‘You never get comfortable with it’ — Players tell all about first-tee nerves


PARIS, France — Your palms are sweaty, your tense arms are ready, you’re standing on the first tee, nerves aplenty.

Well, it’ll go something like that and you hope they didn’t eat spaghetti. When Jon Rahm stands in front of perhaps as many as 10,000 fans on the first tee on Friday morning he will have just listened to Eminem, to get him in the zone for the most pressured shot in golf.

In the build up to everyone’s opening tee shot at the Ryder Cup, rookies and veterans alike have been speculating and reminiscing on what the pressure is like. In short, it’s like nothing else.

The Veterans

Tiger Woods, USA

“My first Ryder Cup, I remember going out [to play foursomes] with Mark O’Meara — he was the veteran, so he says, ‘The way the golf course sets up, you should tee off on the [odd-numbered holes]’.

“And I said, ‘Well, I kind of like the evens.’

“And he said, ‘No, no, no. Odds are good for you and the way it sets up for us.’

“And I said, ‘No, I like evens. Why do you want evens? Because you have to hit the first tee shot?’

“And then he says, ‘No, you’re hitting the first tee shot’. He’s the vet, so I listened. I hit a 2-iron, tracked it down in the fairway, and phew, it was all good.”

Ian Poulter, Europe

“I’ve tried to explain to a number of people through the years what that tee shot means and what the feeling is in your body when you’re walking down. And as a player that’s played in multiple majors now, it’s different [from those]. Walking to the first tee at Augusta, walking to the first tee at St. Andrews, walking to the first tee in The Ryder Cup is that different. That’s very hard to explain.”

Justin Rose, Europe

“You never get comfortable with it. I don’t think you can ever really walk on to that first tee Friday and go, ‘yeah, this feels good,’ or ‘this feels normal’.

“You feel alive. I think José Maria Olazábal gave us a little memento one year, and it says, ‘All men die but not all men live.’ I think what he meant by that is feeling that adrenaline, that emotion, I think that is what it’s all about.

Rory McIlroy, Europe

“Going into my first Ryder Cup, I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. I still thought it was, you know, this team event that really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. I was more concerned about individual titles and all that. Once I got on to that first tee on Friday morning, I thought, ‘oh, this is a little different than I expected.’

“I was very nervous. You try and put your ball on that tee and it takes you a couple times to get it to settle on there.”

Webb Simpson, USA

So the backstory [to an infamous pop-up on the first shot at Gleneagles in 2014, which travelled 205 yards], why it’s even funnier to me, but that was a shot I had in my bag all year. It was, like, the fifth time I had done it. I was losing my concentration a little bit and I teed it up a little too high, and I had done it a few other times that year. Usually it goes straight down, that one went straight up and hit the fairway.

I will say — Justin Rose might not admit it — but he had a 3-wood out, and I looked over and he switched to driver because the driver’s so much bigger. So maybe my shot affected him.

Dustin Johnson, USA

“[Celtic Manor in 2010] was probably one of the most nervous I’ve ever been on a tee box. I was sure glad that I was hitting a driver. It would not have been a fun shot with something else. There are so many fans around cheering and singing. It was very impressive, especially being my first Ryder Cup.”

Brooks Koepka, USA

“The Ryder Cup truly feels like a sporting event; a football game, a basketball game, whatever it is. It’s loud and people aren’t afraid to boo you. That’s fun. I kind of got a taste of that at Hazeltine. It was the coolest experience, coolest thing I’ve ever done as far as playing golf in an atmosphere like that.”

The rookies

Justin Thomas, USA

“It sounds from the stories I’ve heard in the past there’s nothing I can do to get ready for the first tee shot. I’ve heard multiple stories of guys go into the first tee saying, ‘I can’t pull the trigger, you need to take it [the first shot].'”

Tommy Fleetwood, Europe

“The No. 1 thing I’ve pictured since the Ryder Cup kind of became a goal is that first tee shot. That’s been front and centre in my mind, and when I’ve thought about The Ryder Cup, in Paris especially, I’ve thought about that first tee shot — what that’s going to be like. But nothing prepares you for the real thing.”

Thorbjorn Olesen, Europe

“I’m definitely going to be very nervous, no doubt about it. I will try to just embrace the moment and do my best. I enjoy being nervous, I think that’s a great feeling to have, so I’m looking forward whenever I’m standing on that first tee.”

‘That’ grandstand

Tony Finau, USA

That grandstand is huge. I made sure I looked back and checked it out today, and it’s gigantic. I’ve only seen grandstands like that at NFL stadiums back home in the U.S.

Justin Thomas, USA

It’s like we have three massive buildings around us on the first tee this week.

Ian Poulter, Europe

“When I think back to 2004 [his first Ryder Cup], the stand is nothing like what we have today. So it really is going to be quite a special moment Friday, and it’s going to be very interesting to see.”

Rory McIlroy, Europe

“It’s a huge grandstand. Playing a practice round yesterday, there was basically no people in it, and I still got goosebumps looking at it and thinking, on Friday, this thing is going to be packed.”

Patrick Reed, USA

“When I first saw that [grandstand] on the first tee, I looked up and felt like I kept looking up and up and up. It’s always fun coming overseas and hearing all the little playful jabs and chants that they have going on.

“I can’t wait to get that whole entire grandstand filled up and see what that dynamic is like, having that many people around the first tee.”

Tiger Woods, USA

“In Wales [Celtic Manor in 2010], for some reason, I don’t know what it was acoustically, but [the fans] were so close together that it was reverberating. It was so loud. We could hear it on the putting green, which was right next to the first tee, but when you get on the first tee, you could actually feel it. That was fun to be a part of. I loved it.

“I think this week will be exactly like that, but I think the decibels will be up a little higher.”

Paul Casey, Europe

“We had a small tasting of that first tee [in practise rounds]. It was really noisy. Then when we walked off the tee, about a hundred yards, we looked back and realised it was [only] about 5 percent full!

“Guys will be extremely nervous on that first tee, with probably just shy of 10,000 people chanting and singing, and yet it will be spectacular from the get-go. That’s the nature of the Ryder Cup.”

Alex Noren, Europe

“It’s unbelievable coming down there. At the French Open, it’s already a great atmosphere around that first tee, and [in practice] you got a little bit of feel for what it could be, but it was not that many people in the actual grandstand, it was a lot of people around the tee.”

The dilemma of club selection

Jordan Spieth

This [first] tee shot’s as difficult as we’ve probably played the entire season. That adds to it. It will be really cold, so I’ll probably hit driver, which is a good thing – bigger head, better.

Bubba Watson, USA

I’ve been told that I can’t get the crowd to rev up, because it’s an iron off the tee. It’s a lot easier when it’s a driver off the tee, but this hole, this is a different golf course, different setup. I don’t want to get revved up trying to hit a bullet off the tee and fat it 20 yards down the fairway. They [his teammates] told me I can’t do it this time.

Tyrell Hatton, Europe

“Obviously it’s very cold in the morning. At the French Open, we’d normally hit like 3-iron or something similar because it’s quite firm, so we’ll see. It might be a 3-wood. I’ll be very surprised if it’s anything more than that.”

Justin Rose, Europe

“It’s the most incredible first tee shot I’ve ever seen for sure. And this year, it’s a long iron. Normally you tee up the driver and hope for the best, but now you might have to hit a good old 3-iron down there.”

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