Fear FactorAt most golf tournaments, players worry about keeping
their heads down. At the Ryder Cup, it's their breakfast
When England's Peter Oosterhuis played in the Ryder
Cup, from 1971 to '81, "We
weren't going, 'Oh, we're going
to beat the Americans,'" Oosty
says. It was a mismatch.
Even when Peter Jacobsen
made his first Ryder Cup team, under U.S. captain
Lee Trevino in 1985, the event was not what
it is today. "We had a ball with Lee," Jacobsen says.
No one outside the golf world gave the event
much thought because the Yanks always won.
Then the competitive balance shifted, and with it
Europe won at The Belfry in
England in '85, breaking a three-decade string of
U.S. dominance. Then, in '87, Europe won for the
first time on U.S. soil, at Muirfield Village in Ohio.
"They had six major winners on that European
team," Oosterhuis says. "So they weren't scared."
The most polarizing of those players, Seve
Ballesteros, was in his prime, and he met his match,
Paul Azinger, in a memorably tense singles match,
won by the American, in 1989. Ballesteros and
Azinger made no secret of their ill will for one
another, and it spilled over when Ballesteros and
Jose Maria Olazabal accused Azinger and partner
Chip Beck of cheating at Kiawah Island in 1991.
In just six years everything had changed from
the likely outcome, to civility among players and
fans, to the ever-mounting pressure. By the time
Jacobsen made his second team, in 1995, the Ryder
Cup wasn't friendly, it was frightening.
"I was more
nervous for the second one," Jacobsen says.
Call it golf 's ultimate stress test, where players
are simply trying to remember how to breathe.
It's that scary. But don't take it from us, take it
from the players who have been there ...
2 of 7Getty Images
"In my first one, which would
have been at the Belfry in '89,
it wasn't one particular shot where I
was nervous, it was three days of it.
I didn't quite figure it out. Each time I
heard a roar I thought it was somebody
making a birdie, but it was really just
them putting up the scores, like 'Padraig
Harrington, 1 up.'
The biggest shot I ever
had was at the 17th at Kiawah in 1991, the
par-3 where everyone was struggling.
It was alternate-shot, and Ray Floyd
took me aside and was screaming at me
because I'd just laid the sod over a lay-up
the hole before.
He said, 'Look, I just
want you to take the deepest breath
you can and smash it.' I hit a beautiful
shot to about 12 feet. I don't think
he had to make the putt
because they made a bogey."
3 of 7Jacqueline Duvoisin/SI
"My worst moment was the missed two-footer
at 17 against Colin Montgomerie at
Kiawah in '91. [Calcavecchia blew a 4-up lead with
four holes to play to win only a half point.] I was
shaking. I'd just hit it in the water after he did. It was
to win the match. Anywhere
else it would have been a
gimmie, but I just completely
panicked. That was the most
pressure I've felt. Pressure
can only get so bad. The Ryder
Cup is as bad as it gets.
you're confident and playing
well you can get through it.
The perspective is what usually
comes after you blow it. You
try to tell yourself, 'Hey, it's
just a game, I tried it, I blew it.'
Then you go home
and see your kids."
4 of 7Robert Beck/SI
"Both my Ryder Cups were
scary, but to be honest the
first time was probably the scariest, at
Oakland Hills in 2004.
I didn't play
Friday, but on Saturday I played with
David Howell, best ball. The one thing
that Langer, Captain Langer, said to us
was, 'Routine, guys. You've done it
hundreds, thousands of times before.
Stick to your routine.'
I think Howell went
first and hit the fairway, which made it
even worse. I could top it, I could hit
it right, I could hit it anywhere the
things that go through your head are
just ... hopefully you don't want anything
to go through your head. You just want
to react and do it. You just have to
remember to breathe.
I didn't hit it very
good. [Laughs.] But it found the middle
of the fairway. I hit driver, scuffed it out
there. I'm the only person who knows
how much I missed the center of
the club, but it went straight!
And it got down there."
5 of 7AP
"My first Ryder Cup in 2002, we qualified and formed the teams in 2001, but
9/11 moved it back a year. So I had like 13 months to wait. Then I sat out the
first session, so I had 13 months plus a morning session to wait.
I was paired with Jim
Furyk and he said, 'What holes do you want to go [first] on?' I said, 'I don't really want
to go on the first one. I've waited this long, I think I can wait to hit the second shot.'
When he said he'd take the odd holes I was like, 'OK! That's fine with me.'
He hit a good
drive down there, first cut, which was the perfect place for me because it was teed up
nice. It was an 8-iron, a simple shot. I remember taking my club out of the bag,
putting my glove on,
standing behind the ball
and literally thinking,
'What's my pre-shot
routine again?' You're so
nervous you just don't want
to mess up.
I hit a good shot.
It went directly at the flag
but about 30 feet too far.
The other team made par,
and Jim ran the putt like
four feet by, and then I had
to make that! And I made it
and was immediately kind
of calm, like, 'OK, I've done
this before. It's not the first
time I've ever
6 of 7AP
"In 2006, Stewart Cink and I
were playing Paul Casey
and Robert Karlsson, best-ball on Friday
The Ryder Cup can be totally
overwhelming if you don't feel confident
about your game. I really felt very
comfortable in the moment, but at the
same time, I'm standing on the putting
green about five minutes before my tee
time, and I'm watching on the big screen
as Tiger and Furyk are teeing off, and
you can hear the roars like you're walking
into a heavyweight title fight.
enough, it's our turn to get up there and
I think it was Loren Roberts, Tom's
assistant captain, who came up and
said, "I have a message from the
captain: 'Go out and play the best
round of your life today.' And gosh,
I'm thinking, 'Play the best round of
my life? I'm just trying to get it
airborne off the first tee!'
was nervous, I was anxious, but at the
same time I was excited, and this is why
we play the game, why we work so hard,
and I got up there and just laced it down
the fairway and we were off to the races.
As disappointing as the Ryder Cup was,
for the most part when I got a chance to
play I played pretty darn good. But if you
want to talk about nervous, emotional
and pressure-packed, it doesn't get any
bigger than the Ryder Cup. With the
crowd and the roars and all that,
every shot feels like the 72nd
hole of a major."
7 of 7Allsport/Getty Images
"The most nervous I ever felt was my
first practice round in my first Ryder
Cup, in 1995.
I was on the first tee, and George
[H.W.] Bush was there with Byron Nelson and
40,000 other people, and I honestly thought
I was going to s--- in my pants. But I got the
ball airborne and drew it into the left rough.
was playing with Peter Jacobsen, and Lanny
Wadkins was our captain. When I got out to my
drive, it was in the fairway. Lanny had thrown it
out there. He said, 'Fax, I threw it out there
because I know you're not going to be in the
rough in the tournament.' That only added to the
Overall, I'd describe the feeling as a
tightening, both inside and out. But there's a
difference between fear and pressure. When
you're playing well, you might get
nervous. But it's nerves, it's not fear."
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