SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – It’s a feast of first-timers for the opening session of the Ryder Cup.
Of the eight rookies in this competition, six will make their debut in Friday four-balls. Le Golf National features what’s sure to be the most raucous first-tee experience in golf with a grandstand that seats nearly 7,000. There will be nowhere to hide and the newbies seem to collectively say – bring it.
“They are just really desperate to get out on that golf course,” said European captain Thomas Bjorn, who has a rookie in every match. “I wanted to get them out there.”
The easy-going Tony Finau (partnered with Brooks Koepka) and fiery Jon Rahm (with Justin Rose) are first off at 8:10 a.m. local time. Rahm said early it will feel like there’s electricity coursing through his veins.
“He wants to be – he wants to have a responsibility,” said Bjorn of the young Spaniard. “He wants to feel like he’s in the sense of what is, and you know, it’s not every rookie in the world, you take and put them on the first tee in the first match of the Ryder Cup, but this one is pretty special, and not talking about him as this week, but just in general. He’s just a pure quality and competitive, and just want to be out there.”
Furyk said Koepka and Finau, two of America’s most explosive players, made a beeline to him on the course Thursday to express their excitement over the opportunity to go out first.
Perhaps the most intriguing rookie partnership is that of Thorbjorn Olesen and Rory McIlroy. Bjorn is actually quite close with Olesen, with both living in London, and said the Dane has fallen into the middle of the team quite naturally, even though he’s the only one from Europe without a significant other. It’s an ease and self-confidence that carries onto the course.
“The thing about Thorbjorn is, that a lot of people, you would think, ‘Oh, is that a big thing for him?’ ” said Bjorn. “He’ll go out in that match and he’s really, really – he’ll take it on and really enjoy it.”
Bjorn’s decision to get his rookies out early might have had something to do with his personal experience. As a rookie in 1997, Bjorn didn’t play until Saturday, calling it “really, really difficult.”
“As you reflect on it afterwards,” said Bjorn, “you work so hard for so long to get in the team, and you want to be out on that golf course, and that’s how you are as a player. When you look at this group of guys that’s come into this team, you know, they are really hard competitors, and I believe in them so much. And I wanted to give them that responsibility of standing up and go out there and enjoy it.”
Rookie Tommy Fleetwood finds himself in one of the morning’s most intriguing matchups, paired with British Open champion Francesco Molinari against Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed.
“Those are some of the two best ball-strikers we have on Tour,” said Woods, “and this is certainly a ball-striker’s golf course. It’s tight, a lot of rough, I think the forecast is for some wind tomorrow, so it’s going to be a difficult task to get the ball in play and important to get the ball in play.”
Fleetwood called it a massive match, noting that Woods’ return will garner plenty of attention. The crowds following Woods’ practice session on Thursday dwarfed any that were following European groups.
“It doesn’t get any better,” said Fleetwood.
Furyk said the only thing that would make him nervous Friday morning is if his players showed up with a different frame of mind.
“I have seen some ‘Oh, (expletive)’ faces in the Ryder Cup, I’ll say that,” said Furyk, laughing. “I’m sure I’ve had a couple myself. Yeah, that would make me nervous. I don’t expect that to happen.”
–Beth Ann Nichols, Golfweek. Distributed in partnership with Field Level Media.