By Larry Fine
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – It is an individualist game at its core, yet some of golf’s most vivid moments come from the Ryder Cup and the first tee of the preeminent team competition in the sport.
The tradition, urgency and passion of the biennial match play event make the first tee a moment that resonates with the world’s top players.
“There’s nothing really to compare it to,” said Rickie Fowler, who this week is competing in his third Ryder Cup. “Probably one of the most nerve-wracking shots you’ll ever hit throughout your career is the first tee shot at a Ryder Cup.”
Phil Mickelson, who this week will tie Nick Faldo for most Ryder Cups played, said: “It’s truly one of the greatest experiences in the game of golf as a professional golfer to experience walking to the first tee.
“I remember four years ago walking to the first tee with Keegan Bradley for his first Ryder Cup experience, and he’s teeing off, and I’m talking to him; he’s not hearing a word.
“His eyes are moving all around and the adrenaline is flowing. And he hit a drive on that first hole that was 375 yards. I had a 78-yard L-wedge shot into that first hole that’s 550-plus yards. That type of adrenaline rush and excitement, you just can’t recreate it other than in a Ryder Cup.”
Rookie Ryan Moore, added to the Ryder Cup squad as U.S. captain Davis Love III’s last wild card pick after taking McIlroy to a playoff at the Tour Championship on Sunday, said he was nervous during his first practice at Hazeltine.
“I think it’s something you can’t really know until you’ve been out there,” he said. “I mean, shoot, for a Tuesday, I think I was a little bit nervous on the first tee, which I don’t think that’s ever happened on a Tuesday in my life.”
European rookie Andy Sullivan said he received some advice from four-times major champion Rory McIlroy, who has played on the past three triumphant European Ryder Cup teams.
“How you handle things just in general, like when you’re walking onto the first tee and stuff, little things like that,” said Sullivan. ‘Like remembering to breathe and stuff like that.”
PAINTING A PICTURE
Jordan Spieth, a former Masters and U.S. Open winner who made his Ryder Cup debut at Gleneagles in 2014, was asked to paint a picture of the moment.
“I actually asked for a painted picture of that, and I have it in my kitchen/living room,” he told reporters. “It’s the main piece of artwork that’s in my house, is right after I struck my first tee shot at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
“It’s a beautiful painting. I don’t have anything around the house of myself up except for that, and it’s that special to me.”
Spieth, 23, said it was one of the three most treasured moments he has had in golf.
“It was that and the 18th green of the Masters in 2015, probably the two most special moments, and then obviously in the scorer’s tent with Michael (caddie Greller) at the (2015) U.S. Open.”
Spieth said the painting brings back waves of feeling.
“It was the first tee shot. We didn’t win the Ryder Cup. I didn’t make a putt to win the match there. It was just that feeling,” the world number four said.
“You hear the echoes of the chants through the Scottish hill country back to the range, and you know that you’re about to walk into an away game which we don’t ever really experience.
“I remember walking out there and just a ton of people, and trying to decide – it was the three-wood all day, but do I maybe hit driver because it’s a bigger head. You put the tee on the ground, your hand is shaking, you’re trying to get the ball on to the tee.”
First tee for the 41st Ryder Cup comes on Friday, providing another chance for Spieth to savor the moment.
“Hopefully this time, having done it before, it comes a little easier,” he said. “But I hit a great shot (in 2014), which was what makes me so excited about that painting because it’s as nervous as I’ve ever been and probably the best three-wood I’ve ever hit. I take confidence every time I see that.
“I try and look at it every day.”
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)