Ryder Cup Stars Emerge in Brooks Koepka, Thomas Pieters

October 3, 2016

CHASKA, Minn. — Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood won’t play many more Ryder Cups.

Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter were vice-captains this week, spending most of their on-course time riding in carts or talking through earpieces.

But a pair of rookies on both sides, American Brooks Koepka and Belgian Thomas Pieters, proved the next wave is here.  

The young bombers dazzled the Hazeltine crowd, both with their booming drives and electric play (Pieters also flashed a fiery personality; Koepka is more subdued). Koepka, 26, finished the week 3-1-0 after sitting out the morning foursomes on Friday, and Pieters, a captain’s pick, played every match, finishing 4-1-0, becoming the first European rookie to earn four points. The other two European captain’s picks, Martin Kaymer and Westwood, were a combined 1-6, and Kaymer’s lone win came over Matt Kuchar to end singles play Sunday, when the Americans had already won the Cup.

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Pieters, who stands a towering 6-foot-5, looked timid during his opening-day foursomes pairing with Westwood, but he busted out of his shell alongside Rory McIlroy. They combined for three wins — twice in four-ball — and Pieters handled J.B. Holmes, going out third in the morning, 3 and 2 in Sunday singles.  

Pieters, 24, didn’t shy away from the spotlight, either. The emotions spilled out — the same kind of passion he displayed when he busted and tossed an iron in July at the British Open. He fist-pumped, roared, yelled and even shushed the crowd.  

“I could talk about him all day,” said McIlroy on Saturday night. “He’s been absolutely fantastic.”

Koepka was the Americans’ only rookie until Ryan Moore was named the final captain’s pick, and Koepka’s lack of experience likely kept him on the bench Friday morning. After taking in the opening session, he played the next four and won twice while paired with Brandt Snedeker. Koepka’s only team loss came in Saturday four-ball with Dustin Johnson against — Guess who? — Pieters and McIlroy.  

“I got a partner beside me for the next 20 years, and I’m not letting anyone have him,” McIlroy said.  

Koepka was at his best on Sunday. He was the 10th of 12 pairings off but was the fifth to finish — simply because he so quickly dusted Masters champ Danny Willett 5 and 4 while playing 14 holes in a bogey-free 6 under.  

“Just to be here is incredible,” Koepka said on Wednesday. “It’s been a long journey and it’s fun to finally be here instead of watching.”  

He won’t be spectator much anymore.  

“This guy needs to know how good he is,” said Snedeker, who won his singles match against Andy Sullivan 3 and 1. “And he’s starting to figure it out right now.”