Justin Rose: What it’s really like playing in a Ryder Cup

Wondering how the Ryder Cup unfolds from a player’s perspective, we asked five-timer Justin Rose to reveal all…

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The first time we meet up as a team is the Monday night, when it’s just a fairly informal get-together. The first official obligation is the team photos on Tuesday morning, and to get all the official engagements and media done as a team is pretty much non-stop from Tuesday through to Thursday night.

There are moments you want to enjoy. You really want to take in the opening ceremony because that’s a special moment. The gala dinner can be nice if you’re sitting with the right people – they mix the teams, so it’s the calm before the storm where everyone is still quite jovial.

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Ryder Cup team Europe

If the bonding process is too contrived, then it is awkward. You don’t need to be a super-close team. At the end of the day, we are professional golfers and you win points by hitting shots, not with high fives. The bond is an organic thing that just happens within a team. There’s always table tennis in the team room and we get matches going. Sometimes the wives get involved too, and that’s good banter.

Every time you come down to dinner there’s no pretentiousness. We all come in our tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts and no one’s really doing their hair. It’s a bit more like how you live at home because no one’s got time to put on their best face. Every night you sit with someone different because it’s a buffet and we’re eating at different times.

Ryder Cup dinner

Everyone realises players have obligations – official and our own individual stuff, whether that’s going to the gym, seeing a physio or having a nap. Guys still have to use the protocols that have got them to the Ryder Cup.

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Pairing up

Practice times are very much set by the captain. There has been debate over the years about how much we practice – if we play 18 holes two days and then nine holes the last day, or just nine holes all three days. The captain will very much have in mind who he wants to go out in certain pairings. That’s one part that I’ve always just accepted, and you practise where you’re told to.

The goal is to learn the course as best you can, but you’re trialling potential partnerships as well – although things change so much from day-to-day. If you played alternate shot with a partner one day and shot 66, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to work the next day. We’re all out there getting comfortable around each other and the golf course.

Ryder Cup players

There’s a bit of pressure because you feel like you’re playing for a slot in the Friday morning session. You’re always trying to get off to a good start and there’s only room for eight guys, so you want to feel like you’re playing well. There’s a lot of talk among the vice-captains and there’s a lot of close eyes on players without the players feeling like there are. The vice-captains are very aware that they want the guys to feel comfortable.

If there’s someone who’s clearly struggling with their game, then there’s a good chance they’re not going to be played that first day. They’ll be given an extra day to get comfortable and work on things.

You start to see some team dynamics, but every team is so different. I’ve been a rookie and by the last Ryder Cup in 2018 I’d played in five, so my role has changed. Again, it’s quite organic. There might be some rookies who absolutely love it and feel bulletproof and there might be stalwarts who aren’t on their best game and they might be the ones who need picking up, so I don’t think you should go into it feeling like you have to be someone you’re not. All the guys have made it there for great reasons and they’re all capable of being a leader.

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Match days

The competition days are really, really early starts. You’re up at 4.30am and playing 36 holes that day, and you might be doing the same the next day as well. The turnaround time is so tight that it’s really hard to get your recovery done. They’re just really long days.

I’ve played 23 out of 25 matches, so I’ve been in the routine of playing. There’s definitely an inclination that if you’re not playing you want to be out there supporting the team, but sometimes the best thing to do is get your own game ready. I’ve never really been in the situation where I’ve had to go out and play some holes behind the field and try to stay sharp, but that’s what guys have to do because there are four players left out every session and they have to be 100 percent ready for the next session. The player decides what he needs to do to be ready for a match, and the captain will always support that.

Finding out if you’re playing in the afternoon can be very much in the moment. The captain would love to stick to his plan A in an ideal world – and the players are very aware of that plan – but things have to be fluid. Paul McGinley was very structured and things went his way so he was then able to execute his plan, same with Thomas Bjorn. Darren Clarke had a good plan, but we lost the first session 4-0 and he had to then be more adaptable. There are moments when you’re finishing off your match and you don’t know if you’re going out in the next session or not. You have to be ready for all scenarios.

Everyone talks about their matches afterwards, and you’re getting feedback about how they feel their match went and how people are playing. There’s always a debrief where the captain will give his thoughts. It might just be him giving a speech, or it might create a scenario where it becomes a discussion and players chip in. I’ve been in team rooms that have been both ways.

It can get emotional. That Ryder Cup in 2012 was a bit exceptional because Jose Maria Olazabal wanted it so much for Seve. He gave us a bit of a rollocking one night when we’d fallen so far behind and hadn’t performed as we could and should have. He felt that’s what the team needed, a kick up the backside. If a team is playing well, then the captain can only get in the way, but there’s going to be a point where a captain has to make key decisions to maintain or switch the momentum and that’s where they have to step up and do what they feel is right. Jose thought it was right to shout at us, and I guess the result proved he was right.

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The aftermath

Emotions run high win, lose or draw, so there’s not a great deal of structure after the last putt’s fallen. You hang out in the locker room for quite a while immediately after – it’s a safe place, you’re around your team and the backroom staff who all work incredibly hard. You take a quiet moment to celebrate as a team or compose yourself after a defeat, because you want to represent your country well in victory and defeat. That said, the closing ceremony can be a bit of a shambles and the players have usually celebrated pretty hard for an hour before they come into the press conferences.

Europe celebrate winning the Ryder Cup

It’s not the easiest place for a player to be, but it’s all part of it and it’s good because it gives people an insight into the raw emotions we’re going through.

When we get away from the course, the party that night is great and everyone gets stuck in. It was incredible at Hazeltine because we’d pulled off something truly remarkable. Winning at Gleneagles and in Paris was amazing, too. The American team took defeat really well – there was a lot of going to each other’s team rooms. I think 2012 was a very tough loss for them and I don’t remember us mixing as much that night, we gave them a bit more space.

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Ryder Cup celebrations

The following day, we all just go our separate ways and the Ryder Cup is consigned to the record books. There’s no big goodbye, we all just head off to wherever we’re going.

There’s a respect there with all your former teammates because you all go through something very powerful together.

It’s kind of unspoken really, but those friendships and memories are there for life.

Justin Rose Ryder Cup

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