Larrge confetti streamers burst into the air. Musical guests Kaiser Chiefs and Jain played a few quick songs.
Players and wives attended in matching team formal wear, thousands of spectators chanted and danced, and the spectacle that is the Ryder Cup opening ceremony concluded with captains Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn finally announcing their pairings for Friday morning four-balls.
PGA Tour caddie and Ryder Cup veteran John Wood did not partake.
He’d planned on attending but got word about an hour before the opening ceremony that officials were going around Le Golf National painting hole locations on the greens for the following day’s matches. So he headed back to the course after a long day of practice rounds.
“I spent three hours out there getting all the pins the night before and getting guys a rough pin sheet of what they would be for both rounds the next day,” Wood said.
Wood has plenty of experience as a Ryder Cup caddie with Hunter Mahan and current player Matt Kuchar, but his role for the U.S. team changed this year with Kuchar serving as a vice-captain.
His role as Kuchar’s right-hand man for the week was an expansive one. Some of the work was strategic, like when he noticed players were missing the par-3 second long off the tee during Saturday morning four-balls because the wind appeared to be hurting but was actually coming in sideways. That information was relayed to Kuchar, who radioed Furyk so he could pass it along to the players on the tee.
Then there were the more mundane logistical tasks.
“With how cold it was in the mornings and how nice it got in the afternoons, there was so much clothing they needed that sometimes (players) didn’t bring out the right stuff,” Wood said. “’So and so is on the third hole and didn’t bring his sweater out, he wants to take his jacket off and put his sweater on, can someone go find it?’”
He loved Le Golf National, really liked the layout, thought the routing was fantastic.
But he also questioned, considering Team USA’s 17-11 victory at a bomber-friendly Hazeltine and its recent 17.5-10.5 loss on a polar-opposite track,
if home field has become too advantageous.
“I start to wonder right now if both sides are getting too extreme on the setups,” Wood said. “I’m wondering if there’s a happy medium between what we had at Hazeltine, which was fairly wide open and no rough to speak of, and in Paris with the most penal rough we’ve played in years. … It’s the same course for everybody, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like it’s fair or unfair, but I wonder if we’re losing those exciting 14.5-13.5 or 14-14 Ryder Cups by tilting the courses so much toward the home team.”
Wood spent some of the Sunday singles session bouncing around between a few groups. He was told Webb Simpson didn’t have anyone with him during his match against Justin Rose and shot over for moral support.
Once the Cup had been decided and matches were still going on, he remained engaged. European fans swarmed the fairways in the aftermath, so Wood and others were carting family members back to the team room, making sure they didn’t get caught up in the wash. The real gut-punch feeling didn’t take hold until after the dust had settled and the closing ceremonies were underway.
It all went so fast. With almost no break between sessions, the first two days are a blur. There was a brief window of hope for the Americans early in Sunday singles, and then it was all over. Two years of obsessive planning and work had led to another loss on foreign soil.
“I think the one commonality is everyone felt awful that we didn’t win for Jim,” Wood said. “When it doesn’t work out, that’s the first thing that pops into my mind, how disappointed I am for them, and I’m disappointed too. I want to win that Ryder Cup no matter what I’m doing, but it’s very emotional
for me and some others thinking about not getting it done for Jim, because typically you get one shot at being a Ryder Cup captain. … I’m sure it was incredibly difficult, knowing what it meant to him.”
The whole week gave Wood a different perspective. A big-picture look at the whole operation. He’s still processing everything that taught him. And, at the end of the day, he’s still a competitor.
“It’s my favorite event by far and it killed me not to caddie in this one,” Wood said. “It was fun doing what I did, but once the tee went into the ground on Friday, I was going a little stir crazy. Even though I had a lot to do still, I sure missed the caddying part of it.” Gwk
(Note: This story appears in the November 2018 issue of Golfweek.)