CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Patrick Cantlay’s stoicism is his strength. His aim is always to minimize his emotions, to approach each shot objectively without letting feelings interfere.
International team competition is an incomparable experience, however. It even inspired the soft-spoken Cantlay to send a motivational text on the eve of the Presidents Cup’s opening round.
“Let’s try to set the tone,” Cantlay wrote succinctly. The recipients? Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, the four men tasked with starting the Presidents Cup for the heavily-favored U.S. Team.
“That’s what Pat and I talked about yesterday,” said Schauffele, “and that’s what we tried to do today.”
They did, making short work of the Internationals’ most experienced team, thumping Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama 6 and 5 to start the United States’ successful first day, which earned them a 4-1 lead entering Friday.
Cantlay and Schauffele didn’t ask to tee off first for the U.S. Team. They just knew, as a duo with years of success, that they’d be playing together. But U.S. Captain Davis Love III has enough experience to know that the first spot in the lineup, usually reserved for slap-hitting second basemen in baseball, is a spot for your sluggers in these team competitions. Especially in the opening round.
Schauffele and Cantlay have earned that spot by thriving in the most difficult of the three formats in use this week. They entered Thursday undefeated in Foursomes – a combined 4-0-0 in the Presidents and Ryder Cup – and won this year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the PGA TOUR’s only team event.
Foursomes can strain relationships and add anxiety to an already stressful day. No one wants to hit a bad shot when representing their country, more so when their friend is left to clean up the mess. Foursomes rips players out of their routine. Finding a pairing that can have consistent success in this format is like cracking a code. It may have been the equation that Matt Damon was solving on that chalkboard in Good Will Hunting.
And the answer, a quarter-century later, appears to be Cantlay and Schauffele. It could be that their games, two of the most well-rounded on TOUR, are perfect complements. Or perhaps it’s the Southern California connection. They first met in college (with Cantlay waxing Schauffele by about a dozen shots that day). But, most importantly, they’re able to make a game that most U.S. pros play just once a year feel like an everyday affair.
“Even though it’s alternate shot,” said Cantlay, “it feels totally normal.”
Trevor Immelman, knowing the importance of that opening match, sent Matsuyama and Scott out first in hopes they’d provide an early surge for his team. Immelman is searching for every possible edge as his team faces a task that many consider all but impossible.
He’s shockingly the first captain to employ Mark Broadie, the godfather of analytics, but even if he added Bill James, Albert Einstein and Copernicus to his payroll, the result in Thursday’s opening match likely would have remained the same. Schauffele and Cantlay are just too good, confirmed by their one-sided victory over Scott and Matsuyama, the start of a somber day for the International Team.
Schauffele and Cantlay made four birdies and, more importantly, not a single bogey. Matsuyama and Scott won just one hole, and they were already 4 down when that happened.
This is Scott’s 10th Presidents Cup, and it was his worst loss since his debut in 2003, when he and Stuart Appleby lost 6 and 5 to Jim Furyk and Jay Haas. The other three participants in that match all now play on PGA TOUR Champions. This was the first Presidents Cup Foursomes match since 2011 to go 13 holes or fewer.
‘We just feel really comfortable and confident,” said Cantlay. “On a day like today to make no bogeys, it was really good golf.”
Twenty-five matches remain, and the International Team can take solace in the fact that they’re halfway through the format that they’ve struggled with the most. Per Justin Ray of Twenty First Group, the U.S. has outscored the Internationals by 33 points in Foursomes in Presidents Cup history, but the two teams are tied in Friday’s format, Four-balls, and the Internationals actually hold a two-point advantage in Singles.
Spieth and Thomas won, 2 and 1, over Sungjae Im and Corey Conners in the second match. The win was highlighted by an unlikely victory on the 15th hole, where Spieth drove across a creek and almost putted off the green but Thomas holed a 25-foot par putt. Spieth is now 6-0-0 in Foursomes at the Presidents Cup.
Two rookies, Cameron Young and Max Homa, paired with Collin Morikawa and Tony Finau, respectively, to win the United States’ other two matches. Homa and Finau won the final hole of the day’s final match to keep the Internationals from drawing closer. The International Team was just 1 down on the back nine in four of the day’s five matches but scored just one point in those games.
Young said he was uncharacteristically nervous on the first tee, but he started his match with a 306-yard drive that cut the corner on the dogleg-right opening hole and left Morikawa 30 yards ahead of their opponents. Then Young ended things by holing a 25-footer for birdie on 17.
“It was everything I could have asked for,” he said.
The U.S. Team can say the same after the Presidents Cup’s opening round.