PARIS – The first Oles! break out 57 minutes before dawn. From the top row of the grandstands behind No. 1 tee – it had taken 94 steps to get there -- Le Golf National is somewhere out there the darkness, the only light coming from the glow of huge scoreboards, the headlamps of scurrying carts, and the cell phones beginning to populate the stands.
The gates had opened at 6:30 a.m., but there were already people lined around the tee box at by 6 o’clock. “We don’t know how they got in,” one marshal says.
These huge stands have become famous this week. Rory McIlroy said he got goosebumps looking at them, and that’s when they were empty. European captain Thomas Bjorn had noted how the No. 1 tee section seems to grow larger every Ryder Cup, and predicted “if this is the route we’re going to go, we’re going to have 60,000 sitting down the first hole at some stage in the future.”
Here was Friday morning, at the spot so many have talked about . . .
6:53 a.m. – A bunch of guys from London dressed like Batman – only with blue outfits and yellow caps – are coming up the aisle to get their seats, so they can sing and root for the home team. “We’re Banana Man,” says one.
7 a.m. -- Nothing says Ryder Cup like Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust blaring out of the loudspeakers, with the sky starting to brighten in the East. There’s an emcee for the No. 1 tee; a man who starts leading chants with his microphone. Euuuu-rope! Euuuu-rope! Curious. This might be France, but nearly everything he says is in English.
7:20 a.m. – Near the bottom of the stands is a plucky platoon of 13 guys from Minnesota, here in USA jerseys and horned Viking helmets with American flags, completely surrounded by the opposing masses. “It’s like the final scene of Butch Cassidy,” Mike Jennings says. You might remember that’s when Butch and the Sundance Kid were cornered by a gazillion Bolivian soldiers. No escape.
No Bolivians soldiers in sight here, but there are a whole bunch of European Ryder Cup fans.
USA! USA! the Yank men start to chant.
And the response from their neighbors . . . Booooooooooo!
“You know what, they’ll love us by the end of the week,” Pat Brennan says.
7:40 a.m. —Yes, that’s Michael Buffer’s recorded voice on the loudspeaker, with the five words that made him famous. Let’s get ready to rumbleeeeee!
7:45 a.m. – It’s sunrise, and they’re doing the wave at No. 1 tee.
7:50 a.m. – Ole! Ole! Ole! Again and again and again. It’s like The Victors at a Michigan football game.
8 a.m. – Here come the first groups for fourball. The Americans draw muted applause, the Europeans get roars. The first man to hit a shot in the 2018 Ryder Cup is Tony Finau, who promptly nearly drives it left into the water. Yep, rookie. The crowd around No. 1 goes Ohhhhhhhhhh as Finau’s ball heads wayward.
There is general quiet when they all prepare to hit, of course. Well, except for Jon Rahm, who addresses his ball, then raises his left arm, calling for more noise. “I’ve seen some `Oh, crap’ faces in the Ryder Cup. I’m sure I’ve had a couple myself,” Jim Furyk had said of the first tee nerves.
Obviously, Rahm ain’t one of them.
8:20 a.m. – The scoreboard screen by the tee shows Justin Rose hitting his second shot close at No. 1. Biggest roar of the morning so far.
8:23 a.m. – The next group is ready to go. Ro-ry! Ro-ry! is the chant. McIlroy, temporary Ryder Cup cheerleader, holds his hands above his head and claps, and gets the crowd to join in unison. “It’s become one of the very special things about the Ryder Cup, that first tee experience on Friday morning,” he had said Thursday, and clearly, he means to relish it.
Meanwhile, the scree shows Finau missing his par putt. “Bogey, wogey,” a man wearing a European flag as a jacket chortles. Translation: The Americans won’t get much sympathy from the audience this weekend.
8:42 a.m. – Tyrrell Hatton gets ready to drive. Big smile before he hits, and then sends out a beauty. No rookie nerves here.
8:50 a.m. – On this chilly morning, with everyone else in warm sweaters, who’s that hearty soul walking onto the first tee in short sleeves? Patrick Reed, of course. Same for Francesco Molinari. They’re like offensive linemen who want to send a message on a cold football game.
When the last American pairing is announced, there is a hybrid reaction. Cheers for Tiger Woods, whose star power exceeds even Ryder Cup bias. Boos for Reed, and the first and only whistles of the morning. Until further notice, Reed is Le Golf National’s Public Enemy No. 1.
He doesn’t seem to mind. Drives it right down the middle. Molinari is the last to hit, and then the vast herd at No. 1 tee begins to move elsewhere. Behind the stands there is something of a food court, and the line gets quickly long at the breakfast bar. You might be shocked – shocked – to know the guys in yellow batman capes head for the beer cart.
“Legends are made in this event,” Bjorn said this week, and that is what both teams begin to chase in the early morning light. The Ryder Cup is underway.