9 things we saw at the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup on wild golf Eurotrip

ryder cup 1st tee

Scottie Scheffler hits a tee shot on the 1st hole during the Sunday Singles session of the Ryder Cup.

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30,000 FEET, over the Atlantic Ocean — We’re headed home now, following the European Double. Did you see it coming? These team events are perfectly murky as we’re making predictions, but always seem to make perfect sense in hindsight. Of course the Europeans won! They had the stronger Solheim Cup team, and if they didn’t have the stronger Ryder Cup team, well, they did for a week! Their bonds seemed stronger. Their strategies seemed stronger. Their performance was just stronger. And the two of us — Sean Zak and James Colgan — were lucky enough to cover both events in person.

As we begin to put two wild weeks of team golf in the rearview, here are some sights, sounds and memories from two weeks in Europe.

Tired Tommy 

Shane Lowry was jubilantly cussing. Jon Rahm was thinking about tequila. Rory McIlroy was singing and hugging everyone in sight. Tommy Fleetwood, by contrast, was resting, leaning his weight on the back of Tyrrell Hatton’s caddie, Mick Donaghy. You could see it on Fleetwood’s suntanned face. He was exhausted. Exhausted of standing in place — Team Europe was waiting for the closing ceremony to begin — but also exhausted, period.

The day began with Europe up five points, a Sunday differential that had never been overcome in the history of the Ryder Cup. During his walk from the practice range to the 1st tee, Fleetwood’s caddie Ian Finnis asked jovially, “Are we going to have a match?” In other words, is the U.S. going to make this thing interesting? It’s easier being the looper. In the locker room that morning, Lowry, Bob MacIntyre and Fleetwood had discussed how life would be a lot easier if their matches — the last three of the Cup — wouldn’t matter. And for a few hours they really didn’t, until the moment when they really did.

For maybe 50 minutes on Sunday, Europe was half a point shy of clinching with six matches ongoing. The first four matches seemed in hand for Team USA. The last two, Fleetwood’s included, were just 1 up, Europe. That’s a margin that can flip with just a few golf swings. Tommy was too nervous to eat. For the record, Rory McIlroy was too nervous to eat, too. We all would be, but it’s not always the easiest thing to admit.

A couple hours later, when he was explaining it during a press conference, Fleetwood projected confidence, saying he was “pretty comfortable the whole day.” That doesn’t square with what he told Donaghy in those moments before the ceremony.

“Been sick for two hours during that,” Fleetwood said, eyebrows raised, eyes wide. Fowler’s flailed drive on 16 was the perfect remedy.

The strangest golf workout ever

Golf can sometimes kick you in your rear end, as I was frequently reminded over the last two weeks of relentless sunlight and hillside golf. But sometimes the hardest golf workouts are the ones that don’t leave you feeling like a billygoat. Like, for example, the one I endured on Solheim Cup Friday, shortly before 7 a.m. local time, near the 1st tee.

The plan for the morning was simple. Get to the tee early. Witness the crowds and the energy and the excitement. Record a quick video and hammer out some words about the experience. Then, importantly, get some breakfast and move on to the bigger-thinking work.

There was no work involved. Only standing in darkness and waiting for the sun to rise. But when I arrived at the first tee, I quickly felt my heart rate spike. You see, I’d completely forgotten the fact that I would be standing in the heart of the lion’s den: directly in the middle of the 2,000 some-odd people who’d packed into the 1st tee grandstand.

My heart rate climbed higher and higher as the next 20 minutes passed, until finally we’d reached the official start of the Solheim Cup. Thankfully, I didn’t have to hit a tee shot, but it sure felt like I’d gone through the same mental examination. When I returned back to the media center, I received a notification from my WHOOP app: I’d just recorded a workout.


I clicked in to see that, yes, my adrenaline had been so high on the 1st tee that my heart rate monitor was tricked into thinking I was working out. I left the course that day with newfound appreciation for those who manage to make contact with the ball on the 1st tee of a team golf event…and an extra dose of exhaustion. Go figure.

Head up, chest out 

In one way, the Solheim Cup kicked off similarly to the Ryder Cup, with one team sweeping the first session on Friday morning. It was just a much bigger surprise that the sweeping team was the visiting Americans. The two-time defending champs and home-field owners had been knocked down, captain Suzann Pettersen said, and they were showing it. Emily Kristine Pedersen and Charley Hull just lost 5 and 4, ensuring the last match out was the first one finished, never a good sign. It was an ugly scene, and Thomas Bjorn, Ryder Cup vice captain, didn’t like what he saw. So he rang up Pedersen, 25 years his junior.

“If I see you tomorrow not smiling,” Bjorn told her that night, “I’m gonna beat your a**. Head up, chest out, smiling to the crowd.”

It was the day before his wedding and, from what he could watch on TV, Bjorn thought Pedersen was sulking. She had no choice but to agree. When I asked her about it, she said that Bjorn, also Danish, is a father figure of sorts for all the young Danish pros. She bounced back to win 2.5 points from her next three matches.

“She likes to look at her toes,” Bjorn explained to me a few days later when I found him at Marco Simone. “When she looks up and smiles, she’s one of the best.” 

How many times do we leave these team golf weeks convinced that the little things are what matters most? This ounce of connective tissue between Team Europe on the men’s side and the women’s side could be worth nothing. But it also could be worth everything. It wasn’t surprising to see Pettersen invited to the 1st tee by Luke Donald last week. All while Stacy Lewis, the American Solheim Cup captain, was complaining about connectivity between the governing bodies that manage the men’s and women’s events. Europe doesn’t seem to have much of a problem.

Nelly’s shoes

When I boarded my flight for Spain for the Solheim Cup, I never imagined I’d earn the ire of the international sneakerhead brigade. But there I was on Friday morning with what felt like half the internet in my replies correcting me on the difference between Nike Dunks — which I had incorrectly asserted were Nelly’s shoes — and Jordan 1s (her actual shoes).

The reason for sharing was the pattern, which was one of the cooler U.S.-themed sneaker kits I’d seen in recent memory, dotted all across with stars and stripes. I saw Nelly the next morning, where I told her she’d gotten me in trouble with the sneakerheads. She shot me a grin.

“Well you can tell them this…” she said, pointing to her shoes.

There were a set of wings located in the sole of the shoe that had a unique golden design. She told me Nike had custom-designed the wings to have 18 feathers, for this being the 18th Solheim Cup.

I thanked her for helping me correct the mishap and went to move on with my day. Before I did, she laughed.

“You’d better be careful with that next time.”

No kidding.

A brilliant sign

One of the forgotten stories from the last Ryder Cup in Europe was the horrific result of a Brooks Koepka tee shot that hit one female spectator squarely in the eye. The result was pretty gory, to say the least, and even escalated to the point of litigation threats, elevating an important golf-watching question: who is at fault when a spectator gets hit by a golf shot?

There is responsibility for the golfer, sure, who is typically great at controlling their ball but understandably not all the time. Also, some goes to the marshal on the tee box, who helps signal which direction balls are headed. How much responsibility rests with tournament organizers, who set up the ropes? How much sits with the fans themselves, who decide where to plant themselves? This simple sign was propped up along the right side of the 1st hole at the Ryder Cup, which really says it all: this is a prominent ball landing area.

golf sign
If you get upset when you’re hit by an errant tee shot while standing next to this sign, that’s on you. Sean Zak


It feels silly but I’ve never seen a sign like this at a golf tournament. And it feels like a very obvious thing we should probably have…everywhere? Mainly because golf fans exist with pretty minimal awareness. They roam about from hole to hole, often unsure if the 14th is a drivable par 4 or a three-shot par 5s. It’s no surprise that people get plunked — sometimes in pretty serious ways — when a tee shot turns wayward. Could we limit that with a few more signs like this one? I think so.

‘Luck of the Irish’

“Yeah, that leaf is where Leona made eagle from,” Morgan Pressel explained to her nervous audience of Jennifer Kupcho and Megan Khang on the backside of the 14th hole at Finca Cortesin. The Solheim Cup hung in the balance.

“Of course,” Khang replied, a touch of annoyance in her voice. “Luck of the Irish.”

“Dude, she plays so well in the Solheim,” said Kupcho. “It’s unreal. I just don’t understand. Playing five matches and doing that s—t?” 

Jen, you’re not alone. If there’s any player we underrated these last two weeks, it was absolutely Leona Maguire, the Irishwoman who is now an astonishing 7-2-1 in Solheim Cups. Maybe we underrate her because she’s so quiet, standing just 5-foot-6, seemingly hiding behind those racing sunglasses. It was her epic 18th-hole chip-in against Lexi Thompson and Lilia Vu that rightly turned the Solheim Cup on its side. And it was her epic 60-footer for that eagle that hushed any sense of a Rose Zhang comeback during Sunday singles, and still held the attention of Pressel and Co. an full hour after it happened.

How is Maguire so good in match play? Her father, Declan, thinks team golf just makes sense to her psyche. He said she’s always been intense when it comes to team sports, dating back to her days as an elite junior swimmer.

About an hour later, I found myself chatting with Pat Bradley, former Solheim Cup captain, who was just as blown away as Mr. Maguire.

“She’s gonna be the next Christy O’Connah,” Bradley said, showing off her Massachusetts accent. ”An Irish legend. I’ll tell you what she is…A silent assassin.”

Indeed, Pat. Hopefully we can hear more from her moving forward. 

Guardians of the Cup

The first thing you should know before attending a team golf event in Europe is this: you WILL have a song (or seven) stuck in your head by the time you leave.

The origin of many of the best of them for me? A group called The Guardians of The Cup, which could be spotted in blue overalls and bright yellow hats all throughout the property at Marco Simone.

The Guardians, who did not explain much of their affiliation other than being “friends,” had worked out song-and-dance for every member of the European Ryder Cup team, from the ever-adaptable “goodness, gracious, Bob MacIntyre” to “Fitz” — a play on the song “Twist” that will life with me for the remainder of my golfing days.

Perhaps more impressive: they were in perfect pitch, and very often had individual dance moves that joined each of their performances. Consider me among the impressed.

Game recognize game

I’m not one to usually care for the details of celebrities’ golf games. It’s cool that the sport can elevate itself through the passion of these well-known folks, but those who cover the game closely know there’s basically a celebrity golf circuit. The same names are trotted out from stop to stop across the world. There was no surprise to see Victor Cruz, Gareth Bale, Kathryn Newton and Carlos Sainz on the Ryder Cup All-Star Match lineup. They’ve played in dozens of these things. But there was one name I had never seen on a course before: Novak Djokovic. 

Whether or not he’s the greatest tennis player ever is a debate that can only last a few more years as he continues to elevate himself above Federer, Nadal, Williams, Graf, etc. This was a new level of athletic royalty taking part in the crazy game we all love. So, what did his swing look like? Would his perfect tennis form lead to a tidy draw or a power fade? I wasn’t the only one curious.

Over on the 16th green, Team Europe was finishing its practice round, with Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick in the final group on the course. All these cats have sat in the Rolex box at Wimbledon. They’ve seen Djokovic dominate his sport up close. But they were very intrigued to see how he’d handle their sport. Rather than push forward quickly to the 17th tee, they paused and waited for a few minutes to watch Djokovic’s swing, and seemed rather impressed when he played a draw into the fairway.

A day later, Djokovic was out watching the action inside the ropes when he basically plopped down in my lap behind 16. was quite the thrill. Even more fun was realizing that I had snapped two very similar but perfectly different photos from the same place on consecutive days — one where Rory is intently watching Djokovic and one where Djokovic is avidly watching Rory. I’m not sure there’s another sporting event where that’s possible. 

novak djokovic golf
On the left, golfers watching a tennis star. On the right, a tennis star watching golfers. Sean Zak

Jon Rahm’s classy gesture

The 16th hole on Ryder Cup Sunday — a drivable par 4 over a lake with a pin tucked in the most vulnerable position — was nightmare fuel. But what Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler did was nothing shy of remarkable.

Scheffler, clinging to a 1-up lead in their day-opening singles match, hit a perfect drive that carried everything and fell just into the second cut of rough. Rahm stepped up seconds later and matched him, blasting his ball on a perfect line that landed roughly 10 feet from the pin before rolling to the back edge of the green.

From there, the two golfers faced testy, short-sided chips. Scheffler went first and hit a beauty — watching as his ball tumbled all the way down to two feet. Rahm went second and put his ball even inside of that, leaving a kick-in for birdie.

Scheffler quickly gave Rahm his putt, and a few seconds later, Rahm reciprocated the favor — the match would stay even heading into the 17th. Rahm would be within his rights for frustration. He’d hit an incredible golf shot and still hadn’t gained any ground on the maddeningly resilient Scheffler.

But evidently that wasn’t what was on his mind. As they walked off the green, Rahm caught Scheffler’s eye and extended his fist. The two golfers bumped knuckles quickly and moved on. They were in the middle of a dogfight, but their respect had only grown.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.