You never forget your first first tee.
It’s a widely accepted Ryder Cup truism, more like a football game than a traditional golf tournament. Energy pulsed through the gallery Thursday for the final practice laps at Whistling Straits, as thousands of fans – cheered on by the contestants – cheered and chanted the United States from the crowded stands ringing the t-shirt n ° 1.
The competition begins in earnest Friday at 7 a.m. local time with quartets. During the morning sessions on Friday and Saturday, players from each two-player team play a ball and alternate hitting shots. In the afternoon sessions that day, the format is four-ball, meaning each member of a two-player team plays their own ball. (Sunday, the 12 players from each team face off in singles matches.)
“You get off the first tee and you know you’re going to face two of the best players in the world,” said Jordan Spieth, who is playing his fourth Ryder Cup.
Even for seasoned professionals, it can be intimidating. Three years ago at Golf National in France, Spieth tried to calm the nerves of teammate Justin Thomas, who felt a wave of butterflies as he crossed the players’ deck from the chipping green to the first tee. The towering stands surrounding the T-shirt seemed to climb into the clouds. These had a capacity of 6,928 seats, about a third more than the starting stands this year.
“Jordan was great with me because it was my first game and he was playing a couple, he had been in my shoes before and he probably knew how I was feeling,” Thomas said.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. We were crossing the bridge and it was the first four-ball game, and we talked about it – the four-ball is kind enough to know who goes first – and he has. said, “Do you want to play first or me?” I was like, ‘I’m going,’ and he’s like, ‘You got it.’
“He knew I would need a few holes to get settled in and I rode my horse until I was finally comfortable. It’s a weird feeling that’s hard to explain, but I’m pretty excited to relive it.
The pressure is on the American team, which have lost four of the last five times to the Europeans, despite dominating players in the world rankings.
In a typical year, there is more balance between the fans, with viewers rooted for Americans or Europeans. Due to travel restrictions, however, the crowd this year will be skewed in favor of Team USA.
“As the Ryder Cup has evolved, I think it got bigger every year as it gets bigger and bigger. again, ”said European pillar Rory McIlroy, playing in his sixth.
“The Ryder Cup is all about golf. It’s competitive but there is also a lot of sportsmanship. And obviously there are partisan crowds and all that, but it’s part of a team environment. You’re going to have a majority of the rooting crowd for one team or the other. I guess it’s not something we experience every day.
For some competitors, it starts even earlier.
“When the alarm goes off in the morning,” said Ian Poulter, who was playing in his seventh. “You know it happens. It was built all week. It’s exciting. … From the moment you come out of the tunnel until you get that starting peg and try to put the ball off the tee, it’s a pretty fun ride.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.