Opening tee shot
The opening tee shot is sure to get the nerves (Getty Images)

The toughest shot in golf

Rydercup.com caught up with some Europeans who have experienced all of the first tee emotion associated with The Ryder Cup to get the inside track on how it feels to stand on that first tee while the world watches.....

It’s arguably the toughest shot any golfer will ever play. Majors and big tournaments will send most players shaking onto the first tee, but throw in the hopes and dreams of team mates, the Captain and his backroom team and, of course, an entire continent and The Ryder Cup suddenly throws up the most gut-wrenching first tee shot in the game. Rydercup.com caught up with some Europeans who have experienced all of the first tee emotion associated with The Ryder Cup to get the inside track on how it feels to stand on that first tee while the world watches.....

Thomas Bjorn:
“You basically have no idea what you are doing on the first tee. You just can’t do it quickly enough. You just want to get the thing moving and get it out there somewhere. I was lucky and unlucky in a lot of ways. Unlucky because we were at Valderrama and that first fairway is not the one where you want to hit your first tee shot in The Ryder Cup – it looked like I was aiming at a bit of grass two yards wide. But then I was playing with Woosie and when we were walking down to the first tee and the crowd were kicking off he said to me: ‘don’t worry about the first five holes – I’ll cover them, just you play your way into it.’ He was as good as his word – I think he birdied four of the first five! Anyone who says that they weren’t nervous on that first tee is lying. I hit three wood straight into the trees, what do you expect? It didn’t help that we were playing Brad Faxon and Justin Leonard who have never missed a fairway in their lives...but what an experience it is – it’s dreadful and amazing at the same time, unforgettable to say the least.”

Darren Clarke:
“I was playing alongside Monty at Valderrama. It was Friday morning and we were playing against two of my great friends Davis Love and Freddie Couples. I was nervous to say the very least: the hands, the legs, the knees were all going – all the stuff you would expect to be still was moving pretty fast. I teed it up lower than usual and just tried to make contact with the thing. I hit driver – something you wouldn’t usually dream of off the first tee at Valderrama and I hit it pretty well, just pulled it a little bit. There’s a little tree up there and a kind of ‘V’ shape that I could go through with my second shot. I am standing there seeing the shot and Monty comes over and says ‘what are you doing?’ So I said that I was going to hit it through the V. Monty just looked at me and said ‘it’s The Ryder Cup for God’s sake – draw it under the tree and get it up to the green!’So that was that and off I went. It’s a very nervy occasion but the one comfort you have in that situation is that you know your opponents are feeling exactly the same and you have to try and remember that.”

Paul McGinley:
“My first shot was playing with Harrington in the foursomes against Furyk and Cink in 2002. I had the drive. Ideally, the rookie shouldn’t go first but the way the course set up it was better that I went off first.  At the Belfry you walk off the practise green towards the first tee and as the crowd saw you coming they just erupted. Sam (Torrance, Europe’s captain) was waiting for me. I had decided before I got there I would hit a three-wood to stop short of a bunker 265 yards away. With the all adrenalin, I decided to go with five-wood and hit the ball 295 yards. I’d never done that before. I didn’t have that many nerves because Sam had me so prepared. Nerves can be a great thing sometimes. It was the same when I holed the wining putt. Yes, I was nervous but more than that I was so excited.”

Barry Lane:
“My first tee shot in The Ryder Cup was at the Belfry in 1993. I was playing in the Fourball with Bernhard Langer. We were playing against Corey Pavin and Lanny Wadkins. I was physically ill walking towards the first tee. I felt absolutely horrendous on the walk down from the putting green to the first tee. That walk as well – you turn the corner and the crowd are just going mad. We got to the tee and were introduced and I actually couldn’t speak – it was just horrendous. Anyway, the thing that gave me so much heart was watching Corey Paving trying to get his ball on the tee. His knees were shaking in his trousers, his arm was shaking and his hand was all over the place as he was trying to put his tee in the ground. I could see his knees knocking together in his trousers. That made me feel a little bit better. They teed off and hit two good shots then Bernhard stood up there and snap-hooked it into the garbage on the left. No pressure then. I don’t know how I managed it but I managed to absolutely nail it straight down the middle with the driver. It was great to see them being so nervous as well because I knew then that it wasn’t just me. They looked pretty calm but inside they were shaking like hell. What a great memory it is though – great times.”

Niclas Fasth:
“I remember as the time to tee off approached I was becoming more and more tense and excited. I loved the situation and I generally cope well in that situation, which I managed to do, but I remember feeling that this might be too much for me. You almost have to choose how much you take in. I had taken in some of it – I remember watching Azinger hit the first ball at the Belfry that year (2002) and he looked so happy just to have moved the ball. He hit a four iron about 30 yards offline and had a huge smile on his face! You have to be prepared and plan how to handle it. If you let it all overcome you at the same time then you have no chance of playing good golf never mind world class golf. My first match was with Harrington against Mickelson and Toms. They teed off first and then I hit an okay three wood which I think every player would settle for at Celtic Manor! It was an amazing experience though and for someone like me, who has a lot of training and interest in emotion control and psychology, it was really fascinating.   

David Howell: “My first tee shot in The Ryder Cup was on the Saturday Morning at Oakland Hills. Myself and
Paul Casey – two Rookies – were unbelievably nervous. When we were walking to the tee we realised we hadn’t worked out who was teeing off first. It was fourballs so it didn’t really matter but we decided that I would go first on the basis that I was the oldest. We had the honour as the visiting team and we were playing Furyk and Campbell. We were both pretty tense and my caddie did something brilliant to calm us all down – he told Paul’s caddie that he had left Paul’s putter on the putting green which was ten minutes away and we only had five minutes to tee off. Just as the mass panic broke out we realised he was joking and all started to have a good laugh. I still had to hit the shot mind you and I have to say it was the quickest swing I have ever made but somehow I managed to nail it down the middle and Paul followed me and we were off and running. It was pretty nervy and I wasn’t in great form so wasn’t feeling good about my swing which is why I hadn’t played on the Friday but it was just an amazing experience. Pretty damn nerve-wracking but brilliant. I’ll tell you what though, if you think the first tee was nervy you should have seen me when I got to the green. My hands were shaking so much I could hardly put a stroke on it, so the early putts were worse than trying to get the ball moving!”

Robert Karlsson:
“Myself and Paul Casey were the second match off. Monty and Harrington were first against Furyk and Woods. I remember Woods went in the water off the first but I didn’t actually see that. Myself and Gareth my caddie were pretty nervous and I was hitting a few putts when Gareth came over and told me to look at the big screen. I looked up and saw the replay of Tiger carving it into the water and thought ‘if he can do that then we are okay.’ It was a great way to calm down. We got to the tee late – we were trying to be last on there and then we saw that even Ivor Robson was unbelievably nervous, it was a bit crazy. Anyway, everything was fine, or felt fine, until I teed it up. Then I stood over the ball and though ‘oh no’. It was a very different nervousness than usual because there was so much going in it was difficult to identify what you were actually feeling. It was so different from any pressure I have ever felt – I think it was a mixture of excitement and nerves. You should ask Gareth for his version though – it’s a bit different to mine.”

Gareth Lord (Karlsson's caddie): “He looked pretty cool until he went to address the ball. I was thinking it was all good, he is going through the routine and looking fine until he went to address the ball and he just turned white. And I mean ghost white. He looked like he might not reach the ball, he was almost staggering around it but thank God he hit a decent shot and off we went. I was pretty proud of him actually because it was a hell of a situation to be in.”

Paul Lawrie: “I was extremely nervous to put it politely. I can think of a few other words that I could use but let’s say extremely nervous! Monty and I spoke about it in the last practice round that it would work out better for us if I teed off the odd holes and I didn’t quite click when he said it that I would be teeing off the first hole. Then he said to me ‘you do know that’s the first tee shot?’ and I said that’s fine without realising what I was about to do. We were playing Mickelson and Duval in the first match on the Friday morning. I can tell you there where a hell of a lot of things moving that shouldn’t be moving when you are standing on a first tee – the only thing that was still was the ball! It was not good. You can’t get away from the fact that everyone is there – the Captains, some of your team mates and the crowd. Then there are the however many million watching it on TV. I hit three wood which I just pushed into the semi-rough which was okay and then Mickelson hit a shocking shot with his three wood. It must have gone 60 yards off line so that settled me down a bit and I felt better after that.”

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