SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, FRANCE | Perhaps more than in any other major event in golf, the course itself at the Ryder Cup tends to take on a secondary role.
At the Masters, it’s about Augusta National as much as it’s about the players, at least until Sunday. It’s always about the course at the U.S. Open, too much so in many cases, and the Open Championship is framed by its setting.
At the Ryder Cup, though, it’s about the matches. Play it on a scruffy muni someplace and it would still be as compelling.
It’s different this year at Le Golf National.
We’re not at Hazeltine anymore, where everything felt supersized, including the setup, which favored the Americans’ ability to go bombs away with drivers off most tees.
Le Golf National measures just 7,183 yards, short by modern professional standards, and the back nine is just 3,481 yards. But there is calamity all around with multiple water hazards and deep, rugged rough. It looks like an ideal match-play stage.
“There’s going to be plenty of holes won in alternate-shot with pars and I even venture to say, I think there’s going to be holes won in four-balls with pars, I really do,” said Webb Simpson, who is playing his third Ryder Cup for the U.S. side.
“There’s a bunch of holes out there where you have to hit not only a great tee ball but you have to hit a great second shot. So it is one of the hardest Ryder Cup courses that I’ve seen in a while. It’s just massive premium on the fairway.”
In terms of familiarity, the European team has a significant advantage because the European Tour’s HNA Open de France is played at Le Golf National every year. The U.S. team collectively has played just eight competitive rounds here as compared to nearly 300 by the Europeans.
“The course definitely suits me. I drive the ball very well, and it’s a ballstriker’s golf course,” England’s Paul Casey said. “It’s probably been documented; you’ve seen the rough out there. The fairway is not overly generous, and the rough is very penal.
“The greens are large, and positioning the ball on the correct side of the hole is going to be paramount. Yeah, it’s a definite advantage for us, I think. Our team certainly knows the course better than the Americans, and I think it suits my game very, very well.”
While both sides have been given the pin positions and tee positions for the five sessions of matches (though they haven’t seen which will be used when), the course and setup tends to favor the European side, which isn’t stuffed with as many bombers as the American team.
The Americans have been busy doing their due diligence this week, working out game plans for how to attack Le Golf National. It’s possible the longer hitters will use their driver only four times per round.
“I don’t think there’s a guy from either side of these teams from Europe or the U.S. that would not say this is a great golf course,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk said.
“You’ve got to put the ball in the fairway. (It) very much is a positioned-off-the-tee golf course, and you can get aggressive. The better iron players, the better putters, the better thinkers are going to have an advantage around here. Rory McIlroy is one of the best players in the world and he bombs it, but Rory is going to find a way to play well on any golf course because he’s a good player. That’s what all these players are going to have to do.
“It does limit some of their length and the advantage that they have, but the best players on either side of the pond are going to find a way to play any course.”