• Ryder Cup

'The best 90 minutes a golf fan can experience'

Alex Perry at Gleneagles
September 26, 2014
The Ryder Cup gets underway

What does it mean to be on the first tee of the Ryder Cup? "I've already had about 10 text messages from friends telling me how jealous they are," one fan tells ESPN. "I can't believe I'm here. I just can't believe it."

Within 15 minutes of the Gleneagles gates opening to the public at 6am, the 2,000 capacity grandstand that encases the tee box of the Centenary course's first hole was jam packed.

Slowly but surely the crowds began to fill out; first around the green, some 400 yards in the distance, then along either side of the fairway. Rows of people were eight, nine, 10 deep - fans desperate to get a taste of one of the most exhilarating atmospheres in golf.

The sun had yet to peak over the Perth horizon when the calls of "Europe!" started to ring around the stand. A small pocket of American fans countered with their classic "U! S! A!" chant but were soon drowned out.

Finally, an hour after taking our seats in the blustery grandstand, some action. US captain Tom Watson wanders out on to the first tee. The roar is deafening. "There's only one Tom Watson!" they sing. Watson, the adopted Scotsman, having won four of his five Open Championships here, laps up the adulation.

The local wildlife were stirred early in the Perthshire morning © Getty Images

His European counterpart, Paul McGinley, is not too far behind him. The Irishman takes his time thanking the crowd for their patience. He gets the same song: "There's only one Paul McGinley!"

Then comes Ivor Robson, golf's most famous voice. "There's only one Ivor Robson!" sing the crowd, perhaps running out of ideas now.

But the biggest cheer of the morning is saved for the emergence of the first fourball - Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson for Europe and Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson for the US.

Spines are tingling now. Another spectator - attending his third Ryder Cup - says the feeling never goes away.

The next big cheer was unexpected - as a small deer pops out from some bushes near the first green and bounds its way up the fairway then out of the way before it reaches the players. Attention then turns to a group of singers situated to the left of the tee by the traditional starter's hut, who have come armed with an array of songs edited for the European players.

First up is Justin Rose's name to the tune of Spandau Ballet's Gold. Rose, in turn, asks the crowd to make some noise - as if they needed any encouragement - and 2,000 sing along as he goes through his practice swings. Watson - Bubba, that is - does the same. Deathly silence then, as he concludes his follow through, one lone voice from the stands yells "FORE!"

Bubba doubles over in laughter. This is his stage.

Moments later, there are roars of merriment again as Robson announces Bubba to the tee - only to look up and see Simpson standing over his ball. "And that's Webb Simpson," he says dryly, saving well.

Simpson isn't laughing for long, though, as he suffers some first-tee nerves of his own. Opting for the fairway metal, his drive is so high and short he probably could have chased it and caught it.

Next out, it's Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn. They face young American duo Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. The group with the songbook treat the first tee crowd to renditions of Bjorn in the USA and Kaymer Chameleon, before the usual cries of "Rickie!" - mimicking EastEnders characters Ricky and Bianca.

A voice in the crowd quietly asks: "I wonder if he knows what that means…"

And we are only halfway through. One of McGinley's five vice-captains, Miguel Angel Jimenez, comes out. A huge crowd favourite, you can only imagine the reception. Shortly after, basketball uber-legend Michael Jordan appears. The pair take a selfie and then comes the moment the crowd have waited for: local boy Stephen Gallacher and the man they call 'Mr Ryder Cup', Ian Poulter.

The reception for this pairing is so raucous that Robson has to simmer the crowd down.

"Please go down the middle," a fan draped in the St Andrew's Cross whispers. It goes way right, in what was a clear display of nerves from Gallacher.

Last but far from least was arguably the match of the morning: Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia versus Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.

McIlroy, the world No.1, embraces Robson like he would a grandparent, while Garcia teases the crowd as they sing along to his practice swings. On the other side of the tee box, Mickelson gives his trademark thumbs-up to every corner and Bradley draws wolf whistles as he decides it is not cold enough for three layers.

As the final group disappears off down the fairway and everyone filters away from the first tee, one American fan says: "I've been up since 3am. I'm cold, I'm hungry and I need to use the bathroom so badly I might burst … but that's the sacrifice you make for the best hour and a half you can experience as a golf fan."

American fans take on the local dress code © Getty Images
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