No pressure! Ryder Cup rookies out to combat nerves

Tommy Fleetwood (Getty Images)
Tommy Fleetwood (Getty Images)

Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines - It's the "greatest thing" in a golfer's career, but the nerves will be multiplied ten-fold when this year's Ryder Cup newcomers step up to the opening tee at Le Golf National.

Eight of the 24 players competing in France are taking part in the event for the first time, and little can prepare them for the unique experience of the first tee.

A colossal grandstand seating 6 900 fans with hundreds more bunched around the tee box will lend itself to an electric atmosphere on a course where composure is paramount.

"The No. 1 thing I've pictured since the Ryder Cup kind of became a goal is that first tee shot," said Tommy Fleetwood, one of five rookies on the European team.

"This is what we practise for and what we play for week-in, week-out. The best piece of advice that definitely (Ian) Poulter's given me, and Rory (McIlroy) says the same thing: He says it's the most special you'll ever feel.

"Whatever nerves you felt up to now, times it by ten, and that's what you have; but this is what you want and this is what we play for, so embrace it, take it all in."

Fleetwood is joined in the European squad by fellow rookies Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren and Thorbjorn Olesen - all automatic qualifiers for Thomas Bjorn's team.

Spaniard Rahm has enjoyed a meteoric rise since turning professional in 2016, securing top-five finishes at both the Masters and US PGA Championship this year.

"I've had people that have experienced great things in golf tell me that a final tee time in a major, it's a 2 out of 10 compared to the first tee on a Ryder Cup," said Rahm, 23.

"The only time I've seen stands this big is in a football stadium."

Ryder Cup stalwart Ian Poulter has pledged to do his part to help his team-mates adapt to an unfamiliar environment, but even he struggled to describe the sensation of walking out to the opening tee.

"I've tried to explain to a number of people through the years what that tee shot means and what the feeling is in your body when you're walking down to that tee shot," said Poulter, a veteran of five previous Ryder Cups.

"As a player that's played in multiple majors now, it's different. Walking to the first tee at Augusta, walking to the first tee at St. Andrews, walking to the first tee in the Ryder Cup is that different."

Justin Rose admitted a European team comprised of six rookies put them at a disadvantage in the 17-11 loss at Hazeltine, but the world number two suggested the current crop would find life easier backed by the home support.

"I think it was a disadvantage in 2016 for us, but I think that's a big deal being a rookie playing away from home versus being a rookie playing at home," said Rose.

"I'm thinking that our rookies this year are much less rookies by nature, world-class players."

Justin Thomas, the 2017 US PGA champion who spent four weeks as world number one, is the most accomplished of all those on debut.

"It sounds, from the stories I've heard in the past, there's nothing I can do to get ready for the first tee shot," said the 25-year-old.

"I've heard multiple stories of guys go into the first tee... and stepping up there and saying, 'I can't pull the trigger, you need to take it.'

"So if I do end up being odds with whoever my partner is, I hope that I don't have that problem."

Bryson DeChambeau has been tipped to partner Tiger Woods on his debut and US captain Jim Furyk praised the versatility of Tony Finau, but Fleetwood believes the key is to simply enjoy the week.

"That's what you've got to remember. As daunting as it can be, it's not a chore to be playing in the Ryder Cup," he said.

"It's the greatest thing you'll ever do in your career. I'm very excited about whatever those feelings are."

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