SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, FRANCE | Around 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Beatles’ Come Together was thumping through the sound system while several hundred fans sat in the 6,900-seat grandstand that towers over the first tee at Le Golf National like a castle wall.
Moments later, when Jon Rahm walked across a bridge from the practice green to the first tee, the European theme song – Ole, Ole, Ole – was pumped through the speakers and Rahm playfully paused, putting a hand to his ear and waving on the noise.
The Ryder Cup was still two days away but it has already been turned on.
Where this Ryder Cup will end won’t be known until Sunday afternoon but where it begins – a 419-yard par-4 with the green framed by water – sets a spectacular scene.
The grandstand is like the Eiffel Tower in that it’s visible from great distances. When it’s empty, it looks imposing. When it’s full, the fight songs are being sung and nervous fingers are going numb, it can be the most intimidating spot in golf.
“Playing a practice round (Monday), there was basically no people in it, and I still got goosebumps looking at it and thinking, on Friday, this thing is going to be packed,” Rory McIlroy said.
There’s nothing in golf like the first tee at the Ryder Cup. The opener at Augusta National comes the closest with the patrons crowded around behind the white clubhouse and when the Open Championship goes to the Old Course, the St. Andrews experience envelops the place.
At the Ryder Cup, though, it’s almost claustrophobic around the first tee. There will literally be thousands crammed into the grandstands and a few hundred more tucked inside the ropes. The rules about silence get lost in the roar and there are times when players wave on the noise even as they’re hitting their tee shots.
It’s both one of a player’s biggest thrills and, potentially, their nightmare on Ryder Cup street.
“Going into my first Ryder Cup (at Celtic Manor in 2006), I didn’t know what all the fuss was about,” McIlroy said. “I still thought it was this team event that really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. I was more concerned about individual titles and all that.
“Once I got onto that first tee on Friday morning, I thought, oh, this is a little different than I expected. I was very nervous. I still get nerves on the first tee no matter what tournament it is. So that’s something that maybe happens to me more than other people, I don’t know. But it’s nerve-wracking; you try and put your ball on that tee and it takes you a couple times to get it to settle on there, and I’m sure Friday morning, if I’m playing, it will be no different.”
Before Patrick Reed transformed himself into Captain America, he found himself 1 down to the moment.
In 2014, on the first tee at Gleneagles, a relatively benign par-4, Reed hit what he says is the worst shot he’s hit in his two Ryder Cups.
“I go and step up on the tee, I get there and my adrenaline is just through the roof, and I look around and I feel like all the air has just gotten sucked out of the room when they announced us to hit,” Reed said.
“I skied it. I skied the 3-wood. I hit the fairway, though. I was 1 for 1. Hit the fairway. Those guys were hitting 9-iron and pitching wedge (into the) green, I hit 3-iron, ended up parring the hole, halved the hole with the guys, which is good, but there’s nothing like the first tee at a Ryder Cup.
“You step up on that first tee and just the thoughts that go through your mind that, hey, I’m here representing my country. All these people are here. You know millions of people are watching back home, and just the juices are flowing through you, just through the roof. It’s one of those moments you’ll never really get to feel.”
Even Tiger Woods is not immune to his surroundings. In his first Ryder Cup at Valderrama in 1997, Woods was paired with Mark O’Meara in a foursomes match.
O’Meara suggested Woods tee off on the odd-numbered holes but Tiger wasn’t having any part of that. He wanted to tee off on the even-numbered holes, so that O’Meara would hit the first tee shot.
“(O’Meara) said, ‘No, no, no. Odds are good for you and the way it sets up for us,’ ” Woods recalled.
“ ‘No, I like evens.’
“ ‘Why do you want evens? Because (with odds) you have to hit the first tee shot?’ ”
“Then (O’Meara) says, ‘No, you’re hitting the first tee shot.’ He’s the vet.”
“So I listened. I hit a 2-iron, tracked it down in the fairway, and phew, it was all good.”