SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — The American team had no hot water in their hotel rooms Thursday morn. You know how we are, we Americans. Doesn’t matter whether we’re home or abroad. Doesn’t matter if we’re 95 shooters or 65 shooters or — c’est possible? — don’t play golf at all. We really love our long, hot morning showers. It’s easy to imagine the morose mood in the Team USA breakfast room. The complaint department was getting overwhelmed.
Into this scene sauntered the ever-laconic Dustin Johnson, looking fresh as a French lily, cheeks still warm with post-shower afterglow. Everybody wanted to know that same thing: how’d you do it, DJ? How’d you get your shower to work?
“Didn’t,” the lanky, erstwhile running-for-nothing team leader said. “I just put on my robe, went down to the spa, and showered there.”
The other players let out a collective huh.
Phil, being Phil, said, “You see Dustin — you are smart.”
A few hours later, the American players — with Johnson smelling particularly good — were on the course here, Le Golf Club National.
Every last one of them was spending more time practicing greenside pitches from the lush, medium-length GCN rough to the country-club slow GCN greens. On each green five tees had been inserted, to indicate five likely hole positions for the five different sessions, two on Friday, two on Saturday, one on Sunday. Players were going into the rough with 60-degree wedges, with 56s and 52s and even pitching wedges. They were experimenting with all manner of shut positions, to drive the clubhead through the heavy, short, lush greenside rough and getting the ball to run like a putt once it settles down.
When it comes to rough, American players typically like one extreme or another: high rough, as you used to see every year at U.S. Opens (though it’s been a while), or no rough at all, as you see at Augusta National. In theory, this rough height is been determined by the Europeans, designed to help them in some manner. But that’s all it is, a theory. It’s not like there is some sort of chasm between the skill-set of the European players and the skill-set of the American players. All 24 of them are very good at golf. Still, it gives people, fans and players and those in the golf-news business, something to talk about.
The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before a Ryder Cup — any Ryder Cup, and this one most particularly — is a perfect opportunity for the pontificators to pontificate. Pontification is a growth industry, across various other industries, and has no particular value, except for maybe this one: it does get you in the mood for the main event.
My colleague Joe Passov — this website’s “Travelin’ Joe” — offered a trenchant analysis of the GCN course recently. He wrote:
“Le Golf National’s Albatros course is a Gallic version of [Jim] Furyk’s — and the PGA Tour’s — home layout, the Players Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass. Admittedly, it’s a bigger, brawnier version, in yardage and scale, but its origin, look and shot values are remarkably similar. Hewn from landfill that was later flattened, it understandably sports a manufactured appearance, with some holes set down in faux-links fashion, others built up with massive amphitheater-like hillsides, ready-made for maximum spectator viewing. A fistful of lake-menaced holes look as if they were airlifted straight out of West Palm Beach, but unquestionably, they offer potential risk/reward drama, notably the course’s last four, three of them splashed with liquid peril, with island greens at the 15th and 18th.”
Well said, TJ! I would agree with every bit of his GCN description, right down to the WPB airlift reference. How you feel about this course will surely mirror how you feel about the Stadium Course.
I first saw the Stadium Course in 1985, when everybody called it TPC Sawgrass, and all these years I feel now what I felt then: good (different) kind of course for the tournament; not one that I would ever want to play, except as a one-off. One and done.
The only other time I have seen Le Golf Club National before this week came in the 1991 French Open, when I was caddying for an American player of Finnish descent named Peter Teravainen. Peter was a legendary journeyman player on the European tour, celebrated for how hard he swung and how hard he lived. Not in the carousing sense. It was his tiny rental cars with trunks too small to accommodate his Ping Tour bag, the cash-money budget B&Bs in which he stayed, the overnight bus rides and train rides he took to beat a night’s rent. Unable to remember if Peter had made the cut in that ’91 French Open, so I asked him by email and this is what he wrote back:
“I always felt so much stress on Fridays but that golf course REALLY gave me Friday stress. I looked up my playing record and it shows I missed the cut by a mile in 1993 but every other year I was sweating the cutline. We made the cut in 1991—barely! 77-72 for 65th. I felt incredible pressure the last four holes. I must have been sweating the scoreboard on that one. Then we cruised to a 72-70 weekend. Finished 36th and picked up some francs. The European tour website has converted it to euros now: 4,088 euros.”
Four-thousand euros would be worth about $4,700 in 1991 U.S. dollars. Allowing for inflation, that’s the equivalent of $8,700 today.
The Ryder Cup players, of course, aren’t paid a single dollar or euro for their work. But they’re compensated in other ways. They sure looked spiffy in those Wednesday-night suits, didn’t they? Custom-made and they keep them of course. Did you see DJ in his? He looked fabulous. Fun fact about DJ and who would have guessed it? He likes bespoke suits. This guy will surprise you.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at email@example.com.