PARIS — Oh, my. You should see what is waiting for the Americans at this Ryder Cup. Twenty-five years, they’ve been waiting to finally win in Europe again, but those champions of 1993 never, ever faced anything like this:
A massive stand of 6,000-plus seats at No. 1 tee of Le Golf National, that seems to be borrowing energy from an SEC football stadium. “I looked up,” Patrick Reed said Tuesday, “and I felt like I kept looking up, and up, and up.”
The noise will be thunderous, pouring down upon the golfers as they nervously ponder their first drives, and it won’t be pro-Yank. Tiger Woods has heard it before, but “I think the decibels will be up a little higher.” Bryson DeChambeau’s rookie expectations: “A lot of yelling,” It will be a clear and boisterous exhibit of why it’s so hard beating Team Europe on its own continent. Why it has been so long.
Twenty-five years. A generation, since the Americans last won a Ryder Cup on foreign grass. There have been five defeats since, by a combined 19 points. The American mission this week is as clear as it is daunting, for the young and the old.
For someone such as Reed, his Captain America Ryder Cup career just blossoming. "The young guys don't want to go through what the old guys did every 25 years."
And for someone such as Phil Mickelson, hoping for some late Ryder Cup magic at the age of 48. “It would be would be one of the moments I would cherish the most." He has seen the inside of all five defeats. The last Ryder Cup he missed as a player? That would be 1993, his second year on the PGA Tour.
“We’re reminded of it quite often. I started to be reminded about the time I took this opportunity as captain,” Jim Furyk said this week about golf’s most conspicuous losing streak. “It’s not anything I need to mention in the team room. There’s not like a big 25 sitting in there anywhere. They are well aware of it, and they are well aware of how difficult it is to win in Europe; it’s the battle we fight this week.” How long is 25 years? When the clinching putt dropped for the United States at the 1993 Ryder Cup, this is what the world looked like.
— PGA of America (@PGA) September 25, 2018
Gas had just crept over $1.15 a gallon. The tuition at Harvard had just slipped past $25,000. Bill Clinton had just started his first term as president. Someone had parked a truck bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center, trying to bring down both towers. It didn’t work, but six were killed. New York City was shocked.
In the NBA, Michael Jordan was ready to retire — for the first time. Shaquille O’Neal was rookie of the year. In the NFL, the Buffalo Bills were trying to get to the Super Bowl for a fourth consecutive season. In baseball, the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins were new franchises. There was still a team called the Montreal Expos, but none called the Arizona Diamondbacks or Tampa Bay Rays. The juggernaut of the sport was the Toronto Blue Jays.
The December before, an engineer in the United Kingdom had sent a greeting — Merry Christmas — from his computer to a friend in a distant town. They would called it text messaging. No Facebook yet, though. Mark Zuckerberg was nine years old.
In golf, Nick Faldo was the world’s No. 1 ranked player. Greg Norman was No 2. Paul Azinger was the highest American at No. 5.
Tiger Woods was starting his senior year in high school.
Reed was three years old. Jordan Spieth was two months.
— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) May 16, 2016
A former landfill on the southwest edge of Paris had just been transformed three years earlier. They called it Le Golf National.And at The Belfry in the middle of England, the U.S. beat Europe 15-13 to win the Ryder Cup. Two of the week’s stars, contributing three points each, had been Payne Stewart and Raymond Floyd, who was 51. Stewart would die in an airplane accident six years later. Floyd is still the oldest man ever to play in the Ryder Cup.
Tom Kite and Corey Pavin were players on that team. Tom Watson was captain. All three would return later to captain American teams that went to Europe in pursuit of the Ryder Cup. All three would lose.
What a streak it has been...
In 1997, when Europe built a nearly untouchable 10.5-5.5 lead going into singles play, and held on 14.5-13.5, driven by the insatiable fire of captain Seve Ballesteros. “We may have held the clubs,” Ignacio Garrido said that day, “but Seve hit the shots.”
In 2002, when European captain Sam Torrance made a risky Sunday decision. With the match tied 8-8, he had his biggest names go out first in singles, hoping to get the early lead and send The Belfry crowd into a frenzy that would corner the Americans. Jackpot. It ended 15.5-12.5. “I think he had a hell of a gamble. It turns out to be smart,” U.S. captain Curtis Strange said later. “But I’ve never seen that; I’ve never seen somebody front-load like that and play on home-field advantage.”
In 2006, when Europe absolutely crushed the U.S. 18.5-9.5 in Ireland, and losing captain Tom Lehman could only pick up a water bottle in his post-match press conference and ask, “What is there I can mix with this water right now, because I probably need something?”
In 2010, when the issue in Wales came down to the last pairing, Graeme McDowell beating Hunter Mahan 3 & 1, giving Europe the 14.5-13.5 victory. There was anguish in every Mahan word. “The Ryder Cup brings stuff out of you that you don’t know you had, from an emotional sense, from a golf sense. That’s what’s personal about it,” he said. “It’s not fun to lose in this event, it’s not fun to watch them parade around and get a victory in their home place.”
In 2014, when Europe had it pretty much in the bag after two days and rolled 16.5-11.5. “We came over with expectations higher than the results,” captain Tom Watson said. “I know this disappointment will last a long time for them, as it will for me.”
And now here we are, on a stadium-style course constructed so the crowd and its passion will be fully felt. "It’s the perfect golf course to surround every hole with a lot of people,” Europe’s Ian Poulter said Tuesday. The Americans will understand what visiting teams at Alabama or Clemson go through.
“It’s like basically a football game breaks out in the middle of a golf tournament,” Furyk has said of the Ryder Cup. And while he added he deeply appreciates any U.S. fans who make the trip, “You’re not going to combat 48,000 Europeans excited about their team; 3,000 Americans aren’t going to make that much noise.”
It’s not just the gallery roars behind the streak. Woods mentioned some match play wisdom from Jack Nicklaus. “He says it’s plain and simple. Who wins the 18th hole?” Europe has been pretty good at that. Furyk brought up the quality of the opponents, and how Europe always makes sure its players get extensive pre-Ryder Cup experience on the chosen courses. Le Golf National is a regular European stop, for example. By the time the Americans get adjusted to Ryder Cup sites over here, they’re often already behind.
But the most obvious factor this weekend will be the rumble from the stands. A Ryder Cup fact of the life for the visitors. All they can do is savor the charged atmosphere, and opportunity.
“It’s going to be fun,” Woods said.
“I love their organization, I love their songs, I love their chants,” Furyk said. “I’m looking forward to hearing that noise, and I know this group of guys is up for that challenge and excited to meet that challenge.”
Wait till they walk on No. 1 tee, turn around and see rows of chanting, singing masses blocking the sky and shaking the ground. Welcome to France. Come to think of it, maybe they should think about putting up 25 in the team room.