Ryder Cup 2023: Did U.S. captain Zach Johnson make pairing mistakes Friday?

zach johnson looks on at the ryder cup

Did U.S. captain Zach Johnson make any major mistakes on Ryder Cup Friday, or was Europe simply that much better?

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Check in each day of this week’s Ryder Cup for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topic in the tournament, and join the conversation by tweeting us @GOLF_com.

The Europeans are off to a strong start at the Ryder Cup, leading the Americans 6.5-1.5 after the opening day at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside of Rome. Did U.S. captain Zach Johnson make any major mistakes with his pairings, or was Europe simply that much better?

Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): Hindsight is always clear but even prior to Friday’s start, the Scheffler/Burns foursomes pairing seemed questionable — Brandel Chamblee went so far to call it a near-certain loss — given their poor Presidents Cup two-man record and Burns’ statistical wildness. Of course, Johnson chose Burns precisely because of his relationship with Scheffler. So it made sense for them to go out together. Just not in foursomes. And not in the tone-setting opening match.

Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@jess_marksbury): Given the shellacking that transpired today, it’s very easy to question Johnson’s decisions. Burns and Scheffler going first was a definite miss, as was sitting JT and Jordan in the morning. Ultimately, though, it’s hard to say how much of a difference replacement players would have made. When the Europeans are chipping in and dropping in eagle and birdie putts from long range, there’s not much you can do. The U.S. team just got beat. Hopefully, they can get a few more breaks to go their way on Saturday to keep things interesting.

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Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): I agree that Scheffler and Burns were not the right picks to lead off foursomes. What’s even more confusing to me is that the U.S. side had to assume that match would be going against Jon Rahm (who’s long been in that first match), and to counter that fire with something like a Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas pairing. Even Xander or Cantlay, who aren’t exactly the most animated guys out there, might have been a better pick in such a table-setting match. I also wish we got more from Zach in his press conference. A lot of non-answers to a lot of questions worth asking. That said, the U.S. halved three afternoon matches. They win those, which they almost did, and it’s a whole different story right now.

Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): Yes. Leading off with a foursomes pairing that has a history of losing (0-3-1 after today) AND sitting your emotional leader in Justin Thomas for the morning session were huge misses. And it looks like the questionable decisions will continue. Even though Wyndham Clark was one of three players with positive strokes gained on the day, Johnson has opted to bench him in the critical morning session tomorrow. The players need to perform better, no doubt, but their captain hasn’t pushed the right buttons thus far either.

Ryan Barath, equipment editor (@rdsbarath): Beyond the Scheffler and Burns pairing in the morning, I think that one of the other mistakes made by captain ZJ was his reaction to the day’s events. There is a fine line between sticking up for your players and showing some sort of outward disappointment to questions about his team’s performance, and in a way, he did neither. The U.S. has had very contrasting captains over the years, from go getter Paul Azinger to quiet and reserved Steve Stricker, and Zach Johnson seems to be trying to do both at the same time. It just doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s different behind the scenes but right now it leaves me asking questions for sure.

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