SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES – Big-hitting American stars may have to adjust their games when they defend the Ryder Cup against Europe in September on a tight, punishing course at Le Golf National just outside Paris.
All 12 Europeans are certain to be familiar with the quirks of the French set-up designed to favour strategic play, while American long hitters like world number one Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and even possibly Tiger Woods will have to put away their drivers on the majority of holes.
The Americans regained the Ryder Cup two years ago at a Hazeltine track with forgiving fairways and slick greens, but will find a totally different proposition awaiting them in France as they look to win the trophy on European soil for the first time in 25 years.
Course director Paul Armitage, watching the Americans at the Albatros course during a Ryder Cup practice session in mid-July, said the Europeans will have a head start at the September 28-30 contest.
“The Europeans know the course better. It's a real advantage,” said Armitage.
He said that even three-time major champion Jordan Spieth was finding out the hard way and had hit two iron shots into the water in succession.
“There is only one way to play some holes and if you don't know that, or don't do that, holes like the famous (par-three) 16th will eat you,” he added.
US Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk brought five US team hopefuls including two-time Masters winner Watson and Spieth over to France for a weekend ahead of the British Open.
Only two other Americans, Phil Mickelson and world number three Justin Thomas, have already played the course this season.
Furyk said they will share their knowledge with other potential team members who can't make the trip before the Ryder Cup.
The message from Furyk will be to keep the driver in the bag, shoot for accuracy rather than distance, and prepare for a showdown on the greens of the par-71, 7,331-yard championship course.
“It's a placement golf course. They are not going to hit a lot of drivers, they're going to hit a lot of three woods, and lot of irons off the tee. It's a second-shot golf course,” said the 48-year-old.
“You have to be very precise off the tee. Hit the ball accurately, maybe not that far but accurate. “
Armitage said if you gamble, you can win but you have to play with “brains rather than brawn”.
“Americans love the driver, they love to hit 250-300 metres off the tee. You can't do that here. You can't attack this course. I think what bothers them is that you have to use strategy rather than muscle.”
Watson agreed that the course was a second-shot layout but insisted that better knowledge won't win the trophy for Europe.
“It's not really about knowing the course more, it's about hitting shots,” he said. “We are all going to have to make 10-footers, we are all going to have to hit good iron shots, hit good tee shots, fight the nerves off.”
Spieth described it as a “pick your shot, pick it apart” course “with a lot of people playing from the same spot”.
“So it will be kind of wedges, short iron control, then a putting contest - which will be very exciting.”
The last four holes are the toughest with the 16th an exciting par-three with water down the right-hand side, while the treacherous 18th is surrounded by an amphitheatre that can hold 50,000 spectators.
“There's a lot that can happen on 15, 16, 17, 18,” said Furyk.
“It's an amazing amphitheatre. I am trying to grasp how many fans will be wrapped in this one area. It will probably be the biggest stage we have ever had in any golf tournament just in those four holes.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)