SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, FRANCE | Tony Finau stood on the par-3 16th tee at Le Golf National late Friday morning begging his 8-iron shot to stay in the air.
The wind blowing in a cold front was bouncing off the water and coming straight at the elevated tee where Finau and partner Brooks Koepka were all square with Justin Rose and Jon Rahm in the first of 28 Ryder Cup matches.
Finau, who drew the distinction of hitting the opening shot in front of approximately 10,000 fans as the sun crept over the massive grandstand behind the first tee, had hit an 8-iron into the breeze on the 177-yard 16th where the flag was tucked tight to the water fronting the putting surface.
“Go,” Finau’s caddie, Greg Bodine, barked, “Go.”
“I know it needed to get up,” Finau said. “I saw it rise. It’s an elevated tee shot, and when you’re hitting into the wind and you’re already hitting higher than where the green is, so into the wind, you’ve got to hit a knockdown shot, and my knock-down shot rose. Even though the line looked great, I hit a great shot; I knew it needed to get up.”
Finau’s ball cleared the water by inches, bouncing off a piling and coming to rest 4 feet from the hole, setting up a birdie that flipped the match in the Americans’ favor and triggering a 3-1 jumpstart for the U.S. team in the four-ball matches.
Two-down through 12 holes, Finau and Koepka emerged with a 2-up victory that may not have happened if not for the good fortune on the 16th hole. Nursing a 1-up lead on the dangerous, water-lined 18th, which played directly into the breeze Friday, the U.S. pair was able to secure the point when Justin Rose put his approach shot in the water, committing an uncharacteristic mistake.
“I felt like it was a big point, our match was a big point, swinging that one, because it looked like they were going to win the match pretty much the whole way through, especially when we got 2 down, and to come back and be able to flip it like that was really a two-point swing,” Koepka said.
It was an eventful match, starting with the opening tee shot being hit by a Ryder Cup rookie. Finau made it look like he’d done it 100 times, stinging a 3-iron into play, though he nearly ran out of room on the left side where water tucks into the fairway.
“It was like a feeling of a football game back in the States, an NFL football game and I’m in the middle of the field and I have to hit a tee shot; I have to make a golf swing with all that type of adrenaline,” Finau said.
“It was incredible. Even though the crowd is a European crowd and we’re on European soil, just to be in that atmosphere, it’s electric. It’s so hard to explain, just being there, knowing that all eyes are on you, it’s a cool thing. I really enjoyed it, and I thought I hit a pretty good one.”