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The X-Man and Patty Ice - the rookie pairing who keep scything through Team Europe

·5-min read
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele's chemistry has been apparent from the first morning - AP
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele's chemistry has been apparent from the first morning - AP

The X-Man and Patty Ice. It sounds like the title of a Marvel movie. But in fact this is the new marvel of American golf: the rookie pairing who keep scything through the European team.

Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay have found themselves anchoring the foursomes order for two successive days, bringing Team USA home in style.

Their chemistry has been apparent from the first morning, when Cantlay holed a five-footer on the first to punish Rory McIlroy’s hackeresque chip. If there was one single moment that triggered the horrors of Europe’s Frightful Friday, this was it.

Were we surprised, though? At 27 and 29 respectively, and with a combined tally of some £37m in career prizemoney, Schauffele and Cantlay didn’t really feel like rookies. They previously teamed up at the 2019 Presidents Cup in Melbourne, and since then their careers have climbed faster than London’s petrol prices.

Bringing up the rear on each of the first two mornings, this team represents Steve Stricker’s kicker. But it was hardly a stretch for the Americans to link them up, given that their bond extends far beyond the ropes around the golf course.

At the start of this month, they repaired to Napa Valley – the Californian wine resort which staged a PGA event the following week – with their respective partners for a holiday. Many have asked whether Cantlay – who had won the $15m FedExCup a week earlier – might have picked up the tab.

Their 2&1 win over Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick on Saturday spoke of mutual trust as well as a solidity that is well-suited to matchplay golf. Admittedly, they made a nasty botch of the third hole – where Cantlay’s tricky bunker shot rolled back off the green and left them playing twice in a row. (Never a good look.) But Schauffele sank a 31-foot monster at the seventh to tie up the match again, and they accelerated away with a three-hole winning sequence – nine to 11 – against an uninspired English pair.

So where do those nicknames come from? X-Man should be self-explanatory for Xander Schauffele, but “Patty Ice” is more complicated. It refers back to another nickname – Matty Ice – which in turn is the moniker of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan has apparently been known since his high-school days for his ability to come up with the goods at critical moments. “People started saying has ice in his veins,” one teenage contemporary told ESPN. The same is true of Cantlay, who only earned his new moniker last month when he beat his American team-mate Bryson DeChambeau on the sixth sudden-death play-off hole of the BMW Championship.

While Cantlay admits to being a natural introvert, he has been brought out of himself by the partisan atmosphere of a home Ryder Cup. Most players call for quiet on the first tee, as they step up to hit their opening drive. on Saturday, though, he gestured to the crowd to make as much noise as possible, and kept conducting them all the way around.

Schauffele is another man who prefers to stay under the radar, quietly dispensing excellence from tee to green. “He [Cantlay] is very quiet and reserved, so we sort of have that bond,” he has said.

Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay secured a 2&1 win over Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick - Getty Images
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay secured a 2&1 win over Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick - Getty Images

Once upon a time, Ryder Cup teamwork used to be a European preserve. But apart from the face-saving exploits of Spanish pairing Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia, there has been little sign of any visiting partnership clicking this week.

For the Americans, you could pick out three or four duos that have dovetailed nicely. Look at the straight man/zany scientist combo of Scottie Scheffler (the commentators are everlastingly grateful that Stricker didn’t pair him with Schauffele) and Bryson DeChambeau, who complemented each other’s skills in a magnificent tussle with Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton on Friday evening.

Again, we might hesitate to congratulate Stricker too warmly here. Scheffler and DeChambeau have known each other since they were both amateurs, attending universities based in Texas. And given DeChambeau’s status as a man apart, it was a no-brainer to team them up. “I've known him [DeChambeau] since college,” Scheffler said. “He's always been nothing but gracious and kind to me, and he means really well.”

With the wind switching direction on the zig-zagging fifth hole, DeChambeau did not attempt to reprise his extraordinary 417-yard drive from 24 hours earlier. This time, he opened up with a mere 262-yarder, then turned on the power for the second shot when the wind was almost behind him, sending a three wood a massive 313 yards into a bush behind the green.

It is an extraordinary thing to see DeChambeau almost hurl himself off his feet with the violent upward motion of his swing. He looks like a man giving a giant, exaggerated V-sign. Some might say it is a V-sign to the established tenets of golf. But he does possess a delicate touch too, when he needs it. He came out of that bush so neatly that he completed his up-and-down for birdie on the fifth, winning the hole and leaving the match all square.

Then, with the match in the balance on the 15th, it was Scheffler’s turn to land a 16-foot putt to take the Americans into the lead for almost the first time. He and DeChambeau performed a celebratory chest-bump that made the ground shake, and the scoreboard too. Such is the size of DeChambeau’s pectoral muscles that Scheffler might have appreciated a chest-pad, of the sort employed by tailend batsmen.

No harm was done, it seemed. Scheffler nailed a second successive birdie on the 16th, whereupon DeChambeau made it three in a row for the partnership to seal a 3&1 win. It was the final blow behind Team USA’s 11-5 advantage, the largest either side has claimed at this stage since 2004.

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