HAVEN, Wis. — It’s 5:40 a.m. and only two sounds are audible on this autumnal Wisconsin morning: the dystopian hums of power generators and Kanye West’s voice. The song is Good Morning, a fitting hello for the thousands of caffeinated and adrenaline-addled fans lined up outside the megastand—“grand” wouldn’t do it any justice—enveloping the first tee at Whistling Straits. They’ll have to wait another 20 minutes for the ropes to drop at 6 a.m., and then another 75 minutes for an actual golf ball to be hit, but no matter.
This is the most electric atmosphere in our oft-silent game, the one time golf looks, sounds and feels like the cool-kid sport. There is nothing in golf like the first tee on Friday morning at the Ryder Cup.
The clock strikes 6 and the stands being to fill. They’re trickling in at first, but the pace hastens and by 6:06 there’s not an empty seat. The guests at this party are almost all American, the product of an ongoing pandemic and pesky regulations the government won’t overlook even for the Ryder Cup. A crew of eight Euros managed to skirt by, however, and are greeted by a one-man chant of WHERE’S YOUR VAX CARD?! The clothes are mostly red with a curious number of Mike Eruzione jerseys sprinkled in.
The sun makes its presence known around 6:30, just as the chants try to gain some momentum but mostly fail to reach that level. As far singing goes, nobody does it like the Euros. An impromptu Star Spangled Banner breaks out, and this writer (and Ryder Cup rookie) isn’t quite sure whether to take his hat off or not. (He does, eventually, and peer pressure maintains its undefeated record).
Whistling Straits' first tee is already filled up before daybreak (Photo by Joel Beall)
The first official member of Team USA to show his face is Zach Johnson, who yells LETS GO before rubbing a bit of the still-dewey Wisconsin turf. Steve Stricker quietly tip-topes through the tunnel—a mild-mannered Midwesterner through and through—but his cover is blown by a group of full-grown men in American flag jumpsuits. There’s our captain! There’s our captain! He acknowledges them politely. Next up is Tony Finau and his ever-present smile. If he’s upset to be sitting out this foursomes session, he’s doing a great job hiding it. He’s joined by another tall man riding the bench, and what might be the first ever HARR-IS ENG-LISH! chant in U.S. history lasts for maybe 15 seconds. The biggest pre-tournament cheer is for Bryson DeChambeau, who’s surely relishing in all this positivity. The boos are saved for the European assistant captains.
Finally—freakin’ finally—the never-ending Ryder Cup leadup ends. The Spaniards arrive first as Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm enter the cauldron at 7:01 a.m., four minutes ahead of go time. Boooo. The purists don’t like the booing, but the players don’t seem to mind. The buddies arrive second, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, and the volume kicks up a few notches. The flags are waving, the USA chant finally has some gusto, and the best week in golf is about to begin. Shane Lowry approaches the boys for some last-second fist-bumps before Garcia steps to the tee. He waggles. He waggles again. He picks the club up, drops it in the slot as he does, and hits a slight pull that falls the wrong way.
Justin Thomas interacts with fans around the first tee prior to Friday morning foursomes.
Thomas fittingly gets the nod to his the home team’s first ball—he’s a pitbull in these team shindigs—and pleads for the crowd to let him hear it. He picks up the club, throws every ounce of his 160-pound frame as he does, and sends a tight fade down the center. Quick tee pick-up. Even quicker stride. With his best friend next to him, 10 steps past the first tee box, he turns. A guttural yell.
The Ryder Cup is finally here.