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Opening tee shot at Ryder Cup has room for 7,000 to watch

September 27, 2018
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A view from the back of the grandstand overlooking the 1st tee on the third day of practice for the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, outside Paris, France, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. The grandstand seats nearly 7,000 people, the largest at any golf tournament. (AP Photo/John Leicester)

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France (AP) — Le Golf National is the first stadium course in continental Europe, built as much for players in an event like the Ryder Cup as it is for spectators on the ground and in front of the television.

It is a stadium right from the start.

Walk under the 72-foot grandstand surrounding the first tee, and then take 88 steps to reach the top row. It is a spectacle, even by Ryder Cup standards, that will produce the largest crowd to see the opening tee shot on Friday.

The official capacity is 6,928 seats, and that’s just the grandstand. Throw in the thousands more expected on the ground, several rows deep, wanting to take part in the noise even if they can’t see.

“Given the size and setup we have here this week, which looks absolutely phenomenal, it’s going to be something different, something special,” Henrik Stenson said. “So I expect everyone to feel a little bit of jelly in their legs walking down to their first tee.”

As if the first tee shot isn’t difficult already.

It’s a pressure unlike the opening tee shot at Augusta National or any other major. In the time spent warming up on the range, all players can hear are chants of “Eu-rope!” and “Ole, ole, ole, ole” and the odd “U-S-A!” chants sure to be drown out by the home crowd. And then comes the walk to the tee, and an arena unlike any other.

“I’ve only seen grandstands like that at NFL stadiums,” Tony Finau said. “So it’s pretty cool to be able to hit in front of that many people, and whether you give them cheers or boos, it’s going to be incredible. The atmosphere is electric here.”

It was big and loud at Medinah and Hazeltine, at Gleneagles and The K Club.

It just was never this big.

“We had a small tasting of that first tee yesterday,” Paul Casey said Thursday. “It was really noisy. And then when we walked off the tee and we looked back — about 100 yards — and realized it was about 5 percent full. The noise will be a good thing. As a team, we’re ready to embrace it. And we know that the vast majority of that noise is for us, which is a massive advantage.”

No one is immune to the nerves on the opening hole of any Ryder Cup.

Webb Simpson faced it at Medinah for the first time in 2012, and as he found himself losing concentration, he decided to tee it a little higher. He used a 3-wood and popped it up, the ball going only about 200 yards.

“The most embarrassing part of it was the camera crews, and probably a lot of you guys, went ahead to where we normally drive it,” Simpson said. “So the camera crew and everybody is coming back. I can still reach the green, which is nice. 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 is so much bigger. Maybe my shot affected him, I don’t know.”

This grandstand is a reflection of what the Ryder Cup has become over the years.

Bigger. Bolder.

The scope can’t be replicated in two years at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin because there isn’t room. Europe has been sending out bids for the Ryder Cup, and it had a gem in Le Golf National, the host of the French Open and built with stadium golf in mind.

The French Open ended on July 1. Workers began building the grandstands the next day. More than the first tee, it offers a clear view down below of the 18th green, the 15th green and the par-3 16th hole.

By then, the nerves typically have settled. The first tee is what has the players’ attention.

“You try and put your ball on that tee and it takes you a couple times to get it to settle on there,” Rory McIlroy said. “And I’m sure Friday morning, it will be no different. It’s a huge grandstand. Playing a practice round, 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.”

It got the attention of Tommy Fleetwood even before he hit a shot this week at the Ryder Cup.

“When we were driving our way past it to have the photo shoot, you look at it and think, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good,’” said Fleetwood, one of five Ryder Cup rookies for Europe. “It’s the biggest grandstand you’ll ever see at a golf tournament.”

The loudest sound at this Ryder Cup might not be for any shot.

When the last group is off Friday morning, it could be thousands of fans leaving the grandstand to follow the matches, unless they want to wait two hours for players to make their way to the finish.

The Ryder Cup has come a long way from when organizers were practically giving away tickets before continental Europe joined Britain and Ireland in 1979, and even from 20 years ago when thousands were on the golf course but not so many sitting together.

What’s next?

“Might be at least another 20 years before we’ve got floating stands in the sky or something,” Stenson said. “But it’s certainly gotten bigger and bigger. And the atmosphere on that first tee is phenomenal.”

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