Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 2023 Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, Rome, Italy

As Michael Phelps walked up the 16th hole Tuesday at the Ryder Cup celebrity outing, fans yelled "2020" to the Olympian and "See you in Tokyo," referencing the site of the Summer Games in four years.

Quickly, Phelps responded by shaking his head no, much to the amusement of the surprisingly large crowds at Hazeltine National in Chaska.

"I got a couple chuckles out of 2020," Phelps admitted, "but it's never happening. I know I've said it before, but I'm done. This is it."

In his early days of retirement, the most decorated Olympian of all time stole the show and drew the biggest crowds as U.S. and European celebrities squared off in a just-for-fun, nine-hole, best-ball match Tuesday afternoon.

Phelps and surfer Kelly Slater won their match over former tennis player Martina Navratilova and former English sprinter John Regis.

But while that foursome played, few eyes ever left Phelps.

"We could just kind of relax because he had all the pressure," Slater said with a laugh. "But he deals with it really well. There are few people in the world that get to a position that he's in right now. The demands on him are pretty extensive."

Those demands for Phelps included a meeting Monday night with the U.S. Ryder Cup team, at which he stressed the importance of a team environment in a sport which rarely emphasizes that.

"(It was) just about really coming together," Phelps said of his speech. "Both swimming and golf are individualistic sports and when you do come together to represent your country, you have to come together as a team. And I think as Americans, we do that so well."

What about a prediction for the U.S. team this weekend?

"I think they'll win," Phelps said.

Now that he's retired with 23 Olympic gold medals and 28 total medals, Phelps, 31, said he hopes to play more and improve on his 15.6 handicap.

Still, more rounds in recent weeks didn't ease Phelps' nerves on the first tee. His mind raced back to a similar celebrity match before the 2012 Ryder Cup in Illinois. At the first tee there at Medinah Country Club, Phelps flubbed his drive less than 100 yards.

Tuesday, after he was introduced at the first tee, Phelps dropped his driver and did his famous swimming warm-up routine, waving his long arms all the way around his body.

Michael Phelps did his famous arm-swing warmup before blasting his first tee shot down the middle of the fairway. The crowd LOVED it.

He then gathered himself and hit a long, straight drive.

"I was just happy to get off of one," Phelps said. "I was like, if I get off of one, I'm going to be OK. And that was probably my best shot of the day."

How did the first tee jitters compare to standing on the starting block before a big race?

"Well, I'm practically naked when I do that," Phelps said of the swimming events. "So I was comfortable here. I'm used to being in a swim suit behind the block. If you put me in a swim suit here I might feel more at home, but it might feel really awkward too."

The crowd at Hazeltine, which filled bleachers and was four deep at some points along the fairway, reacted most to Phelps, yelling after every one of his shots.

When one approach shot landed near a water hazard, a fan hollered, "It's OK. You're great in the water."

At the end of most holes, fans chanted, 'U-S-A, U-S-A' at the Olympian.

"There was so much love for the Americans out there, it was wild," Phelps said. "Honestly, I don't think I heard too many, 'Go Europe' cheers. I guess that's what's going to come this week. It's going to be a loud place. And our guys are going to get so much love. Hopefully they can come out here and get the job done."


This article was written by Chad Graff from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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