The most terrifying shot in golf
Forget Majors, forget Tour Championships, there can be nothing quite like a first-ever tee shot in The Ryder Cup, undoubtedly one of the most pressure-packed arenas in all of sport.
The swelling crowds, the towering grandstands, the cacophony of noise, the chants, the nerves, the adrenalin pumping, the hands shaking.
At Hazeltine National, six rookies will have their maiden encounters with the unique cauldron that is The Ryder Cup first tee and, unquestionably, each will also soon be able to relate to the nerve-wracking experiences of all who came before them.
For most of us, it is a feeling we will never have the chance to experience first-hand. So what is it really like?
Those who have been there and done that reveal all…
“I was alongside Monty 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 doing off the first tee at Valderrama and I hit it pretty well, just pulled it a little bit. It’s a very nervy occasion.”
“You basically have no idea what you’re doing on the first tee. You can’t do it quickly enough. You just want to get the thing moving and get it out there somewhere. On my debut at Valderrama the fairway looked like a piece of grass two yards wide. Anyone who says they weren’t nervous on that first tee is lying. I hit three wood into the trees. It’s dreadful and amazing at the same time – unforgettable.”
“I couldn’t even see the golf ball. I was just so nervous, I couldn’t even see it. Eventually you’re standing over it and you’re like, ‘Well I’ve just got to go, I’ve got to hit it.’ Thankfully I hit a good shot.”
“It was very bizarre experience. I was actually feeling very calm and very cool until I stepped over the ball. I couldn’t ignore the silence. The silence was deafening and it made my mind go blank. It was very strange – I didn’t put a very nice swing on it after that!”
“I have never felt as nervous over a golf shot as that first tee shot in The Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.”
“I was way more nervous on the opening day of The Ryder Cup than the first round of any Major. Every Ryder Cup match is like being in the last group on Sunday in a Major.”
“Before heading to the first tee at The K Club I looked up at the big screen and saw a replay of Tiger carving one into the water and thought, ‘If he can do that then we’re okay’. It was a great way to calm down and everything felt fine until I teed it up. Then I stood over the ball and thought, ‘Oh no’. It was different to any other pressure I’ve ever felt. My caddie Gareth Lord later told me that when I addressed the ball I turned ghostly white. Thankfully I hit a decent shot and off we went.”
“I was so nervous in 1997 I couldn’t get my ball to stay on the tee. It’s quite funny watching it now. I look quite calm and collected and I almost look as though I know what I’m doing. But my hands were shaking and my eyes glazed over a little bit and it was obviously a completely different experience to what I’d been used to.”
“My first shot was at The Belfry in 1993. I was physically ill on the walk down from the putting green to the first tee. When we got there I actually couldn’t speak. But the thing that gave me heart was watching Corey Pavin trying to get his ball on the tee. I could see his knees knocking through his trousers. That made me feel a little better. I don’t know how I managed it but I absolutely nailed my driver straight down the middle.”
“When they announced the USA had the honour, I was trying to figure out how to control my emotions. I can’t even describe how nervous I was. I put the tee in the ground and I went to put the ball on the tee and I realised my hand was shaking so much, I decided to just drop the ball and hope it would stay on the tee. Thank goodness, it did. It stayed right there and I was able to compose myself and hit a good drive down the middle.”
“You could drop a shot between the locker room and the first tee.”
“My hands were shaking. I expected to be nervous, but not that nervous. You don’t know what the pressure of a Ryder Cup is like unless you’ve been in one.”
“I was a nervous wreck. I live only 30 minutes away from The Belfry so I know the course inside out. But when I stood on the first tee and tee and looked up, I remember seeing a tree I’d never seen before. I thought, ‘Who planted that overnight?’ But, of course, no one had and now I look at it and it’s miles away. But it wasn’t then. By the end of the week I was mentally shattered!”
“I remember watching Paul Azinger hit the first ball at The Belfry on my debut year in 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 because if you let it all overcome you then you’ll have no chance of playing good golf let alone world-class golf.”
“In the end, the bottom line is, it’s just us 12 against those 12 over there. And you should look at the guy you’re playing and say to yourself on that first tee, ‘I just don’t want him to celebrate at my expense.’”
José María Olazábal
“Anybody who doesn’t feel his legs trembling must be a dead man.”