Ryder Cup: Fans bring energy and color to golf’s rock concert

Le Golf National, France CNN  — 

The bass boomed out of the dark. Lines of shadowy figures swarmed towards it like an advancing orc army. The place to be. The center of the universe.

Still early, and with more than an hour to go until the first shots, the towering grandstand and grassy hillocks surrounding the first tee were filling up fast.

The 42nd Ryder Cup, the biennial bash between the USA and Europe , was on. For France, this was a first.

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The creep of pink light from the east was like the gradual lifting of the curtain to start the first act.

The first tee at Ryder Cups has taken on a mystical status in recent years, with songs, chants and jokes piercing the dawn like crackles of lighting. The stands at Le Golf National, near Paris, were the biggest yet, packed to capacity with nearly 7,000, the top 92 steps high. Intimidating for spectators, let alone nervous players.

Europe's Jon Rahm revs up the crowd on the first tee at Le Golf National.

Veteran Ryder Cup fans reminisced about first tees past – the emotion at the K Club, the humor at Celtic Manor, the energy at Gleneagles, the thunder at Hazeltine.

In between beats, an announcer whipped up the crowd, imploring chants of “Ole, ole, ole” – European Ryder Cup fans’ unofficial anthem – or “U-S-A.” The volume and energy was impressive, but he needn’t have bothered. This crowd creates its own energy, making first tees past so magical.

No matter. The cheers were still thunderous as the European players emerged – the Americans were offered the type of boos usually reserved for pantomime villains.

Everywhere you looked, fans were decked out in whatever blue and yellow outfit they could get their hands on. Here a Danish flag, there a Spanish flag, everywhere a Euro flag.

Pockets of red, white and blue-clad US fans draped in the stars and stripes ventured “U-S-A” chants but they were drowned out by the taunts of “Europe, Europe, Europe.”

European rookie Jon Rahm of Spain, playing in the first group with Justin Rose against Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, set the tone by starting a stand-wide thunderclap, the slow handclap building to a crescendo popularized by Iceland’s football fans. The crowd lapped it up.

“It’s a football atmosphere on a golf course, you don’t get that anywhere else,” said Briton Rick Fothergill from Manchester. “It was amazing overpowering the US, the players accept it and get into the fun of it. Jon Rahm pumping the crowd up was brilliant.”

Fothergill, dressed in a blue and yellow Bananaman superhero costume, was one of “11 Bananamen and one banana.” The banana had come with his dad from Melbourne. “We’ve posed for more pictures than we’ve watched golf so far,” added Fothergill.

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In the front row of the stand was the group known as the “Guardians of the Cup,” a group of British university friends clad in blue and yellow outfits dotted with the yellow stars of Europe and yellow berets, who have been attending the Ryder Cup for more than a decade and act as unofficial cheerleaders.

“It was pretty amazing with the DJ and some pumping bassline at 6.30 a.m.,” said Guardians’ spokesman Teddy Shuttleworth.

His band of merry men – up to 12 on a good year but eight in Paris – are known for tailoring lyrics to popular songs for each of the European players.

The one for Rose is sung to the tune of Spandau Ballet’s “Gold,” while a new song for Rahm contains the lyric, “Do you have big muscles and a lovely smile? You do Rahm Rahm Rahm, you do Rahm Rahm.”

Cheers for Justin Rose and Jon Rahm on day one of the Ryder Cup.

They’ve received some social media backlash in the run-up to the Cup, suggesting their songs exclude others, not that they could have got any songs in given the enthusiasm of the announcer at Le Golf National. Shuttleworth says they’ve taken it on board.

“The more convoluted songs are hard for people to join in so we’ll stick to the big anthems and save the songs for the bar. We’ve got a good Team Europe one.”

The “Guardians” – with a new tagline “Raiders of the Lost Cup” – have American counterparts in a group dressed in red, white and blue with Viking helmets on, calling themselves the “American Marshals.”

“They’re great fun and a nice bunch of guys,” says Shuttleworth, nodding across the stand to his right. “We played golf with them in Hazeltine and we’ll meet them for a beer in Paris later.”

US fans the American Marshals look on at Le Golf National.

‘The Tiger factor’

Dressing up isn’t the preserve of the Brits or Americans. One group of Frenchmen, attending their third Ryder Cup, are decked out in matching yellow trousers and shirts, blue jackets with yellow stars and French tricolor hats.

“I’ve been to the Scottish Open and the British Open but it’s not got anywhere near the same atmosphere. The Ryder Cup is top. It’s amazing,” says Stephane Jarno, one of the number who hail from L’Orient in Brittany.

More than 40% of tickets sold have been to the French public, and the media have made a big deal of the event, according to Canal Plus journalist Romain Favril.

“It’s the first [Cup] in France so they made it huge,” he told CNN Sport. “Even for people not into golf, it’s like the Olympics or the World Cup.”

Jarno hopes his countrymen embrace what it is to be a passionate Ryder Cup fan and don’t just come to admire Tiger Woods.

“I’m hoping the French will be cheering, ‘Go Europe, Go Europe,’” he said. “I hope they won’t support Tiger. We were his biggest fans last week and it’s a pleasure to see him coming here, but hopefully everybody will support Europe.

“The question will be whether they are spectators or supporters?”

His fears have some justification. In the practice days the clamor to see Woods resembled a stampede at times. One young Frenchman walked around with a 9ft flag pole carrying a billowing stars and stripes and a California Republic flag, hoping to catch the attention of Woods and Phil Mickelson.

“I’m supporting Tiger, I love the USA, I don’t like France,” said 16-year-old Ernest Bailo from Lyon. He had been given Team USA pins from Mickelson and Rickie Fowler but could only attend for one day as “I have to go to class.”

One of France’s most famous golfers Thomas Levet was also concerned the locals would be too restrained, and too in awe of Woods after his comeback win in the Tour Championship made global news.

“That’s the Tiger factor. He’s getting in the way of the European team at the moment,” Levet told CNN Sport, though Woods and partner Patrick Reed were beaten by Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood in the morning fourballs as the Americans took a 3-1 lead.

According to official figures, only 7% of tickets have been bought by visiting Americans, but their presence has been felt on the golf course.

Four friends from New Jersey had come in full Captain America outfits, and were loving the experience of their first Ryder Cup.

“This is incredible, the atmosphere and the energy is unlike any other golf tournament,” said David Chertcoff, clutching a huge stogie.

For others, a Ryder Cup in Paris offered the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime tourism alongside the golf.

Minnesotan Patrick Reis had seen the sights in the “City of Light” before attending his fourth Ryder Cup. He was at Hazeltine two years ago, which he described as “unbelievable.” “It was loud, but 99.9% on the good side,” he said of the crowd’s behavior.

“The Ryder Cup is amazing, extra special. It’s nice to meet all the characters. I’m a golf fan and a sports fan and it melds the two. It’s like a World Cup but even better.”

For the fans in Paris the Ryder Cup remains rock ‘n’ roll, hopefully everyone knows the tune.