Oliver Wilson: Ryder Cup rookie recollections

Ryder Cup rookies
Oliver Wilson in action as a Ryder Cup rookie at Valhalla in 2008
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Oliver Wilson looks back to being a Ryder Cup rookie at Valhalla in 2008 and offers some advice to this year's first-timers

Oliver Wilson: Ryder Cup rookie recollections

When I made the team for Valhalla in 2008, I remember that despite playing really well at the beginning of the year with a few second places, the  Ryder Cup wasn’t really on my radar.

Then I went to Wentworth and lost in a play-off to Miguel Angel Jimenez for the BMW PGA in May, and that threw me right into the mix. From then on, making the team became my main goal for the rest of the year.

I played decently, went up to the final qualifying event at Gleneagles and had a great back nine to my second round to make the cut before playing well at the weekend.

It was just an unbelievable relief to make it, and probably the most pressure I’ve ever felt as a professional, because it had been a lifelong goal to get on that team and then all of a sudden it was right there within my grasp.

Obviously there were a few other guys trying to make it, too, and I knew I wasn’t going to get a pick if I didn’t qualify. So it was incredible to get it done and that gave me a lot of confidence, but the overall feeling was one of relief.

Lee Westwood was the first to get in touch shortly after Gleneagles – he gave me a call  to say well done, and give me a better understanding and awareness of just what it was going to be like, especially on that 1st tee!

He told me that was going to be very intense, and from what I’d seen and what Lee told me, I visualised a very intimidating tee shot daily.

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That really helped, because once I got there, yes, it was an incredible moment, but I actually felt very comfortable. The adrenalin was going and it was an electric atmosphere, but I was pretty relaxed and really quite calm.

I don’t know why because I’ve never been that calm on a golf course before, but I think visualising and building stuff up in your head to be worse than it’s going to be can really help when you get there.

I played foursomes with Henrik Stenson on the second day against Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim, and we were 4dn through six, so that wasn’t a great start. We played well even over those first six holes – they just got off to an incredible start.

But we kept pecking away, got it back to all square and then managed to win 2&1. It was a fantastic moment in my career.

I hit the first tee shot, which I was quite pleased about because it’s an experience you will never forget. Henrik and I made that decision after plotting our way around the course beforehand.

We figured there were a couple of carries that Henrik would make a lot more easily, and a couple of longer par 3s that it would be better for him to hit into due to his length. That worked pretty well.

As for my singles match, I played well but was a little unlucky to draw an inspired Boo Weekley. I think I was four-under, which was pretty good around there and would have beaten every other US player, I believe.

But Boo was on fire – it’s still the best round of golf I’ve ever witnessed and he says it was one of the best rounds of golf he’s ever played. So it was disappointing, but that’s match play.

As for this year’s rookies, I’m not sure what advice I can offer, because if they’ve qualified for the team as rookies, it’s obviously because they are playing well and are full of confidence. Generally they are going to be a bit younger, too, so they feel invincible, and making the team is just a natural progression.

They are full of confidence, and with good course strategy and the right pairings, that’s all you need. The are going to be going there knowing that they are good enough to beat anyone.

One thing I did find was that it was possible to turn the atmosphere of the American fans into a positive. You don’t really listen to the words and the fact that they are chanting ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’ – you just feed off the noise and the atmosphere, and it spurs you on.

The Americans might think it’s affecting you, but it didn’t for me, and that can help you dramatically. But I think our team this time, as far as rookies go, is going to be pretty strong, so I wouldn’t be too worried.

I was playing nicely in the build-up to Valhalla, and although I wasn’t swinging great the week of the event, I was confident coming into it. The biggest problem is turning up not playing well as there is no time for practice.

The days are filled with practice rounds, media, autographs and other stuff. You’re obviously in such a cauldron that you want to feel confident, and if you’re not, it can eat away at you a bit. But I don’t think there will be too much of a problem on that front at Hazeltine this year.


Nick Bonfield
Features Editor

Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, writing, commissioning and coordinating all features across print and online. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email nick.bonfield@futurenet.com with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x