It’s been a long week already for those people working the whole of the Ryder Cup and the actual match has yet to start. For the staff at Le Golf National, in fact, it’s been a long seven years, but
everything will make sense tomorrow when the opening tee shot is hit, writes Ross Biddiscombe
Le Golf National GM Paul Armitage and course superintendent Alejandro Reyes have been the main men under the spotlight in the last few weeks of the build-up, but the feedback from the players in particular has been outstanding. The set-up of the course has received plaudits all around and there has not been any hiccups in the organisation so far.
Like many working media, I took a couple of days off – Wednesday and Thursday – to play golf at two courses much closer to central Paris – St Cloud (10 kilometres away) and Saint Germain (25 kilometres to the west).
Both courses have staged French Open tournaments in the past – Henry Cotton won at St Cloud in 1946 and Greg Norman in 1980, while Sandy Lyle (1981) and Seve Ballesteros (1985) have been victors at Saint Germain.
Both clubs reported plenty of extra activity this week. St Cloud was full of visitors playing their own Ryder Cup matches and star golfers like Jose Maria Olazabal and Jean van der Velde were there to help the amateurs enjoy the surroundings which feature two holes in full view of the Eiffel Tower. For further star power, St Cloud hosted former basketball legend Michael Jordan the day before, plus they held their green fees to the normal €90, something which most other local clubs, including Saint Germain (suddenly costing €200), did not do.
Meanwhile, back at Le Golf National’s Media Centre, the event of the day on Wednesday was the ever-eccentric Bubba Watson appearing
before the media. These events need someone to create a headline or two and Bubba’s your man for these occasions.
Again, for the sponsors, this kind of publicity is priceless. Bubba decided to wear a light blue golf glove to his media interview. His explanation was that the American players were challenging one another to do something in their interview sessions to amuse the rest of the team. “I said I’ve got to wear my glove the whole interviews. So, I’m doing it,” said the man whose last visit to France in 2011 also ended in headlines. He complained about fans taking photos while he played and also poor security, despite a healthy six-figure appearance fee.
Meanwhile, the burghers of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines invited the media to a welcome event this week and are obviously proud to have both this event and a series of other top golf tournaments
on their doorstep at Le Golf National both now and through to the Olympic Games in 2024.
Best press conference insight No 1 – Justin Rose, who won the FedEx Cup on Sunday which carries a $10 million first prize, said: “The (European) team have had fun, they apparently all (put their) drinks
are on my tab this week.” Rose also revealed his favourite pre-match motivational phrase, given to the team in 2012 by José Maria Olazábal: “All men die but not all men live.”
Who is the most excited player at this year’s Ryder Cup? A toss-up between Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau – both are rookies in their mid-20s and wide-eyed in their press interviews. Rahm thinks the 6,900-seat 1st tee grandstand will be a bit like the 16th at TPC Scottsdale on the PGA Tour. Oh, and he’s listening to a lot of Eminem and other rap music this week to get him into the mood.
The European team has a WhatsApp group that is being heavily used this week. Rory McIlroy has had some fun on the app, posting a picture of Jon Rahm’s underwear while he was asleep on the physio table and then taunting the Spaniard about how much further he hits his tee shots.
Biggest question on the day before the match starts? How will a predominantly French crowd react to the Ryder Cup? With no local hero in the team, the fear is that they will be watching (and cheering for) Tiger Woods as much as the European team. The hope is that the many UK travelling fans with more knowledge and experience of the need for huge, necessary vocal support for the home team will win the day – the TV broadcasters certainly want this outcome.
Although there have been no official pronouncements from the betting firms, anecdotal evidence suggests that the return of Tiger Woods has helped increase the amount of money gambled so far on the match. And the Tiger Factor has meant the US team has become heavily favoured by many American betting companies, whereas last week bettors could still find decent odds favouring Europe. Although, computer prediction software has now been developed that can simulate the outcome of the match up to 10,000 times, the Ryder Cup has often been too close to call and perhaps this is the case at Le Golf National. There have only been two ties in 41 previous matches, but it could be that a 14-14 tie is the best bet at around 10/1. Good luck!