PARIS (Reuters) - Any lingering concerns about why the Ryder Cup has come to France, a country with precious little golfing tradition, were put to bed amid memorable scenes on a remarkable first day of competition at Le Golf National on Friday.
Each edition of the biennial event gets bigger, louder and more boisterous and this year’s version maintained that tradition on a day of noise, color, consternation and, ultimately, celebration.
All week the players had talked in anticipation about the experience of the first tee and the 7,000-capacity stand surrounding it, the biggest in the history of the event, was full long before American rookie Tony Finau fired the first shot down the first fairway.
Constant chanting, orchestrated by the yellow and blue-clad “Guardians of the Ryder Cup” group, welcomed the players, who were then invited to “start the clap” as the stand reverberated to the thunderclap-style applause popularized by Icelandic soccer fans during the 2016 European championship.
“That first tee shot was not like anything I’ve been involved in before, it was like an NFL game back in the States,” Finau said. “And I have to hit a tee shot - I have to make a golf swing with all that type of adrenaline.
“It was incredible. Even though the crowd is European and we’re on European soil, just to be in that atmosphere, it’s electric. It’s so hard to explain, just being there, knowing that all eyes are on you, it’s a cool thing. I really enjoyed it.”
Around a quarter of a million tickets have been sold for the week - over 40 percent to French nationals - with around 70,000 following the action on Friday.
With only four holes ever in play at one time, it made for huge crowds following the action, though others camped out at some of the best viewing holes, many surrounded by huge grassy banks that created natural amphitheatres and a perfect viewing experience on a warm but windy day.
With 18 huge TV screens dotted around the course, fans were also able to follow the action and join in the roars from all corners.
After a bright start by Europe, the home supporters were left somewhat subdued by lunchtime as the United States forged a 3-1 lead following the morning fourballs - a result that the many Americans on the course celebrated loudly and proudly.
However, the decibel level soon started rising as the Europeans stormed out of the blocks for the afternoon foursomes, delivering a birdie blitz that had cheers and roars reverberating around the course.
With the likes of Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia fist-pumping and breast-beating with every putt sunk, the afternoon turned into a frenzy of noise as Europe completed an historic 4-0 demolition job to take a 5-3 overall lead.
“We got those crowds behind us, we got them going,” said delighted European captain Thomas Bjorn.
“They started believing, and then they went through the whole golf course, and then it seemed like nothing could go wrong.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis