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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Wild first tee shot of Ryder Cup like nothing else in golf

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — At most regular PGA Tour or European Tour events, the first tees are essentially the same.

There’s a modest grandstand behind the tee. Just before the players are about to tee off, they receive a smattering of polite applause, they tip their caps in acknowledgement, strike their shots and go about their rounds.

Pretty routine stuff.

The Ryder Cup first-tee experience?

Anything but routine. Instead of hitting in front of that modest grandstand that may or may not be filled, the players feel more like they’re teeing off from home plate, surrounded by a full house at Fenway Park.

That’s what the 24 players on the U.S. and European teams will be sleeping on Thursday night in anticipation for the beginning of the 43rd Ryder Cup shortly after sunrise Friday morning at Whistling Straits.

The first tee grandstand at Le Golf National outside Paris at the most recent Ryder Cup, three years ago, was intimidating because it was massive, holding more than 7,000 spectators, and it was loud.

A full crowd watches Sergio Garcia tee off on the first tee during a Ryder Cup practice round.Getty Images

“France had just an absolutely absurd setup there on the first tee,’’ Justin Thomas said. “It was, hands down, the most nervous I’ve ever been. It is just a total out-of-body experience. I hit a 5-wood off the first tee and I don’t put it on a tee when I do that. I just kind of put it on the deck.

“I’ve always said if I had to put it on a tee, I don’t think I could have. I would have been too nervous, to where I would not have been able to get a ball on the tee.’’

Thomas called the pressure “a privilege,’’ adding, “You want to be able to feel that. That’s why I turned pro, that’s why I’ve gotten here is to be playing in a Ryder Cup and to have those experiences.’’

Ian Poulter, one of the most successful Ryder Cup players in European history, was asked when his nerves start firing in anticipation of that first-tee experience.

“When the alarm goes in the morning,’’ Poulter said. “You know it’s coming. It’s been building all week. It’s exciting. It’s a big tee box. I don’t know how many thousand fans we got ’round there this week. [Approximately 3,500.] It’s probably a little less than it was in Paris, but nevertheless it’s a loud environment. It’s a nervy atmosphere to be in.

“It’s great fun. It really is, from the moment you kind of walk out your tunnel to getting that tee peg and attempting to put the ball on the tee, it’s a pretty fun ride.’’

Jordan Spieth, who played his first Ryder Cup in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland, recalled his first tee shot as “the most nerve-racking shot I ever hit.’’

“It was my first time ever in an away arena,’’ Spieth said. “Something about the 40 degrees, fog rising, the sun is just coming up there in Scotland, you hear the echoes from the crowd and all the chants. And you’re like, ‘What am I about to walk into?’ ’’

Scottie Scheffler, one of the six rookies on the U.S. team this week, said he has been asking some of the veterans and vice captains this week what to expect from the first-tee experience.

“It’s going to be loud, and the one thing I’ve heard was it’s weird how loud it gets to how quiet it gets when you’re about to hit the shot,’’ Scheffler said. “It’s [like] going to go back to a regular golf tournament when you’re over the ball. I think that’s going to be kind of a weird adjustment.

“I think it was Zach [Johnson, a vice captain] who told me that. Zach is like, ‘It’s just really weird how quiet it gets, because it’s so loud and then all of a sudden it’s dead silent.’ ’’

Rory McIlroy said, “Once you put the tee in the ground and the ball is on there, it’s a lot easier.’’

Tommy Fleetwood, whose first Ryder Cup was in 2018 in France, recalled feeling a great sense of accomplishment when he arrived at the first tee for the first time.

“Players that have played in a Ryder Cup all say the same thing about first tee, that it’s an incredible place to be in golf,’’ Fleetwood said. “It’s something that we don’t experience ever except for once every two years. We all strive and dream to be there and experience whatever that is, whether it is you can’t put the ball on the tee, whether it is you feel like you’re going to miss the ball, whatever it is.

“You’ve dreamt of this your whole life, so thrive on it and enjoy it.’’

Said Thomas: “It’s a bizarre feeling that’s hard to explain, but I’m pretty excited to experience it again.’’

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