GLENEAGLES, Scotland — It was a day to remember. But then, most Ryder Cup days are like that.
At 6:30 a.m., the media bus trundled through the entrance to the Gleneagles Hotel after a dark, hour-long journey up the motorway from Glasgow.
The sky was barely lit, a faint shade of blue above a featureless silhouette that was everything below. The sky was clear, save for one rosy-fingered layer of clouds at the edge. It was still dark, for all intents and purposes, and yet the first match of the Ryder Cup was set to begin in barely an hour.
By the time the bus unloaded and I finally got through a long line at the security checkpoint, the sky had brightened. Still, the sun wasn’t up, which was why the practice putting green was ablaze and lit by blazing bluish spotlights. I could see at least two players in blue pullovers hitting putts in the dim conditions — Europeans, it turned out. That was the host team’s color of the day.
I walked down a slope from the hotel toward the course along a scenic stone path. The lawn was perfectly manicured. The path has a couple of steps as it winds beneath the trees. It was quiet. I could hear the rhythm of my steps and birds tweeting — not Tweeting, mind you — in the trees.
And I heard something else in the distance, something odd. A faint rumbling? No, it was… singing?
It grew louder as I neared the media center. And then I knew. Of course. This is the Ryder Cup, golf’s biggest and most boisterous event, and European fans are in a league of their own.
I made a right turn at the corner of a paved path and passed the grandstands that surround the 1st tee. It was almost an hour before the first tee time, but the stands were already full and spectators were lined up at the bottom behind the stands, waiting for seats to open. Good luck with that, I thought.
Wait a minute. I got up at 5:10 to catch a 5:30 bus for the hour-plus ride to Gleneagles. What time did these people arise to get here for a front-row seat? Four o’clock? Three o’clock? Earlier? Did they even go home on Thursday night?
A posse of fans walked past me. They were all dressed the same, decked out in white shirts and blue hats with puffy white cotton bits. The shirts read “France.” They’re here to root for Victor Dubuisson.
You know, the Ryder Cup is the only time the French would get together to cheer for a Scot, some Englishmen, a Welshman, a Dane and a German. To hear Scots pulling for Englishman Lee Westwood barely a week after the Scottish independence vote, well, that’s almost a scene in itself.
The fans in the grandstand didn’t break out into their trademark tune, “Ole, Ole, Ole!” as I passed, but they did later. And they tried out a sing-songy new cheer, “Eur-ope! Eur-ope!” Which sounded exactly like, “You’re up! You’re up!”
By the end of the day, they were. The scoreboard read, 5–3.
It was a day of shots and decisions to remember.
The second-guessers were already questioning why U.S. captain Tom Watson sent out two rookies in the first session. When Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth steamrolled Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher 5 and 4, the second-guessers questioned why Watson didn’t send the rooks back out in the afternoon.
Instead, Watson let Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley try for an encore after their stunning last-hole birdie win over Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, even though the Americans had been the Aerosol twins, spraying shots all over the course. That didn’t work so well in the alternate-shot format, and their loss in the final match sealed a Black Friday kind of finish for the U.S., which went from a one-point lead in the morning to a two-point deficit at day’s end.
“They were very upset with me for not playing them this afternoon,” Watson said of Reed and Spieth. “I said, ‘I know you’re going to be mad at me, but you’ll be playing tomorrow for sure.’”
Every point is important, Watson had stressed a day earlier — every point. Did he let one slip away — a potential two-point swing — with that decision? It’s something to consider.
Meanwhile, here’s your reference list of things to remember from Friday: Garcia may have struck the two best shots of the day. One was a long, unlikely bunker shot down a slope to a front pin at the par-3 4th hole in the morning. It landed on the top tier, caught the slope and rammed into the pin and dropped. It was brilliant, but not as important as the fairway wood he played out of the rough at the 18th hole in the afternoon. The Europeans were 1 down but in position to put the U.S. in a bigger hole if they could dig out a halve.
Garcia carved a high shot from the right rough around a tree, landed it on the back left edge and watched it trickle back toward the pin. McIlroy lagged it close for a conceded birdie, but Rickie Fowler had an 18-foot putt to win the match. He missed, the Euros stole a half-point and turned the day around.
“So many matches are going to the last hole,” said Graeme McDowell. “Every match is a dogfight.”
Jimmy Walker was one of the big dogs for the U.S. In the morning he holed a bunker shot for an eagle at the 9th, then came up huge when he and Fowler were two down with three to play. Walker chipped in at 16, then made a birdie putt at 18 to scratch out a halve.
Asked to describe his first day of Ryder Cup play, Walker said, “Wow. Exciting. Exhilarating. Heartbreaking. Excruciating. It was really fun. I can’t want to come back for more.”
Earlier in the week, Watson mentioned that the U.S. needed to target McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, and Poulter, the No. 1 thorn in the Americans’ side for years. They pretty much did, sticking Poulter with a loss and allowing McIlroy only a half-point in two matches. Despite that, the Americans are two points down.
“We’ve got a great team,” said Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who formed Europe’s dynamic duo with Englishman Justin Rose by scoring two wins. “It doesn’t matter who brings home the points. It was a great day at the office.”
It was a day to remember for both teams. Get ready for two more.