2017 Presidents Cup: Team USA youthful core likely together for decades

Justin Thomas Jordan Spieth Open Masters PGA Presidents Cup AP Photo/Dave Thompson

2017 Presidents Cup: Team USA youthful core likely together for decades

PGA Tour

2017 Presidents Cup: Team USA youthful core likely together for decades

Remember, it was only a year ago that the U.S. Ryder Cup team was the living, breathing caricature of Charlie Brown attempting to kick that football. Nothing but maddening futility. The team’s frustrations kept bubbling as Europe, the little team that could and winner in six of seven matches, kept laughing all the way to victory.

One memorable, momentum-changing week in the Minneapolis fields at Hazeltine last autumn served up a memory-erasing elixir. And now Uncle Sam’s boys cannot wait to have another go at that ball.

Truth is, the U.S. needed a changing of the guard. A youth movement. New blood, less scar tissue. Certainly, the veteran players showing up every two years cared a good deal about their Ryder Cup fortunes, but they wanted that little shiny 17-inch cup so badly that they kept getting in their own way. One bad session and the sky would cave in.

And now, here we are. Presidents Cup. It’s an exciting time for U.S. golf, which hasn’t been this flush in decades. The U.S. has an embarrassment of riches in its six twentysomethings. Justin Thomas won the FedEx Cup. Three – Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Thomas – won majors in 2017. Feisty Patrick Reed changes in a phone booth at team events. At 28, Rickie Fowler continues to grow. And Daniel Berger, another member of that high school class of 2011, is eager to make up for lost time alongside classmates Spieth and Thomas. All three are 24.

We knew Spieth was something special long before that magical closing run at Royal Birkdale this summer. Thomas has stepped up to a new level, winning five times in 2016-17. An emerging star. Berger won back-to-back in Memphis, but there is much more there than the resume. He oozes confidence. Match play really could be his stage.

Weeks before Steve Stricker’s U.S. team would be finalized, four potential rookies voluntarily joined Spieth and Fowler at Liberty National. Their captain was pleased.

“They want to be there,” Stricker said of the group, which included eventual rookies Thomas, Berger and 40-year-old Charley Hoffman. “I’m looking at Jordan, Justin and Rickie. Those are the guys who are closely knit together. Berger is in there, too. They’re going to be the backbone of these teams for a number of years.”

Twenty or so, if you ask Spieth. Berger, for his part, is an interesting study. Stricker joined him for a few holes at Liberty. Whereas most rookie candidates might stay silent, Berger was vocal and fired up. “Bring it on, Strick!” Berger told his captain. “What are we playing for?”

Ah, the unbridled brashness of youth.

“They’re little bulldogs,” Stricker said of his rookies, a group that also includes gritty Kevin Kisner. “They’re fighters, and that’s what you need in match play. It’s an attitude. These guys get after it.”

For years the U.S. had a three-pronged nucleus every autumn, and there could be another in waiting with Spieth, Thomas and Berger.

“I think the guys that are on the team now, you’ve got a good group that are probably going to be on the team for the next 20 years, and that’s pretty rare, to have the same guys,” Spieth said. “It’s a Jim Furyk-Phil Mickelson-Tiger-type thing. That doesn’t happen very often.”

He’s right. Berger, for his part, understands the playing-for-country dynamic, as his tennis-playing father, Jay, represented the U.S. in Davis Cup. Daniel cannot wait to step to that first tee at Liberty National.

“I’ll be excited with whoever I get to play with,” Berger said. “I’ll shine people’s shoes if it helps us play better. I really don’t care what my role is. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

Yes, for U.S. teams rolling toward 2020 and far beyond, this could be the start of something big.

(Note: This story appeared in the September 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

– David Dusek contributed

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