Tour professionals describe how they prepared for one of golf’s great events
BY: RYAN ADAMS, PGA
Every two years, the Ryder Cup brings together 24 of the world’s best players for a special week that will be etched in the event’s storied history. The pressure throughout the week mounts, the intensity climbs and each shot becomes more important than the previous.
And there’s no doubt that each of the 12 players representing the United States and Europe know how crucial playing well will be throughout a Ryder Cup. Winning a point, or even halving a match compared to losing can sway the momentum in their team’s favor.
That’s why players take preparation for the Ryder Cup so seriously, and treat it differently than a normal PGA Tour event. They not only have to be at optimal levels when it comes to mental and physical performance, but have to sustain that performance from the nerve-racking first tee on Friday morning all the way through the intensity of Sunday singles.
“Every day is basically like going into the final round of a tournament,” said Rickie Fowler, who was one of Davis Love III’s Captain’s Picks. “You know what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to beat the other two guys, or in singles, the other guy you’re playing against. At the end of the day, it’s very simple – take care of business.”
Fowler, who going into the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, played in the 2010 and 2014 matches, knows very well that “staying fresh” mentally is key to success.
“Being on that first tee, it’s definitely the most nervous pretty much everyone gets all year, easily,” added Fowler. “It can be mentally draining. It’s like being in contention every round you play. So five straight of those, and it’s going to tear you down, which I’m sure some guys are going to be going all five matches.
“I don’t think there’s any trick to it. You’ve just got to go beat those other guys.”
Europe’s Rory McIlroy agreed with Fowler in being mentally sharp for all three days of matches.
“You just have to clear your mind and focus on what you’re here to do,” stated McIlroy, who has played in the last three Ryder Cups and become a cornerstone of the European team. “Once you get over that hurdle, that hump of the first tee and everything that goes on with that, you’re just trying to do what you do every day of your life – play good golf.” Aside from mental fatigue, players must also get used to the unique format of the Ryder Cup. Foursomes/alternate shot and four-ball/best ball formats can be difficult to prepare for.
Fowler believes that playing more with guys on the team, establishing some continuity and knowing strengths and weaknesses can make all the difference when the first tee firestorm comes calling on Friday morning.
“We do play a lot of practice rounds with buddies throughout the year, and a lot of these guys on the team, I’ve played a lot of golf with,” said Fowler. “So you understand their games, but the biggest thing is just understanding that everyone’s going to hit a bad shot. You can’t be perfect. It’s just going out there and fighting as one.”
With six rookies on this year’s European team, both McIlroy and Spaniard Sergio Garcia, known for his Ryder Cup performances throughout the years, believe preparing their fellow young teammates for the intensity of the event was crucial as well.
“There’s nothing like walking onto that first tee for the first time and feeling that rush and just soaking in the atmosphere,” said McIlroy. “I think that’s what I’ve tried to sort of reiterate to the rookies that are on our team. It’s just trying to make them ready and trying make sure they are comfortable with where they are.”
His strategy paid off, as McIlroy was paired with rookie Thomas Pieters all week. Pieters went 4-1-0 in his first Ryder Cup appearance.
“At the end of the day, one of the most important things is to get along really, really well with your partner; to be behind him at every single point of the game,” added Garcia. “If you manage to do that, then usually you’re helping him relax and play better.”
All in all, preparing for a Ryder Cup is on a whole different level than any major championship or weekly tour event. The players have to prepare mentally and physically, but also make sure the rest of the team is ready to roll too.
The Ryder Cup doesn’t care how many majors you have or how much money you’ve won. All that matters is winning in that moment – whether with a teammate or individually. The U.S. Team was certainly prepared coming into the 41st matches. The Ryder Cup Committee (formerly known as a “Task Force”) engaged the players, Captain Love, the Vice Captains and the PGA of America in the long run up to the event. The efforts paid off, as the Cup returned to American soil for the first time since 2008. En route, the golfing world was treated to one of the most exciting Ryder Cups in history.