The Ryder Cup is to traditional golf as mosh pits are to orchestras. So when the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National held its one-year-out celebration this week, the occasion wasn’t marked by champagne toasts and boring speeches, but by the game’s foremost leprechaun telling bawdy jokes and a pop concert that had the moneyed crowd at The Orpheum dancing at their assigned seats.
Monday night, the Golf Channel recorded Feherty Live with host David Feherty interviewing Ryder Cup captains Darren Clarke and Davis Love, as fans dressed in Vikings jerseys repurposed “Skol, Vikings” into a plea for Love’s American team to win back the Cup. Then Nate Ruess of the band FUN took the stage, bringing the crowd to its feet.
Golf may not be so rowdy again until the actual Ryder Cup begins on Sept. 30, 2016 at the sprawling course in Chaska.
“When does it get real for you?” Feherty asked Clarke.
“Right now,” Clarke said.
In a year, Hazeltine National will host the world’s only premier tournament where the first tee is a frat party, the players quake over something other than paychecks and golf feels like a three-day college football game, if college football players had to stand over three-foot putts with their country’s honor at stake.
Between now and then, Hazeltine National will transform itself from a bucolic suburban golf club into the site of a temporary city hosting an international spectacle.
For the first and perhaps only time in any octogenarian’s lifetime, the Ryder Cup will come to Minnesota, bringing with it worldwide attention and perhaps the greatest episodic rivalry in golf since the primes of Arnie and Jack overlapped.
“I can’t wait until Friday on the first tee just to see that spectacle,” said Ryder Cup tournament director Jeff Hintz. “There is no other place like it in sports. There just isn’t. I think about what the first tee was like at Medinah, and I think about what it’s going to be like for Hazeltine, and the state of Minnesota, and the community. It’s the Ryder Cup in all of its glory.”
For fans, the key word in that quote might be “glory.” For Hintz, 36, it’s “wait.” He worked at the 2012 Cup at Medinah in Chicago and watched the Europeans stage a stunning Sunday rally to win yet again. Becoming director changed his life, permanently and temporarily.
He moved his family to Chaska and a rented house near Hazeltine. He works at a structure tucked around the corner from the course. “I love the three-minute commute,” he said.
Hintz’s life has adopted the rule of threes. He lives three minutes from the golf course that he will spend three years molding into the proper venue for a three-day tournament.
“Please don’t forget the practice rounds!” he said, as he frequently does. “I always tell people it’s like being in the army without the honor of serving your country. We just pick up and move to where we’re needed.”
He brought his family to Minnesota last December. Wednesday will be the last day for fans to enter the random selection process for tickets at RyderCup.com. “Now things are starting to pick up,” he said.
That’s true for everyone involved. Love visited Hazeltine in August and began studying the course. He held a former captains’ meeting this summer to discuss strategies. “When you lose in any other sport, you throw out the game plan,” he said. “We’re starting fresh.”
Love said at the PGA Championship that he wanted to alter the order of holes at Hazeltine for the Ryder Cup. Tuesday, Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s chief championships officer, said holes 14 through 18 will serve as the fifth through ninth holes, and vice versa, for the purposes of crowd and player movement.
Tuesday morning, Clarke and Love held a news conference at Hazeltine, and the massive clubhouse was festooned with the event logo and the faces of Clarke and Love. Banners announced “One Year To Go,” and the Cup sat on a podium next to the captains.
The Cup isn’t large or ornate. It is topped by a gold golfer who looks a bit stiff, as if he’s overwhelmed by the pressure of hitting the first tee shot at the Ryder Cup.
“The pressure coming down the stretch in a major is nothing compared to a Ryder Cup,” Clarke said.
“I’ve never been so nervous hitting a shot in a practice round as I have in the Ryder Cup,” Love said. “The first shot in a Ryder Cup is like the last shot into the green in a major.”
This is the rare competition in golf with no runner-up check, no FedEx points. Only winners and those dealing with emotional devastation.
“It’s an experience that stays with you forever,” Clarke said.
Hintz expects that to prove true. He grew up playing basketball in Indiana and attended IU. His first work in golf came at Hazeltine in 1998. His sister’s friend’s father was playing in a pro-am in Arnold Palmer’s group.
Hintz got the loop and waited until he was alone on a green with Palmer, as Palmer picked his ball out of the hole. “I told him, ‘My Dad is your hero!’ ” Hintz said. “Luckily, he asked me to repeat it and I got it right the second time.”
He first worked at a tournament when he interned during the old Burnett Senior Classic at Bunker Hills, the predecessor to the 3M Championship. “That’s when I said, ‘This is so cool, I want to do this,’ ” he said.
Now he oversees a massive undertaking, creating about two million feet of temporary flooring and tenting for three days of competition.
“We essentially build a small city,” he said. “If you think about the number of people we’re going to have here for the week, over a quarter of a million people for one week, we’ve got to provide all of the modern conveniences that people are expecting when they go to a baseball or football stadium.
“Food. Beverages. Level of food. Restrooms. Entertainment. We have to build an opening ceremonies stage, which is different from what happened at the PGA Championship here. We’ll have a 45,000 square foot merchandising facility. It’s an amazing undertaking.”
Hazeltine plans to offer large screens and on-course media so fans who can’t get close to the matches can see the action. And there will be action.
Screaming and flag-waving on the first tee. Fist pumps and high-fives on the every green. Golfers hugging and weeping Sunday night, then attending a party together. There is nothing like the Ryder Cup in golf, or in sport.
Love, sitting next to Clarke on Tuesday, said: “One will win, one will lose, and we’ll enjoy a cigar and a tear on Sunday night.”