Newport: Scary, nerve-wracking, intimidating. These are just some of the adjectives which spring to mind when players reflect on the gut-wrenching experience of hitting their first shots at a Ryder Cup.
Six Europeans and five Americans will be making their debuts in the biennial team competition at Celtic Manor this week and could be sprung into action as early as Friday for the opening fourball matches.
Before then, the golfers have three days of official practice to get accustomed to the par-71 Twenty Ten course and get advice on how to cope with Cup pressure from their more experienced team mates.
“The Ryder Cup has a lot more pressure than a major,” US captain Corey Pavin told Reuters during the buildup to the 38th edition. “It’s not even a comparison. I always found it 100 times more stressful than any major championship.
“At my first Ryder Cup I was basically shaking on the tee because I was so nervous but I had to control those emotions and perform, and that’s what is the most fun for me.”
Long-hitting Bubba Watson, one of the rookies on the US team, has already been told what to expect when he hits his first shot against Europe at Celtic Manor.
“I’ve heard it’s scary,” the left-hander told Reuters. “I’ve heard it’s nerve-wracking. Some of the veterans I have talked to have said that it’s 10-fold the pressure you have ever faced before.”
As for the best advice he has been given on how to handle first-tee jitters, a grinning Watson said: “Just try to think about something else -- if you can.”
Former US Masters champion Zach Johnson, who played in his only previous Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland in 2006, has already been sought out by some of his rookie team mates.
“Standing on the first tee in your first Ryder Cup is like nothing that you are accustomed to,” Johnson told Reuters.
“Basically you’re going into a hostile environment but those other guys (European players) are just as nervous as we are. There are some nerves, there is some anxiety but I think there is more excitement.”
Johnson has been wary of giving too much advice to the US rookies on what to expect on the first tee.
“There’s not a whole lot you want to say because you want them to experience it for themselves,” the 2007 Masters champion said. “There is nothing like the experience.
“The one thing I have said is: ‘You know what -- it’s just golf. You’re just going to play golf.’ There is nothing more than that, nothing less than that. You still got to get your yardages, execute your shots and hit quality shots.”
For American world number four Steve Stricker, the most intriguing aspect of first-tee jitters is observing how the rookies then go on to cope with their nerves for the rest of that week.
“It’s a situation where you really get to learn about yourself, learn how to handle the pressure,” said Stricker who made his Ryder Cup debut at Valhalla in 2008 where the US regained the trophy.
“You find an inner strength most times where you can deal with it and hit the shots that are called for, and you find yourself feeding off that pressure. Guys find that inner strength, dig down and play even a little bit better.”
Jim Furyk, a veteran of six Ryder Cups who won the PGA Tour’s final playoff event of the year in Atlanta on Sunday, says the mental toll at the biennial team competition cannot be underestimated.
“The emotion in a Ryder Cup is just multiplied,” the world number five added. “You’ve got the (US) red (on the leaderboard), the (European) blue and all the cheers. They’re flipping all over the place.
“You look up at the board and all of a sudden you see eight red numbers and four blue ones, and then all of a sudden it’s the other way around. You’re an emotional wreck all week.”
By close of play on Sunday, the 11 rookies at this year’s Ryder Cup will have run the full gamut of emotion, although some will at least be able to celebrate victory while the others wallow in defeat.