo.
It was a 4-and-3 drubbing of the Americans, who made just one birdie in the entire round.
In hindsight, it was head-scratching to pair Scheffler and Burns, and to put them in the first match no less. Scheffler and Burns, who was a captain’s pick, played together at the 2022 Presidents Cup, although they were 0-2-1 together and 0-2 in foursomes. Now, Burns had to deal with the pressure of his first Ryder Cup, and the U.S. duo also had to battle a buzzsaw like Rahm, who the Americans had to assume was playing for Europe in this leadoff role since he did in the previous two Ryder Cups as well.
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee had strong opinions on the U.S.’s opening pairing.
“They’ve had a long time to look at data and I’d love to see the data where Scheffler and Burns is the best team to put out there first,” Chamblee said on Live From, immediately following the first-day action. “I can’t even imagine the data that would say that; there’s no data that would say that. Europe, historically, they’re going fire and fire and strength, they’re coming out, they’ve got a great foursomes record. I was surprised it wasn’t Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele to go out there first off and meet strength to strength. But in the most bizarre captain’s choices that I think I’ve ever seen, I would easily put this in the top-five most bizarre things I’ve seen a captain do, putting Sam Burns out there with Scott Scheffler.
“You talk about Sam Burns, again, he’s a hell of a player,” Chamblee continued. “Don’t get me wrong. But you know, there are 12 great players on the U.S. side and you’re looking at Sam’s Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, he’s 12th, he’s last on this team. If you look at greens in regulation and driving accuracy, he’s 12th out of 12.”
Asked afterward if he had any regrets on the day, Johnson said he didn’t.
“I’ve trusted in my process. I feel like it still works,” Johnson said. “It did not go in our favor today. It does not mean it can’t tomorrow, and certainly on Sunday. Regrets, I mean, you know, I’m of the mindset that there’s still ample opportunity out there, and that’s the way I look at it.”
Two years ago at Whistling Straits, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas led off the Friday morning foursomes session, beating Rahm and Justin Rose 1 up. Spieth and Thomas were benched on Friday morning but played fourballs together in the afternoon. Although Spieth struggled to close the round, that duo was arguably the Americans’ best.
Live From host Rich Lerner wondered why Scheffler and Brooks Koepka weren’t considered for that opening match. Analyst Paul McGinley, a former Ryder Cup captain, didn’t disagree.
“Putting out on the first morning is not about data, it’s not about stats, it’s about heart,” McGinley said. “Who is going to stand up to the battle here? Who is going to stand up to the heat of this? Who is going to hold this avalanche of energy coming from the crowd and from the away team? Who’s going to stem the flow of this? What’s going to give you the best chance of doing that? And to a large extent, you kind of dismiss that a bit and you put the characters out. … But what you want to do away from home is to put out the characters who will not let you down and give you the best chance of coming through in a very, very hostile environment.”
The Americans have much ground to make up. Leading off Saturday’s morning foursomes? Spieth and Thomas take on Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood. They tee off at 1:35 a.m. ET on USA. Here’s how you can watch all of Saturday’s action.