Now we know why Russell Knox was up against it for a Ryder Cup pick. The moment Thomas Pieters put his cards on the table. Selecting the Belgian ahead of the Scot may have caused some eyebrows to be raised at the time but not any longer.
Darren Clarke said he believed Pieters was a superstar in the making and he is indeed. He’s taken to this event like one of the ducks out on Lake Hazeltine. Impressive doesn’t do justice to how he’s played.
It wasn’t his fault that Friday morning’s debut resulted in a defeat. His off-form partner, Lee Westwood, took full responsibility for that. Two wins that followed in the company of someone playing better, Rory McIlroy, have seen Pieters show off his enormous talent to the golfing world.
“Thomas is the real deal,” declared captain Clarke after watching the pair follow up their 3&2 fourball win over the previously undefeated Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar on Friday afternoon with an equally impressive 4&2 success over Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson in the second foursomes session, which Europe, continuing to fight back manfully after losing the opening segment 4-0, edged to make the scoreline 6.5-5.5. “He’s obviously not that well known over here, but he’s a wonderful talent. He is a developing player and he’s a huge prospect for European golf.”
Pieters, only the second Belgian to play in the Ryder Cup after Nicolas Colsaerts became the country’s trail-blazer at Medinah four years ago, looks as though as he was born for stages like this. He has the game for it and the personality, too. After following in Fowler for an opening birdie, the 24-year-old put a finger up to his lips in a “shhh” gesture similar to the one we saw from Patrick Reed at Gleneagles two years ago. As was the case then, it showed Pieters is prepared to be brave in an arena that can sometimes be on the hostile side and good on him for that. It’s Europe who’ll benefit, after all, because this young man is going to become a key figure in this event over the next couple of decades.
“He’s been very comfortable in the whole situation this week with it being his first Ryder Cup – he’s fitted in perfectly,” added Clarke.
So, too, has another of the Ulsterman’s rookies, Rafa Cabrera Bello. The Spaniard is also showing why we can feel confident of continuing European success in this event as the likes of Westwood come to the end of the line in their Ryder Cup careers, at least from a playing perspective.
It seemed inevitable, of course, that Cabrera Bello would be blooded in the company of his fellow Spaniard, Sergio Garcia, and so it proved. Like Pieters and McIlroy, they helped haul the visitors back into it with a foursomes win on Friday before adding a valuable half point in the second-day fourballs.
No matter what awaits Cabrera Bello – Garcia, too, for that matter – in future Ryder Cups, it’s unlikely anything will prove any more satisfying than ekeing out a result against the two players that are Team USA’s beating heart here, Reed and Jordan Spieth, after finding themselves four down with six to play. Admittedly, Spieth contributed to what then unfolded by foolishly going for the green in two at the long 16th and dumping it into the water hazard on the left. However, the late, great Seve Ballesterous would have been looking down on the Minnesota course with one of his huge smiles as Garcia nervelessly rolled in a birdie putt at the 16th then watched his compatriot do likewise at the next. Indeed, it required Reed to hole a six-footer at the last to stop the Spaniards winning that as well and, of course, the match.
“We were just sticking shoulder to shoulder,” said Cabrera Bello of the motto adopted for this week by Clarke and the one hammered home to his players by Paul O’Connell, the former Ireland and British Lions captain, when he was enlisted for the motivational role on this occasion after Sir Alex Ferguson had done a splendid job for Paul McGinley in that respect at Gleneagles. “It’s a real belief we have and myself and Sergio just kept fighting, always believing that we would have our chance and it came.”
No matter what the outcome of the event’s 41st staging later today, there’s no doubt that the Ryder Cup future is bright, possibly more than ever before, because it’s now not just on the European side that new blood is showing a real hunger to be involved. Not only that, but to become winners and hold those bragging rights for at least a couple of years.
Take Brooks Koepka, for example. The man who underlined his huge potential when winning the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore in 2013 was another sitting on two points after three sessions.
“This guy needs to know how good he is and he’s starting to figure it out right now,” said Brandt Snedeker after the pair had beaten Justin Rose and Matthew Fitzpatrick 3&2, adding to a 5&4 victory over Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett the previous afternoon.