From Friday through Sunday, 24 of the greatest golfers in the world will try to tame Hazeltine National in Chaska while tens of thousands of Ryder Cup spectators from Minnesota and around the world look on in amazement.
Those fans will come to see seemingly normal-looking people do incredible things on the golf course.
But on Tuesday, many of those same fans came for a much different reason: to see incredible people do very ordinary things on the golf course during the Ryder Cup celebrity scramble.
Chief among the famous folks who decided to give it a go: Michael Phelps, who is quite possibly the greatest swimmer who ever lived and could defeat everyone on the street each and every time in a 50-meter race in the pool.
On the golf course? Phelps is not bad. He’s ordinary, carrying a 15.6 handicap. There were probably thousands of average citizens at Hazeltine on Tuesday who would stand a pretty good chance of defeating Phelps in a regular round of golf.
Outside of the typical celebrity gawking — “Phelps kind of walks like Dustin Johnson,” one fan said as he studied the swimmer — one suspects that is among the biggest lures of these types of celebrity side shows at sporting events.
Maybe it’s not human nature to want to see our athletic heroes fail, but it is certainly human nature to want to know they’re human. Phelps in the pool looks like he’s part dolphin, part robot and part deity.
He waved politely and even enthusiastically to the several-deep gallery, drawing cheers as he did his traditional swimming warmup in the first tee box — not long after a fan had made the same motion after catching Phelps’ eye.
But Phelps on the golf course looks like a regular guy (albeit a tall guy with a clear swimmer’s build). He crushed his drive down the middle on the first hole — prompting one fan to remark, “He does everything right” — but Phelps’ approach was beyond the green and his putt missed the mark.
If you’ve ever made a par in a scramble, you have something in common with Phelps. Those who weren’t impressed by Phelps — which included one woman who managed to downplay his 23 Olympic gold medals during our brief conversation — were more apt to swoon over the final pairing, which included actor Bill Murray, singer Huey Lewis and One Direction member Niall Horan.
Murray made jokes on the first tee box and had a very high tolerance for everyone who shouted, “It’s in the hole!” in honor of his Caddyshack character, Carl Spackler.
Consider it a good warmup for the rest of the week, complete with fans getting into the national spirit by chanting, “USA! USA!” whenever the American celebrities did well. The figure to have plenty more chances to cheer when the real thing starts.
On Tuesday, they could at least be heartened that golf is often the great equalizer and that celebrities in some ways are just like us.