SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Ryder Cup fans always remember. Key putts. Momentum-swinging moments. Epic wins. Crushing losses. This week the U.S. will attempt to win in Europe for the first time in 25 years. They enter as the defending champs after a resounding victory two years ago at Hazeltine GC outside Minneapolis. That week, the team was emotional and inspired. And the U.S. fans? Well, they were loud, passionate … and at times, if we’re being honest, a tad over the top. There were a smattering of hecklers and drunks, and more hostility than you find at a typical golf tournament. The Ryder Cup is hardly typical, but even for a competition as charged as this one, Hazeltine was a little rough.
European fans remember. And with less than 24 hours until the matches begin, that brings us to the question of the day: Might this pro-European crowd turn hostile in response to the over-served U.S. crowd in 2016?
“No, it’s a sport. It’s fair play. I won’t boo the American players because I love America,” said Marie-Jose Maveyraud, from nearby Montigny-le-Bretonneux, as she strolled along the opening hole. “Our crowd, we make a party together.”
“With the U.S. everyone is proud of their country. Here, we are from all different places,” added Florian Schimanke of Hanover, Germany. “I think in the U.S. people go more to support their country. We come more for the sport.”
Schimanke, 39, is also here for a good time. On Thursday he and a group of buddies were clad in matching German-flag-themed blazers and ties. Astute followers of this event will note that there are no Germans on the European team this year (unless you count assistant captain Bernhard Langer), but that detail hasn’t deterred this group of superfans.
“Our slogan this week is, ‘Where’s Martin Kaymer?’” Schimanke said with a laugh. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
This week the stage is set for one of the wildest scenes in golf history. The 1st-tee grandstand wraps around to the 18th green, and the complex can hold nearly 7,000 spectators, which dwarfs the setup from Hazeltine, and anything else that’s ever been constructed at a tee box. When Patrick Reed strolled by Thursday morning to kick off his warm-up round, in addition to those towering bleachers, he likely noticed something else a little different: boos. Oh, it was nothing too serious, but boos from the home crowd nonetheless. The fans then immediately flipped and cheered for Tiger Woods, who didn’t hit a shot off that tee. Those disparate responses say more about Tiger’s star status and Reed’s standing as America’s ultimate Ryder Cup villain than any sour grapes from Hazeltine.
“In France, golf is not very popular. If you ask people what happened two years ago, they won’t know. Most of the spectators here will be foreigners,” said Dominique Marc, while seated high up in those 1st-hole stands. Marc, 30, drove 10 minutes from his home in Orsay to attend his first Ryder Cup, and he was not among Reed’s hecklers on Thursday. Marc actually has an affinity for the player known as Captain America. “Patrick Reed is one of my favorite players – he’s arrogant and I like that. Hopefully this time Rory beats him on Sunday.”
Marc remembers that ’16 singles showdown between Reed and McIlroy, which featured primal screams, fist pumps and other over-the-top histrionics not seen in golf since … forever? Probably forever. But despite that emotionally charged match, and the fan behavior surrounding it, it seems the U.S. team also expects no distractions from the home fans.
“The crowd over here has always been amazing. They understand tough shots. They understand a 30-footer sometimes from 200 yards is a great shot, and so they have been appreciative of us over time I’ve ever played in an event over here, and especially in a team event like this,” said Bubba Watson on Wednesday. “So, I don’t expect any different. They pull for their people. They pull for their team. But they applaud us and cheer us and appreciate great golf shots, because they understand the game so well.”
Which is not to say the booze won’t be flowing among the European faithful. But somehow, some way, the crowds here are just a little different. Expect more of the same this week.
“There will be drunk Europeans, but it won’t be vicious. Certainly not early,” said Steph Werthauer, a 24-year-old Brit. “I can’t wait to see the bomb drivers, seeing Dustin and Rory hammer it out.”
Maybe in the end it all comes down to alcohol tolerance. Beer sales seemed to be humming along just fine on this bright and warm afternoon. Friday’s forecast calls for more sunshine, but it’s doubtful there be much in the way of crowd hostility to darken the day. Hazeltine is ancient history.
“We don’t cheer bad shots, it’s just respect,” said Alex Conroy, a Londoner who attended the Cup at Hazeltine. “We keep things fair.
“And Minnesota wasn’t that bad. There were just a few idiots.”