Dustin Johnson tees off on the 17th hole during a Ryder Cup practice round on Sept. 27, 2018, at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France.

USA TODAY Images

Liguori: There's Ryder Cup Frenzy Despite The French's Disinterest 

America, Europe Square Off Starting Friday

Ann Liguori
September 27, 2018 - 10:10 am
Categories: 

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France  -- Thursday is the final Ryder Cup practice day for both teams and the opening ceremony, where U.S. captain Jim Furyk and European captain Thomas Bjorn will announce their lineups for Friday’s first session.

For those who need a quick review of the Ryder Cup format, the first session on Friday and Saturday mornings is the fourball format, in which each player on the two-person team plays his own ball, and the lowest score on the team is used. All sessions are match play in which each team (or individual player in the singles format Sunday) wins a point for besting its opponent.

The afternoon session on both Friday and Saturday is the foursomes format, or alternate shot, in which the two-man teams play one ball and alternate who hits it.

Sunday features the 12 singles matches, in which one U.S. player faces a European player in match play. Overall, 14½ points are required to win the cup, and 14 points are required for the defending champion, the United States, to retain the cup.

MORE: Liguori: Tiger, Phil Practice Together, But  Will They Actually Be Paired Together?

At the last Ryder Cup in 2016 at Hazeltine, the U.S. team beat the Europeans, 17-11, to win for the first time in eight years. When I look back on that special Ryder Cup where the Minnesotans were beyond hospitable, what sticks out most in my mind and, I imagine, in the minds of most Ryder Cup fans was the intense battle between Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy in Sunday’s singles. They were the first match out. They traded birdies over the first seven holes. And then when they arrived at the par-3 eighth hole, McIlroy’s tee shot landed about 60 feet from the hole, Reed’s shot about 20 feet away. McIlroy dropped his long bomb for the unlikely birdie and afterward cupped his hand by his ear, taunting the crowd by saying, ‘I can’t hear you!’ Reed then answered with a birdie of his own, rolling in his putt for the half-point, pumping his fists and motioning to McIlroy and the celebratory crowd. Reed eventually won the match 1-up.

The one-upmanship and the intensity of that match were beyond exciting and memorable. Even though they looked like they could take the gloves off and brawl at any moment, Reed and McIlroy ended up bumping fists and patting each other on the back as they walked off the green.

Overall, the U.S. has won 26 Ryder Cups compared to Europe’s 13 victories. But Europe has won six of the last eight, and no American team has won on this side of the Atlantic Ocean since 1993.

Over 40,000 people are expected to gather for the opening ceremony Thursday. The English band Kaiser Chiefs and French artist Jain will perform.

MORE: Liguori: Tiger Woods Achieves A Most Improbable Comeback

Some 50,000 people a day are expected to attend the three-day competition from Friday to Sunday. The grandstand behind the first tee, with views of the 18th green and many holes on Le Golf National, is the biggest grandstand in the history of the Ryder Cup. It seats 6,500 people, compared to just over 1,500 seats in the grandstand behind the first tee at Hazeltine in 2016.  

This is the first time France is hosting the Ryder Cup. But walking around Paris and talking to many locals, one gets the sense that Parisians aren’t too connected with the Ryder Cup or with golf in general. This week is Fashion Week in Paris, which more Parisians seem excited about. And sports-wise, the French are still celebrating having won the World Cup in July with their thrilling victory over Croatia.

In navigating my way on the seemingly complicated train system from Paris to shuttle points near Le Golf National, which is about 45 miles outside the city, a woman golfer approached me, seeing me in my Ryder Cup jacket, and asked if I could advise her on which train to take to get to the venue. And she lives in Paris!

Le Golf National is not easy to get to. There are drop-off points with shuttle services to and from these points and transportation hubs. Even the "information people" at the train station didn’t seem to be knowledgeable about anything having to do with the Ryder Cup. Signage around the city has been rather subtle, although there is a Ryder Cup fan zone at Hotel de Ville in the city proper.

Despite what seems like an event taking place near Versailles that the majority of the French seem unfazed or clueless about, when I discussed this irony with New York Times reporter Christopher Clarey, who lives in both Paris and the U.S., he told me he learned from the French Golf Federation that 44 percent of the Ryder Cup tickets have been sold to the French, 35 percent to British and Irish, and 14 percent to Americans. There are approximately 780,000 golfers in France.

And despite the disconnect between the French public and the Ryder Cup, once the competition begins Friday, the venue will take on its own world of excitement and frenzy among the spectators who are in town for the megaevent. And for the players exhausted from the long season, the weeklong Ryder Cup festivities, including Wednesday night's gala at the Palace of Versailles, will soon focus on one task -- beating the European team to retain the Ryder Cup.

On Wednesday, Bubba Watson came into the news conference sounding like he had a bad cold and wearing a bright, blue golf glove. When asked about the glove, he somewhat revealed that other members of the team have colds.

“Every time we have a team event, there’s people that you’ve got to say so many words or you’ve got to do something, we’ll say, dumb," Watson said. "So I said, I’ve got to wear my glove the whole interview(s). So, I’m doing it. ... Got to have something to do. Golf gets boring after a while. Like Justin (Thomas) said, it’s a long year, we’re all tired. You can tell (in) my voice I’m exhausted. A lot of us, we’re kind of getting sick -- gosh, I don’t want to say not quite half the field had something -- and then, you know, traveling all the way over here, we’re all battling something.”

Watson said that “it kind of started through the locker room last week (at the Tour Championship) – there’s only 30 guys. So just I happened to get it. I’ve got a week immune system.”

When pressed on the status of who on the team may be struggling with a cold, Watson didn’t offer any more info.

“I could care less about them. I’m trying to get me healthy,” he said with a laugh.

Come Friday morning, on a course built for massive, stadium-like spectator viewing, amidst what will certainly be a noisy, exciting atmosphere, however detached from the reality of the everyday French man or woman it may be, the Americans will be focusing on one goal – winning as many matches as possible against an excellent European team on a very difficult course.

Let the games begin.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.