SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — The Americans are running out of excuses in the Ryder Cup.
They brought another seemingly loaded team to Whistling Straits, 11 of them among the top 16 golfers in the world. Not only is it a home game, the travel restrictions because of COVID-19 make this an even more one-sided crowd than those who root for the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
That's part of what led Tony Finau to proclaim, "This is a big one."
What makes it so critical has more to do with a new generation of American golfers than any task force created to try to stop European dominance in the biennial matches.
Finau offered himself as an example as the third-oldest player on the team. He just turned 32. He played his first Ryder Cup in France three years ago (this one was postponed a year by the pandemic). That qualifies him as one of the more experienced players because only three of his U.S. teammates have competed more.
If the Americans want to change the culture, this is as good a time as any to start.
"We have a whole new team," Finau said. "We have a team with no scar tissue. There's only a handful of us that has even played in a Ryder Cup, and the few of those, we have winning records. So we actually don't have guys on our team that have lost a lot in Ryder Cups."
One of the rookies is 32-year-old Harris English, who won two PGA Tour events this year and has contended at the past two U.S. Opens. The former standout for Chattanooga's Baylor School and the University of Georgia was among the captain's picks by Steve Stricker and is grateful for a chance to help the United States try to change its fortunes.
"It means a lot more now than it would if I had made this my first or second year on tour. This is my 10th year on Tour, English said. "I've tried to make this tournament, what, four or five times and haven't made a team, but put in a lot of hard work the last couple years and this has definitely been a goal of mine. I wouldn't have had the career in this game that I have wanted if I had never made a Ryder Cup and had the chance to bring the trophy back home.
"It definitely is more of a sense of an accomplishment and kind of shows, I don't know, all the work I've put in the last couple years means something, and definitely glad to be here."
It all starts Friday morning in the chill of early fall off Lake Michigan. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who went 3-1 in France three years ago, are in the opening foursomes match against the Spanish duo of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia — the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking and the leading scorer in Ryder Cup history.
In the other three foursomes, the Europe-versus-U.S. matchups are Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland against Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa, Matt Fitzpatrick and Lee Westwood against Daniel Berger and Brooks Koepka, and Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter against Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.
Even with mounting losses, the Americans have the pressure that invariably comes with being perceived as having the better roster. Despite losing nine of the past 12 times dating to 1995 — two years before leading U.S. qualifier and two-time major champion Morikawa was born — they are the betting favorites.
"Everyone is playing great golf right now, and that's really the key to winning points," said Berger, one of six rookies on the U.S. team. "There's 11 other players you could throw at me and I would feel completely confident and trustworthy that if they had to hit a big shot or make a big putt, they could do it. That's a big key for us."
The response from Europe may as well be a collective yawn.
One team is looking for the secret formula to winning, while the other keeps perfecting it. The visitors have been loose in practice this week, even wearing the green and gold of the NFL's Packers one day and tossing foam cheeshead hats to the crowd.
Since what the Europeans refer to as the "Miracle at Medinah" in 2012, when they rallied from a 10-6 deficit to win in Illinois, they have scored five- and seven-point victories at Gleneagles in Scotland and Le Golf National near Paris. The Americans won by five points in 2016 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota.
Another U.S. victory could be the start of a new culture of winning with newcomers such as FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Schauffele, longtime friends Spieth and Thomas, big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau and four-time major champion Koepka. The average age is 29, the youngest ever for a U.S. roster.
"They have outplayed us in quite a few Ryder Cups, and that's the mold we want to change going forward," Finau said. "And that's why I say that's a big one."