Darren Clarke hailed his team's resilience and thanked Lee Westwood for stepping aside as Europe fought back on day one at the Ryder Cup.
Westwood was one of several players to endure a tough first morning at Hazeltine as Europe lost all four foursomes matches.
The 10-time Ryder Cup veteran, who played alongside rookie Thomas Pieters, was on the end of a 5&4 loss to Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar and immediately accepted all responsibility for the defeat.
He then asked to be omitted from the afternoon fourballs - a session Europe won to cut the overall deficit to 5-3 - and will also sit out Saturday morning's foursomes.
Those decisions mean the 43-year-old will now not be able to claim the two-and-a-half points he needs to overtake Sir Nick Faldo as Europe's top points scorer in the event's history.
Captain Clarke said: "Wow. That was a bit of an exciting sort of day. It was certainly matchplay golf at its utmost.
"Unfortunately the European team weren't quite firing on all cylinders this morning and the American team rightly took advantage of that and played some wonderful golf.
"This afternoon the guys went back out there and they showed just how proud I am and why I'm so proud of them. They showed a massive amount of desire and fight.
"Lee struggled this morning but was man enough to tell me after the match, 'Darren, I'm not playing this afternoon. I need to go and work on my game'. And he went to do that.
"Lee's a stand-up man and he had no reservations about telling me the truth; as indeed would any member of my team."
After fighting back in the second session, Clarke now hopes his side have gained crucial momentum.
He said: "As I'm sitting in my seat right now, from the position we were in at lunchtime, I would definitely say it's better to have a small deficit with some momentum - because we didn't have much at lunchtime."
United States captain Davis Love was disappointed with the second session but pleased to end the day with an advantage.
He said: "It was a long day. It's frustrating not to come out a little further ahead but obviously we're happy to be 5-3. It was a good day and I'm proud of our guys.
"I like being ahead, there's no two ways about it."