The Ryder Cup is such an intense competition that a golfer can have trouble just holding onto the ball, trying to tee it up, because his hand is shaking so much. What every participant really wants to hold onto is the experience. They never want it to end, which is what makes this edition so meaningful for the U.S.
The match against Europe this week outside Paris will almost surely be the last time the American side will have both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and possibly the final time it has either one of them. They dearly would like to win just once on foreign soil.
An American team has not won the Ryder Cup abroad since 1993, two years before Mickelson debuted and four years before Woods’ first appearance. They are elder statesmen now on captain Jim Furyk’s powerful team in an event that has evolved into the most passionate and exciting spectacle in golf.
“My excitement to be on The Ryder Cup itself is at an all-time high because I know how much I cherish these events,” Mickelson said when Furyk named him as one of the four captain’s picks for the 12-member U.S. squad. “I know how the relationships that get formed during these weeks, how much they mean, and I know how — as I look back on my career — how meaningful these team events are.”
Woods had been scheduled to be a vice-captain, a role he cherished for the winning side two years ago in Minnesota. But his recovery from back fusion surgery was so successful that he played his way into being another of Furyk’s picks. It will be his first Ryder Cup as a player since 2012, arguably the low point for the U.S. team because it squandered a four-point lead on the final day outside Chicago.
“I missed playing in it, missed competing in it. I missed that rush of going out there and trying to get a point for my team,” Woods said this week at the Tour Championship. “I was a part of it in a different way in ‘16, which was very different, because I had been a part of these teams since ‘97 as a player only. And to have looked at it from a different angle and a different side, or actually had been forced to — put it this way: I really want to play in it.”
Playing in the Ryder Cup has become an indescribable honor and challenge to players on both sides. Tommy Fleetwood of England, a Ryder Cup rookie, recently said, “It’s the biggest sporting occasion in the world.” Bryson DeChambeau, a rookie for the U.S. this time after having won two FedEx Cup tournaments, was so entranced by the matches that two years ago he went to Hazeltine on his own dime just to watch.
“I wanted to get a good feel of what the atmosphere was like,” he said. “You know, at the time my game wasn’t that great, but I knew one day, if I could work hard, I could potentially be on a Ryder Cup team.”
Despite having won it last time and needing only a tie this week to keep the Cup, the U.S. believes it has scores to settle. Its last match in Europe, at Scotland’s Gleneagles in 2014, ended in furious disarray. Mickelson, having been benched for the Saturday sessions, blasted captain Tom Watson at the losers’ news conference. After that, the PGA of America revamped its Ryder Cup apparatus, putting much of the authority in players’ hands.
American players have become more accomplished in their own right in the past few years. The current squad has the appearance of a juggernaut, what with two-time 2018 major champion Brooks Koepka, his Muscle Beach workout buddy Dustin Johnson, Masters champion Patrick Reed and his usual team-competition partner Jordan Spieth and 2017 FedEx Cup winner Justin Thomas.
But the Europeans do have world No. 1 Justin Rose, reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari, Ryder Cup specialist Ian Poulter and a history of doing well as an underdog and doing especially well at home.
“I predict maybe a tie again,” said Nick Faldo, who rolled up a record 11 Ryder Cups as a European player and will work the event this year for Golf Channel. “Maybe just a point either way. I think it’s going to be an incredibly tight and fantastic Ryder Cup.”
Both sides will be desperate to get their hands on the trophy and no doubt will be getting on each other’s nerves in the process. “The Ryder Cup comes once every 104 weeks and you basically play golf with these guys 103 other weeks of those two years, so it’s not worth falling out over that one tournament,” Rose, the Englishman, said this week. But he added: “It’s passionate. Of course it is. And I think it needs to be edgy. That’s what gets everyone’s attention.”
It sure gets, and keeps, the players’ attention. Woods said, “This year, to have honor of being able to play again is beyond special.”
42nd RYDER CUP
Where: Le Golf National (par 71--7,183 yards), located southwest of central Paris.
TV: Friday, 2 a.m.-1 p.m., Golf Channel; Saturday, 2-3 a.m. Golf Channel, 3 a.m.-1 p.m. Ch. 4; Sunday, 6 a.m.-1 p.m., Ch. 4.
Format: Four matches of fourballs (better ball) and foursomes (alternate shot) on Friday and Saturday, 12 singles matches on Sunday.
Scoring: One point awarded for each match won. The U.S. needs 14 points to retain the cup. Europe needs 14 ½ to win.
All-time series: U.S. leads, 26-13-2.
Last match: U.S. won,17-11, in 2016 at Hazeltine.
Captains: Jim Furyk (U.S.), Thomas Bjorn (Europe).
Rosters: Europe -- c-Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, c-Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen, c-Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, c-Henrik Stenson. U.S. -- c-Bryson DeChambeau, c-Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, c-Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, c-Tiger Woods. (c-captain’s pick)
Key stat: The U.S. has not won the Cup away from home since 1993.