GLENEAGLES, Scotland — U.S. captain Tom Watson sent out his two youngest rookies against Europe’s stalwart in the Ryder Cup, so it figured to be a short match.
And it was — for Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
It also turned out to be a short day for the young Americans when Watson didn’t send them back out.
On an opening day when the three American rookies carried the load by combining for two of their team’s three points, Spieth and Reed, a former U-High golfer, became central figures in the greatest Ryder Cup tradition — hindsight.
Watson didn’t even wait for anyone to question his decision. Trailing 5-3, he opened his news conference by saying, “I know the question is going to be asked about Jordan Spieth and former Patrick Reed, whether I should have played them in the afternoon, and I thought at the time it was the best decision not to play them.”
“When I told Patrick that he wasn’t going to play in the afternoon — it was comical at the time, not so comical now — I said, ‘How does that make you feel?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m all right with it.’ He said, ‘Well, really Captain, I’m not all right with it. I said, ‘That’s the way I want you to be.’
“You’re going to be second-guessed,” Watson said. “And obviously, you’re going to second-guess me on that decision right there.”
Some were questioning what they were doing together in the first place, though Spieth and Reed delivered a quick answer. They ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch for a 5-and-4 victory in fourballs over Ian Poulter and Scottish favorite Stephen Gallacher.
They ended Poulter’s seven-match winning streak.
“It was very, very quiet out there compared to what I think Patrick and I expected in the first round of a Ryder Cup over here,” Spieth said. “And that’s the goal. That’s our team goal is just go out there and play and listen to it like’s just Sunday with your buddies. That’s kind of what it felt like.”
The Americans got even more help from another rookie.
Jimmy Walker holed out twice to win holes and to keep him and Rickie Fowler in the match. And then it was Walker again on the 18th, holing a 4-foot birdie putt to earn an unlikely half-point against U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn. Walker and Fowler were sent out in the afternoon and were on the verge of winning until Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia won the last two holes for a halve.
It might have been a risk for Watson to pair the 21-year-old Spieth and the 24-year-old Reed, especially in their first Ryder Cup on the road. The last time the Ryder Cup was away from home at Celtic Manor in Wales, Spieth was at Gleneagles as part of the Junior Ryder Cup team.
“When Tom told us were going out together, we were excited,” Reed said. “I’ve played a lot of golf with Jordan, not only professionally but amateur and junior career. I was very comfortable playing with him. Besides the first tee shot, we felt pretty comfortable and confident.”
And they went quiet on the first hole. Poulter blasted out of a bunker to just inside 3 feet, the range where putts are conceded early in the match. Poulter had to putt this one, and the crowd gasped when it spun around and out of the lip for a bogey, giving the Americans the lead.
They never trailed, handing Poulter his largest margin of defeat in 16 matches.
“They’re two great players. They’re two excitable players,” Poulter said. “When you’re playing against guys who are rolling putts in, then you’re going to be hard to beat, and that’s exactly what they did very well today.”
Walker and Fowler went back out for foursomes in the afternoon. Reed and Spieth did not, the only disappointment of the day. Both pleaded their case and accepted their roles as cheerleaders for the afternoon.
But they were surprised.
Spieth said he was “100 percent certain” they were going out for the afternoon because Watson had said the afternoon lineup would depend on morning play. Apparently, a 5-and-4 win wasn’t enough.
“I felt like Jordan was hitting the ball really solid and making a lot of putts, and I was hitting it well and I was putting extremely well,” Reed said. “I felt like in alternate-shot, him and I would have been great to go back out and take the momentum of what we just had done. But at the end of the day, Captain Watson, he picks pairings for a reason. He decides to put you in certain spots for a reason.”