‘Shaking like a leaf’: There’s still nothing like the 1st tee at a team event

solheim Cup

Lexi Thompson rips a driver on the 1st hole at the Solheim Cup.

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CASARES, Spain — The Solheim Cup is all about the best female golfers in the world, but as it pertains to the opening tee shots of this week’s matches, the top quote was delivered by a man. 

Spanish legend Jose Maria Olazabal ushered the Solheim Cup trophy to the raucous 1st tee before sunrise Friday morning, and soon he had control of the mic. As Linn Grant and Maja Stark stood within earshot just feet away, Olazabal was asked a stunningly pertinent question: How do you handle tee shots in this chaos?

“I don’t know how you handle them,” Olazabal said. “I was shaking like a leaf. Tee it up, swing…and close your eyes.”

It remains one of golf’s most obvious truisms: there’s just nothing like the 1st tee at these team events. 

Spectators poured into the grounds at 6 a.m. here in the south of Spain, two hours before sunrise. Maybe a dozen of them went to the driving range, which is laid out in such an intimate way you can reach out and grab the clubhead of the pros swinging in front of you. Everyone else, it seemed, was on a beeline for the 1st tee grandstand, where a mix of 80s hits and European DJ mixes thumped through concert speakers. 

“Simply the Best” by Tina Turner seems to be Suzann Pettersen’s favorite song. Earlier this week she bellowed it at her European players during practice rounds. Then she used it as her entrance music Friday morning, dancing her way down the blue carpet runway. Men and women in full-body banana suits whipped themselves into a frenzy. Their red, white and blue counterparts were in the next section over, split by five feet of stairwell. Junior Solheim Cuppers — some of them will play in the 2030 Solheim Cup, no doubt — had been there all morning, up against the rails of the first row. 

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You’ll see something similar next week at the Ryder Cup in Italy — a fantastic buildout and thousands of rabid fans screaming their Olès and U-S-As. But somehow the Whistling Straits energy seemed underwhelming two years ago at the Ryder Cup in Wisconsin.

Between the temperature, the wake-up time and the DJ-curated playlist, no amount of energy is guaranteed. But whatever’s in the water this week at the Solheim Cup seems to have threaded the needle perfectly. The VIP platform — with the families and friends and LPGA legends — was the most boring place within 50 yards of the tee box. You wanted to be in the stands with the crazies.

This week’s grandstand is as big as physically possible, considering it was built into the side of a mountain. If you added any more bodies to it, the whole thing might just slide down the ravine. Event organizers rearranged the course routing to kick off matches on what is usually Finca Cortesin’s fourth hole, a 280-yard drivable par-4 with a 245-yard carry over a water hazard, adding a layer of tension to an already nervy situation. There’s no hitting 4-irons for comfort. 

For Lexi Thompson, a 6-time Solheim Cupper who has missed more cuts than she’s made this year, that first tee ball couldn’t have been comfortable. She’s struggled more this year than the rest of her career combined, but Team USA has the honor on the tee all week and captain Stacy Lewis sent her out first. It didn’t help that the breeze was in and off the right, begging to guide a draw into the water. She squeezed out a quick smile during her introduction, but not much more.

The crowd reached a fever pitch not long later. It had warmed to 75 degrees. Pink cirrus clouds and a single drone hung overhead. It was the kind of setting you would sit in forever. But before long, Thompson stuck a peg in the ground, interrupting the chaos for the first time in hours with complete silence. Not just out of courtesy, but also because one of the players who has struggled most this year had chosen the aggressive play. PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh turned around in the VIP section, raised his eyebrows and whispered the ominous words everyone was thinking: “Oh, she’s hitting driver.”

Driver into the wind on the drivable par 4. Exactly what the people want. Exactly how you kick-start a tournament. The only sound that remained was a restless infant cooing in the stands. Was it suddenly…too quiet?

But then, just a few seconds before Thompson pulled back on her driver, the baby calmed, too. Complete silence, interrupted only by club on ball. Thompson cleared the water with a power fade, bouncing into the greenside bunker. It was early and the sun was still rising over the mountains, but no one needed any coffee. Human energy was in massive abundance.

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine, currently working on a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews. You can read about those travels here and catch his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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