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United States leads Europe 7.5-4.5 after Day 1 of 11th Junior Ryder Cup

PARIS, FRANCE — On a glorious day in France, the weather played second fiddle to the golf on display during the 11th Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris. The United States stretched a two-point morning foursomes lead over Europe into a 7 1/2-4 1/2 margin after Monday afternoon mixed four-balls, with Tuesday Singles set to decide the victor.

As defending Champion, the U.S. needs 12 points overall to clinch, whereas Europe needs 12 1/2. So, the American squad is 4 1/2 points away from glory, while Europe must stage an 8-point rally to capture the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup.

RELATED: U.S. takes early 4-2 lead in Monday's foursomes | Scores | Best photos from Day 1

The last two matches of the day set the stage for what is shaping up as a classic 11th Junior Ryder Cup. 

In the afternoon four-balls, Cole Ponich, 18, of Farmington, Utah, and Alexa Pano, 14, of Lake Worth, Florida, put on a display that dropped both mouths and putts, playing 12-under par for 17 holes, as they made clutch shot after clutch shot to hold off David Puig and Emma Spitz 2&1. 

Ponich unleashed a miraculous birdie chip from five yards in front of the green over a mound on No. 16 to set the stage for Pano to close out on No. 17 with a 25-foot laser of a birdie putt.

"I literally picked my landing area and hit it within the size of a ball spot," said Ponich. "When I saw that, I said, 'It's in!'"

"That chip-in was the greatest moment on a golf course I've ever seen," described Pano. "It was big."

But just when you thought that was the match of the day, Europe came back in the final group to secure a point that keeps them within striking range in dramatic fashion, as England's Annabell Fuller drilled a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 17 in the middle of a birdie barrage with playing partner Robin Tiger Williams to stay 1-up over America's Lucy Li and Michael Thorbjornsen. Li had earlier provided fireworks on No. 15 with a holed bunker shot for eagle.

The drama that ensued on No. 18 not only kept Europe within shouting distance but was a display of golf that was surreal. First, Li's 100-yard approach shot landed a foot from the pin. Then, Williams hit his approach to 8-feet. And to top it off, Fuller nearly sank her approach as it rolled to the lip of the cup. After birdie concessions, Europe earned a critical point.

“You can’t ask for any more drama; any more golf than that," said United States Captain Allen Wronowski, PGA.  "The kids on both sides played so well. It was a perfect day. If you would tell me that we would have a three-point lead with the golf that’s been played today on both sides, I would certainly take it."

Both teams realized that it was a day to remember some beautiful golf by the game's next great generation.

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"It was a long day for us, and all of the team fought so well," said European Captain Maïtena Alsuguren. “Unfortunately, we are behind but they were all terrific matches, and we finished on a positive which is very important, as we are in a position to be able to fight again."

For Tuesday Singles pairings, click here.

TOTAL: USA 7 ½ - EUROPE 4 ½

Afternoon Four-Balls — USA 3 ½ EUROPE 2 ½  

Match 7 — William Moll/Rachel Heck (USA) defeat Nicolai Hojgaard/Alessia Nobilio (EUR) 2&1   

Match 8 —  Rasmus Hojgaard/Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) 5&4 vs. Akshay Bhatia/Yealimi Noh (USA)

Match 9 — Eduard Rousaud Sabate/Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) HALVED Ricky Castillo/Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 10 — Cole Ponich/Alexa Pano (USA) 2&1 vs. David Puig/Emma Spitz (EUR)

Match 11 — Robin Tiger Williams/Annabell Fuller (EUR) 1-up vs. Michael Thorbjornsen/Lucy Li (USA) 

Match 12 —  Canon Claycomb/Erica Shepherd (USA) defeat Conor Gough/Amanda Linner (EUR) 5&3

Junior Ryder Cup Schedule
(all times GMT+2/EDT is 6 hours behind)

Monday, Sept. 24              8:30 a.m.         Session One – Foursomes        USA 4 Europe 2
Monday, Sept. 24               1:20 p.m.         Session Two – Mixed Fourball
Tuesday, Sept. 25               9:00 a.m.         Session Three – Singles
Tuesday, Sept. 25               3:30 p.m.         Trophy Presentation
Wednesday, Sept. 26         3:00 p.m.            GolfSixes Match

About the 2018 United States Junior Ryder Cup team

The 2018 United States Junior Ryder Cup Team, features 12 of the country's top junior golfers, will face Europe for the 11th Junior Ryder Cup at Disneyland Paris, Sept. 24-25. Captained by PGA Past President Allen Wronowski, PGA, the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team will feature six boys and six girls who are U.S. citizens and members of the high school graduating class of 2019, or younger. 

The American Junior Ryder Cup Team—which is vying for its sixth straight Junior Ryder Cup victory—features 2017 and 2018 Boys Junior PGA Champion Akshay Bhatia of North Carolina; as well as Californians Lucy Li, Rose Zhang and Yealimi Noh, who won the last three Girls Junior PGA Championships, respectively. Joining them on the team are Kentucky's Canon Claycomb, California's Ricky Castillo, Texas' William Moll, Utah's Cole Ponich, Massachusetts' Michael Thorbjornsen, Tennessee's Rachel Heck, Indiana's Erica Shepherd and Florida's Alexa Pano.

How they rank...

The U.S. Team features the No. 1 ranked (by Golfweek) Boys and Girls players in Akshay Bhatia and Lucy Li. The team also has the Nos. 3, 5, 6, 10, and 17th ranked girls players in Noh, Shepherd, Heck, Pano and Zhang; and the Nos. 3, 9, 13 and 16th ranked boys players in Castillo, Thorbjornsen, Moll and Claycomb. All six girls are ranked in the Top 20…All six boys are ranked in Top 50 (5 of 6 boys ranked in Top 20).

Last week in France, Rachel Heck, 16 of Memphis, Tennessee, was the only amateur to make the cut at the 2018 Evian Championship, an LPGA major (T-44). She also made the cut at the 2017 U.S. Women's Open (T-33).

Impressive list of Junior Ryder Cup alumni

Among the Junior Ryder Cup alumni are major champions, PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players, Ryder Cup Team Members and Solheim Cup Team Members including: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Hunter Mahan, Tony Finau, Lexi Thompson, Alison Lee and Brittany Altomare of the United States; and Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Nicolas Colsaerts, Suzann Pettersen, Emily Pedersen and Carlota Ciganda of Europe. 

A total of 5 players competing in the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National later this week are Junior Ryder Cup Alumni – Spieth, Thomas and Finau (U.S.); and McIlroy and Garcia (Europe). Garcia played in an exhibition in 1995 that served as the precursor to the Junior Ryder Cup.

RELATED: Ryder Cup players who once participated in the Junior Ryder Cup

European Junior Ryder Cup Team

The 2018 European Junior Ryder Cup Team, led by returning Captain Maïtena Alsuguren, features two players who played on their 2016 Team in Austria’s Emma Spitz, 18, and Italy’s Emilie Alba Paltrinieri, 16. Europe’s team also includes Identical twins in Nicolai and Rasmus Hojgaard, both 17, of Denmark, as well as: Spain’s David Puig, 17, and Eduard Rousaud Sabate, 18; England’s Conor Gough, 15, Robin Williams, 16, and Annabell Fuller, 16; Italy’s Alessia Nobilio, 17; and Sweden’s Amanda Linner, 17, and Ingrid Lindblad, 18.

History of the Junior Ryder Cup

The idea for the Junior Ryder Cup came about in 1995, when a team of Europeans played an informal exhibition match against the Central New York PGA Section and area juniors. Sergio Garcia represented Europe in this match. Two years later, the Junior Ryder Cup was formally introduced as an event in its own right, while played at Alcaidesa Links Golf Course, in Cadiz, Spain, and won by America, 9-7.

The Last Time Around...

The United States captured the 2016 Junior Ryder Cup at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota, 15 1/2 to 8 1/2. A total of 10 players from the 2016 U.S. team are slated to be on NCAA Division I college golf rosters for the 2018-19 school year. Norman Xiong, who received the Jack Nicklaus Award as 2018 NCAA Division I National Player of the Year, just turned pro.

Kids Everywhere!

The French Golf Federation brought approximately 3,000 young school children out to the course...and they made quite a big splash as spectators, high fiving players, rolling down hills and telling each other to whisper (in French) when the players were hitting the ball.

GolfSixes at the Ryder Cup featuring Junior Ryder Cup teams

The GolfSixes match is an exhibition event which will feature the European and US teams from the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup Wednesday at Le Golf National, site of the 2018 Ryder Cup. The matches are played over six holes (1, 2, 15, 16, 17, 18), in a Mixed Greensomes Match Play format. Each hole won is worth a point and the pairing with the most points after six holes wins the match. The team with most matches won, wins the GolfSixes at the Ryder Cup. Total number of holes won will decide the winner in the event of a draw.

2018 Junior Ryder Cup Teams

United States

Akshay Bhatia, 16, Wake Forest, North Carolina
Canon Claycomb, 16, Bowling Green, Kentucky
Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, Wellesley, Massachusetts
Ricky Castillo, 17, Yorba Linda, California
William Moll, 17, Houston, Texas
Cole Ponich, 18, Farmington, Utah
Lucy Li, 15, Redwood Shores, California
Yealimi Noh, 16, Concord, California
Rose Zhang, 15, Irvine, California
Rachel Heck, 16, Memphis, Tennessee
Erica Shepherd, 17, Greenwood, Indiana
Alexa Pano, 14, Lake Worth, Florida

Europe

Nicolai Hojgaard, 17, Denmark

Rasmus Hojgaard, 17, Denmark
David Puig, 16, Spain
Eduard Rousaud Sabate, 18, Spain
Conor Gough, 16, England
Robin Williams, 16, England
Emma Spitz, 18, Austria
Emilie Alba Paltrinieri, 17, Italy
Alessia Nobilio, 17, Italy
Annabell Fuller, 16, England
Amanda Linner, 17, Sweden
Ingrid Lindblad, 18, Sweden

For more information on the 11th Junior Ryder Cup, visit Junior.RyderCup.com.