- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NEWPORT, WALES (AP) - Experience has its place. Not necessarily at this Ryder Cup.

Nearly half the field _ five Americans and six Europeans _ will be making their Ryder Cup debuts at Celtic Manor, meaning there are plenty of contenders for rookie of the year.

How about hard-luck Dustin Johnson? Or perhaps 21-year-old Rickie Fowler? The talented young Americans might just have the sort of bravado _ if not the lengthy resume _ needed to claim a starring role in Wales.

Could it be Edoardo Molinari? Or maybe his little brother Francesco? The Italians figure to get a lot of playing time together, and surely no pairing will have more chemistry than the first sibling teammates at the Ryder Cup since 1963.

No matter what, both the Europeans and the Americans have entrusted one of golf’s most revered events to a bunch of guys who’ve never struck a shot with the gold chalice on the line.

The 11 rookies are the most at a Ryder Cup since 1979, the first time the competition was opened up to the entire European continent. That year, a U.S. team featuring eight first-year players defeated a European squad with five.

“I don’t want to let myself down this week. I don’t want to let anyone else down this week. That’s the big thing,” said 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, another of the European rookies. “You are not just playing for yourself, you’re playing for 11 other guys, plus all of the backroom staff and most of Europe, as well.”

The U.S. showed at the last Ryder Cup that it’s possible to claim the cup when 50 percent of the 12-man squad has never been there before. Anthony Kim was the emotional leader. Boo Weekley kept everyone at ease with his down-home antics. Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes played like veterans, and two other rookies _ Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis _ filled out the roster.

“You know, it’s not life or death out there,” Mahan said. “It’s just golf and likely we have all done this before. If it was chess or something like that, I would be sweating.”

The other American rookies at this Ryder Cup are Matt Kuchar, Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson. Will Mahan have any advice for them now that he’s a grizzled ol’ veteran with one Ryder Cup to his name?

“I would just tell them, `Have fun,’” Mahan said. “The first shot is going to be fun. These fans are going to be crazy and they are going to be obviously cheering for Europe hard and you should use that, and have fun with it. It’s not personal out there. You know, it’s not like they really dislike you or anything like that. It’s just golf.”

At least Mahan brings some experience in team golf to his first Ryder Cup. He played on the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2007.

None of the American rookies on this year’s team has that to fall back on.

“I learned a lot from the Presidents Cup, because I think I was the first guy off, and you know, I put a lot of overdo pressure on myself to play great and hit every shot stiff,” Mahan recalled. “I realized from that, that it’s still golf. It’s still a game. It’s still something I’ve done since I was 9 years old. Nothing’s changed from last week to this week.”

European captain Colin Montgomerie has played in eight Ryder Cups, and he’s hoping his first-year guys _ there’s also Martin Kaymer, Ross Fisher and Peter Hanson _ will be able to draw on some of his experiences.

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