There is water everywhere on the opening hole at Le Golf National – but is it the right 1st tee strategy under the unique pressures of the Ryder Cup to open up with an iron in your hand? One of our writers is very brave, the other not so much…
Yes, says Dan Murphy
This is the Ryder Cup. These are the best players in the world – 17 of the top 18 to be precise, according to the world rankings. The right club is the right club regardless of the enormous grandstands behind the tee and the fans lining the fairway.
These boys aren’t fearing embarrassing themselves with a pipe into the Sky studios or by removing a chunk of prime Parisian turf. They are trying to set up an opening birdie to get their team ahead at the earliest available opportunity. This is the Ryder Cup fourballs.
If the 1st at Le Golf National was a better hole in architectural terms then it would give the players a real decision to make. It would tempt them to hit driver in search of an easier and shorter second shot. It isn’t and it doesn’t. There is a great big stop sign in the shape of the water hazard that is left and through the fairway.
The correct 1st tee strategy then, for the tour pro is to hit the tee shot around 260 yards, which largely takes the water out of play. For some of these boys, that equates to a long iron. Especially when the adrenaline is pumping – just ask Tony Finau, who almost hit his first shot, with an iron, 300 yards into the water through the fairway.
He was followed in this 1st tee strategy by fellow huge hitters Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. They all found the short grass and gave themselves the best chance of a fast start. Case closed.
No, says Mark Townsend
“It was probably one of the most nervous I’ve ever been on a tee box. I get nervous every time I’m on the 1st tee. But that one, I was sure glad that I was hitting a driver for sure.”
These are the words of your World No. 1 from his time at Celtic Manor in 2010 on his Ryder Cup debut. We’ve heard all the stories of how players can’t get the ball on the tee, can’t see straight or have some sort of out-of-body experience to give you some idea of what they’re up against.
There is a tale of Justin Rose, having watched Webb Simpson pop his 3-wood up in the air at Gleneagles, then get the driver out rather than his own fairway wood.
The run-out at Le Golf National is something like 295 yards so, ordinarily, these boys would all hit a long iron – maybe not even that long.
But this is the furthest thing from ordinary in golf. This is a two-year build up of questions, anticipation and often an overly anxious wait to find out if you are even on the team.
In short, you’re bricking it. And the last thing you want to be looking down on is the trim top line of your driving iron. For most of us, the longer the iron the harder the shot and, whisper it gently, the greater likelihood of finding the hosel. And if there’s one place on earth that you don’t want to pipe one it’s the 1st tee at the Ryder Cup.
Ideally you want the chief in your hands, the biggest head in the bag, and just move it forward. Get clubhead on ball. Touch knuckles with your partner. Look like you know what you’re doing.
Here, with the water, we don’t have that luxury. So your next best option is a fairway wood. Eight players took this route when, on paper, it might not be the cleverest club to hit. But golf isn’t played on paper.