FRIDAY 18.00: Four days of Ryder Cup week are over and the most crucial two are about to take place, writes Ross Biddiscombe. All the signs from those of us at Le Golf National is that this match is maintaining all the great traditions of the previous 41. Nailbiting drama, momentum shifts and incredible skills, plus he merchandising tents are heaving, the punters are queueing for tons of food and the media is pumping out zillions of words and pictures. After one of the most remarkable days ever at the Ryder Cup (how many times have we said that?), weekend is set up to make everyone happy – organisers, sponsors and fans.
Here’s the view from the Media Centre:
The official partners – Aberdeen Standard Investments, BMW, Emirates and Rolex have been pretty quiet with the world’s media. No investment advice, no free cars, air flights or watches, but there are still another two days to go. And all of the 30+ commercial partners, sponsors and partners have been the same way. Calling all Ryder Cup sponsors – there’s plenty of room on the media press release wall…where are you all?
Isn’t it nice to see professional golfers without hats – less branding for the sponsors, but the girls can get a better look at handsome lads Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton. Golfers are gorgeous just like footballers!
The 6,900-seat 1st tee grandstand has been the subject of much comment, but while on the opening morning, standing right at the top was a magnificent view, somehow the commotion from the crowd was not as loud as expected. You see, sound travels upwards and there is no reverberation from a roof or a side wall to increase the noise level. Still, there are few places in golf where you can see more of the course. I’m guessing some people watch the opening ceremony from this spot – there’s a perfect view of the stage even though it must be half a mile away.
The crowds this week, heavy with locals from all over France, will be treated to Le Marseilles, David Ginola and even the Moulin Rouge dancers, but the biggest cheers from the golfer lovers of France is about whatever Tiger Woods does. Most of the audience at the opening ceremony stood for Tiger’s introduction; never seen that before. His first visit to France and his every move are the biggest stories in the local media and among the locals in general.
Shout out for the Iceland football fans whose Viking thunderclap war chant complete with raised arms and rhythmic clapping has come to the Ryder Cup 1st tee. Tommy Fleetwood seemed happiest in the role of clapmaster.
Managed two days of mid-week Parisian golf at St Cloud and Saint Germain. Both are former French Open venues and were in immaculate condition with super-fast greens. St Cloud was my favourite and, if you get a chance to play it, there are super views of the Eiffel Tower, a welcoming atmosphere and a most magnificent clubhouse. And they were the only ones to keep their green fees at normal prices (€90) for Ryder Cup week.
An estimated £15 million will be sold in the merchandising areas in the six days of Ryder Cup action with everything that golfers could ever want. But the price range for basically the same item is amazing – for instance, a normal golf cap is yours for either €22 or €55 depending on if you want the logo of a golf brand or a fashion brand along with the Ryder Cup badge.
Best TV insight was from Paul McGinley (as usual), European captain in 2014, who revealed how once upon a time the gala dinner for all the players, wives and officials took place on Jack Nicklaus’s back lawn (it was 1987 when the match was at Jack’s course in Ohio, Muirfield Village). OK, so Jack’s garden isn’t a normal size, but by comparison this year, the diners went to the Palace of Versailles.
Tony Finau is a little like the forgotten man of the Ryder Cup having only secured his place just over two weeks ago. However, he was the only man with two 2s on his card on the morning of day one and that was after beginning his round by spraying the ball in every direction. His early chip-in and then his stroke of luck on the 16th were among the shots of the day (until the afternoon sessions, that is). It was an 8 iron with a little fade, apparently. And he’s doing better than Ryan Palmer who was the last pick for the match in 2016 – he knew he was in the team only straight after the FedEx Cup final and, when Ryan arrived at Hazeltine, his poster photo was still being printed and he lost his opening match. No wonder Jim Furyk picked Tony a couple of weeks earlier.
We hear lots of memories from Ryder Cup of the past during the week including this one from Lawrie Thornton, who spent 21 years as a senior administrator with the PGA and PGA of Europe. He remembers that the matches were played under the sponsor’s logos until 1989. “We had started visiting other European PGAs at that time and the PGAs of Europe was established following those meetings. The MEP for our area in 1990 was John Tomlinson – now Lord Tomlinson – who was a great help with Brussels and Strasbourg introductions. He attended two of our early La Manga Congresses and three Ryder Cups as our guest. The most recognisable result of a meeting I had in Strasbourg in 1991 was to have the EU flag incorporated into the Ryder Cup logo. Brussels officials were very proud that golf was the first sport to have a team playing under the EU flag and we believed that this might provide some much-needed funding. A small amount did materialise for the 1995 New York trial run of what became the Junior Ryder Cup in 1997, but by and large it just provided another nice jolly for some EU Commissioners and politicians. We provided Ryder Cup hospitality at The Belfry and Valderrama for some of their most senior figures in 1993, 1997 and 2002 and a number of UK politicians also joined the bandwagon. Unfortunately, they didn’t come up with the cash.”