‘Go­ing back to Le Golf Na­tional made me re­lieved I was pre­sent­ing, not play­ing!’

The French Open left me hooked, but brought back bad mem­o­ries of missed cuts and lost balls

Today's Golfer (UK) - - FIRST TEE - NICK DOUGHERTY

Out of all the courses I’ve re­vis­ited since re­tir­ing, Le Golf Na­tional is one that makes me glad to be be­hind the ropes. Not be­cause I never en­joyed play­ing it; I just never scored very well. When I first played there, I was told to stay patient and hit fair­ways – but I never man­aged ei­ther. Ev­ery lit­tle mis­take was am­pli­fied, which is why I could re­late to see­ing so many pros strug­gle dur­ing the French Open. Although Alex Noren de­liv­ered the big shots when they mat­tered to win his 10th Euro­pean Tour ti­tle, his near­est chal­lengers crum­bled around him as they found the wa­ter or thick rough. But that’s the ge­nius be­hind the golf course and the rea­son why the French Open is so well loved on the Euro­pean Tour. As much as it is un­for­giv­ing, it re­wards great golf tee to green.

That was one of my crit­i­cisms about Hazel­tine and how they took away the skill el­e­ment off the tee by cut­ting all the rough down. In­stead, ev­ery­thing came down to putting, which meant the scor­ing was su­perb. Some fans liked that, but I felt it didn’t ask enough ques­tions of the best play­ers. Le Golf Na­tional is the ul­ti­mate ball-strik­ing course and will pro­vide a dif­fer­ent type of Ry­der Cup drama. You may not think play­ing to par is par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing, but I know from ex­pe­ri­ence just how ter­ri­fy­ing some of the holes are. I al­ways re­spected and ad­mired the lay­out, but I hated the way it made me feel. The men­tal strain over the last four holes, where wa­ter comes into play on three of them, is ex­cru­ci­at­ing for a player but en­thralling as a spec­ta­tor.

What will make this year’s Ry­der Cup even more ex­cit­ing is the dy­namic of the four­ball matches and the temp­ta­tion for play­ers to take on that riskier shot. You don’t have that lux­ury in stroke­play. Justin Thomas told me it was one of the hard­est golf courses he’s ever played. He said that he felt like he had played some of his best golf of the year, and still only fin­ished on four-un­der-par. That bodes well for Team Europe, es­pe­cially as he was the only would-be US Ry­der Cup star to play the event.

It was a smart move on Jim Furyk’s part to in­vite six po­ten­tial mem­bers of his team to Paris the week be­fore The Open so they could see the course, play it and speak with ‘ex­perts’. That’s why I’m in­clined to think that more was prob­a­bly passed on to Spi­eth and Co in terms of the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence than it would have been had they played the French Open and been in that bub­ble of tour­na­ment play. Whether that will count against some­one like Tiger Woods if he needs a wild­card pick, I’m not so sure. Per­son­ally, I think the crit­i­cism he re­ceived for ap­pear­ing at a Nike pro­mo­tional event in­stead has been re­ally un­fair. Ev­ery player has a num­ber of spon­sor­ship com­mit­ments to ful­fil ev­ery year, and Nike’s event was prob­a­bly in Tiger’s di­ary months in ad­vance, well be­fore Furyk thought about a pre-ry­der Cup bonding trip.

What we should be fo­cus­ing on is where Tiger’s game needs to be for him to even earn a Ry­der Cup call up. Right now, you could ar­gue that he hasn’t done enough to earn a place, but if he picks up a win some­where, how do you not pick him? Yes, you can look at his record in four­somes and four­balls and say he’s never been much of a team player. But I think that’s more down to his team­mates be­ing over­whelmed when they’ve been paired with him. In his hey­day, most play­ers – I in­cluded – would have pre­ferred to play against him, rather than with him, be­cause that way you had noth­ing to lose. Since Tiger’s re­turn, the ex­pec­ta­tions have been scaled back and he’s be­come less of an im­pos­ing fig­ure in the team room as a re­sult. Plus, ev­ery­one re­mem­bers and ap­pre­ci­ates the im­pact he made as a vice cap­tain at Hazel­tine and they now see him as a team­mate. That’s why I be­lieve he can only have a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence in the team, re­gard­less of whether or not he is ac­tu­ally play­ing.

What counts in Europe’s favour, of course, is home ad­van­tage and Bjorn will know that the style of the course – par­tic­u­larly the sta­dium ef­fect cre­ated by the bank­ing – has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate a re­ally in­tim­i­dat­ing at­mos­phere which will only add to the pres­sure of hit­ting all those shots over wa­ter. The one down­side is that I don’t think Bjorn can – or will – do much to change how the course typ­i­cally plays. Thick rough and nar­row fair­ways are part of the de­sign, which means any el­e­ment of sur­prise is likely to be dic­tated by the weather. Jimmy John­son, who cad­dies for Thomas, said the Amer­i­cans will just hit irons off ev­ery tee, but that’s as­sum­ing the fair­ways are as fast and firm as they were in July, which is very un­likely. Paris usu­ally en­joys plenty of rain in Septem­ber and the softer the course be­comes, the more it plays to the strengths of the Euro­peans. My only hope is that it doesn’t be­come another washout like Celtic Manor. I’d hap­pily take the same drama and score­line, though!

‘JUSTIN THOMAS TOLD ME IT WAS ONE OF THE HARD­EST GOLF COURSES HE’S EVER PLAYED’

In his seven ap­pear­ances as a player, Tiger has been on the win­ning side in the Ry­der Cup just once (1999). Nick’s ‘Tee Time Tips’ In­sta­gram se­ries has been made into a TV show on Sky Sports. The first of four, 30-minute pro­grammes aired dur­ing the...

Nick Dougherty is a three-time Euro­pean Tour win­ner and now a pre­sen­ter on Sky Sports’ golf cov­er­age. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Nick­dougherty5 and In­sta­gram @nick­dougherty5

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