What it feels like at the Ryder Cup ...
... to stand on the first tee. To win. To lose. To wait for a captain's pick.
September 18, 2014
By Brian Wacker, D.J. Piehowski and Sean Martin , PGATOUR.COM
- September 18, 2014
- Keegan Bradley celebrates making a putt at the 2012 Ryder Cup. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
There aren't many tournaments like the Ryder Cup. PGA TOUR players, who compete as individuals throughout the year, are part of a 12-man roster at this biennial event. Players are competing for country and continent, not money.
Have you ever wondered what it's like to stand on the first tee? To hole the winning putt? To nervously wait for the captain to call and say you have been picked for the team?
Borrowing a page from the old Esquire series, we asked and they gave their first-person accounts of those topics and more. PGA TOUR players tell you what it feels like to take part in this intercontinental clash. This is the first in a two-part series on the Ryder Cup. Click here to read the second installation.
What does it feel like ... to stand on the first tee?
GRAEME McDOWELL: "Hitting the first tee shot at Medinah a couple years ago was a very bizarre experience. I would say I felt very calm and confident and ready to take that on as I went to the first tee, and the noise was amazing and everyone's excitement levels had peaked. I remember getting announced on the first tee and putting the tee in the ground and the whole place going deathly silent and how bizarre that was. I remember standings over the tee shot thinking to myself, this is just the most bizarre feeling I've ever had in my life.
"I didn't put a very good swing on it. My head was genuinely kind of elsewhere, ... how surreal the moment and the environment was from sort of high noise levels to absolutely zero. The silence level was amazing."
BRANDT SNEDEKER: “I was the first one off, playing with Jim Furyk. We were 7:30 (a.m.) off the first tee, playing Rory and Graeme. We get to the course at 5:30 in the morning, get ready, warm up, it’s pitch-black. I look over at the first tee and the first tee is lit up, but there’s no lights or anything. I thought that was kind of weird. The grandstands were just full at 5:30 in the morning. It was lit up because everyone’s cell phones were out and lighting up the first tee. I looked at Jim when we were walking to the clubhouse and I got goosebumps just looking at the people and got really, really nervous. The gameplan was for me to hit off from the first tee, but I looked at Jim and said, ‘There’s no way in the world I’ll be able to hit that first tee shot. You’re on your own. We’ll have to redo our whole gameplan because there’s no way I can pull it back right now.’ He laughed and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out.’ It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
BOO WEEKLEY: “I was nervous. I think I threw up twice in the three days that I played, before I teed off. Nerves just get to you, and the best thing to do is go throw up and be done with it.”
RORY McILROY: "You can feel the electricity. It feels very different. Whenever I stepped onto the first tee at Medinah in ’12, and obviously it’s a lot of American chants and a lot of cheers, it’s intimidating in some ways. You feel very small in such a big (environment). You’ve got the crowd there and grandstands, they’re on top of you and you start to feel quite small. But then whenever you’re in Europe and you step onto the first tee, and they’re chanting your name and they’re singing songs and they’re all for you, it makes you feel like you’re 10 feet tall. It’s a completely different feeling but at the same time both are electric."
JIM FURYK: "It was at Valderrama (in 1997). Here’s how excited I was. I was playing with Jesper Parnevik, Tom Lehman and Per-Ulrik Johansson, all of (whom) were much longer players than me. I think I hit it about 20 yards past everyone off that first tee. Your mind is running 100 miles an hour because the anticipation is so great on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
"I still get nervous on the first tee. This past Ryder Cup, I hit a really poor tee shot off the first tee and you know what, the swing didn’t really feel that bad. ... But I’ve always viewed it as, the more nervous you are, the more fun it’s going to be, if that makes sense. ... When you are fortunate enough to get in those positions and you are nervous and you feel your hands literally start to shake, it’s pretty cool. That’s where you always wanted to be as a kid, so you have to view the positive side of it."
LUKE DONALD: "It’s so much pressure than any other tournament I’ve ever felt. You don’t get that atmosphere even Sunday of a major. It’s people shouting, the electricity and the atmosphere. You feel half nauseous, half pumped up, little bit of anxiety because of all the noise but you’re certainly when they start calling your name your heartbeat goes a lot faster. It’s like being chased down by a tiger or something."
ZACH JOHNSON: "At home it would be like at home coming out of the tunnel at a college football team at your home field; away it’s coming out of the tunnel at an away game. It’s deafening, it’s jeers, it’s chants, it’s everything. Pressure-wise it’s like trying to execute a shot in a major the last three or four holes either one up or one down.
It would have been 2006 in Ireland. I remember I sat out the morning session and I went out in the afternoon and played foursomes with Chad Campbell. I know I hit the first tee shot and I hit a pretty good tee shot up the right hand side with water left. ... But the first tee shot was one that I was obviously conscious of and thinking about. I was excited, but obviously also nervous. One thing that really helped though, was that my wife went out and watched the morning session and came back in when I was getting ready to go. She said something quite profound that I try to relate to rookies. The first tee is an arena and we really didn’t know what to expect, but what she said was, 'I figured something out today.' I said, 'Really? What’d you figure out, honey?' She said, 'This is just golf. There’s still just golf clubs. There’s still just a golf tee and golf balls. You just have to hit it like normal.' It sounds simple, but really, it just dumbed it down and kept me in a really good mind-frame."
SERGIO GARCIA: "It’s hard to explain. It’s incredibly nervy obviously, but it’s not like that goes away after the first tee. There’s so much energy and so much nerves, but of course a ton of excitement, too. At times it feels like you might miss the ball, but eventually you get settled down and are OK. I was lucky in my first one, actually. We were at The Country Club in 1999 and luckily my first match was foursomes, so I didn’t have to hit first. Jesper (Parnevik) did. But I was just nervous being on the tee box. I was so nervous for him."
J.J. HENRY: “That Friday morning, the first match off, I played with Stewart Cink and I, in 2006, and we followed Tiger and Furyk. We’re over at the K Club in Ireland, the crowd is already juiced up, there’s thousands of people on the first tee. The putting green is not far from the first tee, and Stewart Cink and I are practicing, and Loren Roberts, one of the assistants, comes over and says, ‘Hey guys, go out there and play the round of your life. Go USA.’ You could barely swallow. We kind of looked at each other and joked, ‘Go play the round of our life? We’re so nervous trying to get it airborne off the first tee.’ Looking back on it, I actually hit a great shot and we were off to the races. Maybe it’s like the first hit in football. Once you get in there, it’s great. But all the momentum and all the buildup can be overwhelming.”
PAUL McGINLEY: "My first shot in The Ryder Cup was in the afternoon in the foursomes, 2002. I played with Pádraig Harrington, and the first hole in The Belfry, I think 250 or 255 to reach the bunker on the right-hand side. So being clever, I thought I would hit 5-wood, lay it up short of it, and I hit 5-wood with a bit of adrenaline and it went 30 yards past the bunker. So that's when I understood that adrenaline is a good thing and not always a bad thing. We hear about the bad side of nerves, but it can make you do wonderful things, too."
HUNTER MAHAN: "There’s a surge of adrenaline. You can’t wait to get out there and go play. It’s kind of the opposite of what you want to feel when you play golf. You want to be pretty calm and have a pretty level heart rate, but you’re so excited you can’t wait to get out there and compete and get in the mix of the fandom and all the energy. It’s a different feeling than most golf events."
What does it feel like ... to wait for a captain's pick?
HUNTER MAHAN: "I just landed (in Colorado, for the BMW Championship). I got texted from Tom (Watson) telling me to call him. And I did. And it was nice, because he said when I called him he said, is this the Ryder Cup player on the phone? And I said, well is it? I sure hope it is. It was nice to kind of break the ice and just get it over with. You don't want to -- so it was a great feeling. Yeah, it was really nice.
"In 2012, I just slipped out (of automatically qualifying for the team) at the last second there and got out of the 8th spot and finished 9th and wasn't playing well. So, I didn't have a great feeling about it. … It's just nerve wracking. You feel very helpless in a sense, because you just have no information. You have no idea what anyone's thinking. I mean, you're just kind of waiting. It's kind of an un-nerving feeling. Then, you feel like a lot of pressure is on yourself and just like, you know, there's a lot of scenarios running through your head. So, when you finally get your clear cut answer it's very relieving."
KEEGAN BRADLEY: "The captain called me and told me I was on the team and I just hugged (my girlfriend) Jillian (Stacey), and it actually was pretty emotional. I made no secret of how important this team is to me, and how bad I want to go back and win the Ryder Cup.
"And so when he told me I was picked, it was months and years of emotion that kind of came out, and it was fun to share it with Jillian because she has told me that she was holding it in, too. It was just a moment that was very special and one of the best moments of my career to be honest with you, because it was scary."
WEBB SIMPSON: "It was obviously one of the greatest calls I've ever gotten. ... (The Deutsche Bank Championship, the final event before picks were announced) was kind of an emotional roller coaster for me and (I) didn't really know where I stood when I finished the golf tournament.
"I didn't sleep much last night. I got a call early this morning. Fortunately I was up. I saw that Captain Watson was calling me, and he asked me a question about what he thought I brought to the team, and we had a good conversation, and he told me I was a pick. I was elated. It was five in the morning my time here, but I got out of bed ‑‑ unfortunately I didn't have anybody to celebrate with. I was by myself and I was pretty pumped up about it."
BRANDT SNEDEKER: "It's tough. You hate being on the outside looking in. There's no certainty. ... It's a phone call you never want to wait for because you never know. It can go either way. You really have no idea. It's a tough night. It's always the Monday night after Boston, and that's always a long flight and a tough night because you never know if it's a good or bad phone call coming.
"I hadn't talked to Davis (Love III, the 2012 captain) at all. I had no clue it was going to happen. And that made it tough, because Davis and I are pretty close and I thought I knew him really, really well, and I took that as a negative sign that I wasn't going to be picked because I hadn't talked to him at all, he hadn't mentioned it all. I thought, 'OK, I got no chance.' But I knew I was playing well. I got off the plane in Chicago and I had a voicemail from Davis, so I listened to the voicemail. It was really short and sweet. I still have it saved on my phone. I still listen to it every once in awhile when things aren't going well so that I remember what that felt like. It's a pretty cool phone call to get." (Note: Snedeker was a captain's pick in 2012.)
What does it feel like ... to play on a winning team?
McILROY: It feels way better to win as part of a team. It just does. To be able to celebrate with your guys; you don’t see anyone spraying champagne over each other after they win. If you’ve got a couple close friends on the green or whatever but to celebrate with them to feel like you’ve earned something as a collective group, it’s amazing. I could just imagine what the guys feel like on football teams or basketball teams that do this the whole the season, that go through this for the whole year and then they win something big at the end of the season, unbelievable. To spend your whole life with these guys and end up winning something with them huge, all going for the same thing, it’s massive.
LUKE DONALD: "I’ve been lucky I’ve played four and been on four winning teams. It’s a lot of elation and celebrating with your teammates. It’s much more fun than winning a tournament because winning a tournament is very satisfying but you celebrate together as a team. A lot of elation, a lot of hugging, everyone in good moods, and the energy and the spirits are all really up."
HENRIK STENSON: "It was great. We really played great that week (2006) and had a phenomenal team and we won by a huge margin. I managed to get the point that kind of secured it. After that, I went straight over to 16 to watch Darren (Clarke) win his match and we all got very emotional about his personal challenges and his loss of his wife that he had gone through. We were in Ireland, as well and the support that was shown for him in his first time back. It was a strong experience emotionally. And then, just to be in front of the home fans, spraying champagne in a green wig that I swapped for my playing cap with one of the fans. I got this great wig, but then David Howell lost it in the after-party, so he still owes me a green wig. I might try to collect that pretty soon."
What does it feel like ... to play on a losing team?
HUNTER MAHAN: "You’re having the best time of your life until you realize you’re going to lose. Then it just comes crashing down. It’s an emotional crash of high expectations and adrenaline and then it’s just over. It’s a very empty feeling after the week."
HENRIK STENSON: "It’s hard, but as I’ve said before, I’d rather be on a losing team than not be on a team at all. There are still so many memories and so much camaraderie in the team room even though you aren’t winning. You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. I’m just very excited to be a part of this, the third one for me. I felt like after those two I definitely wanted to play on a third and now I get my chance."
ZACH JOHNSON: "It stinks. As a competitor, as an athlete – I guess we’re athletes – it just stinks. You want to win. Especially since I’ve had a pretty good record. I don’t know what my record exactly is, but it’s certainly in the positive, well above .500 (6-4-1). But I would gladly be 0-for-whatever if I could have had W’s as a team. That’s how substantial it is to me. I don’t feel bad for myself. I don’t feel bad for the team necessarily, but I feel bad for the captains and certainly for all of our fans and the country.
"All I remember is that I’m still not completely over (the loss in 2012 at Medinah). That was really, really, really, really hard."