Catalina Fragoso, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Justin Thomas
- Le Golf National in Paris, France will host the 2018 Ryder Cup.
- Alex Noren won the Open de France at the course a few weeks ago at 7-under.
- According to the participating golfers, strategy will be key in succeeding at the course.
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — As the only member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team to compete in this summer’s Open de France, Justin Thomas owns a unique vantage of host venue Le Golf National.
And he likes what he’s seen so far.
“It’s a very strategic course,” said Thomas, who finished T-8 there in July. “It’s a great test of golf, and I think it’s going to be a lot different than some Ryder Cups in the past where you could have pars and bogeys winning holes.”
That might sound like the usual doom-and-gloom rhetoric we often hear from professional golfers about any track, but the numbers back up his perspective.
First of all, Thomas revealed that he used driver off the tee just seven times in those four tournament rounds. Secondly, that week’s winner, Alex Noren, who will play for the European side this week, claimed the title at a mere 7-under on the par-71 course.
We can know nothing else about a venue other than these facts and still understand that one which takes driver out of players’ hands and doesn’t yield too many birdies should require the utmost in strategic plotting.
“It’s a brilliant golf course,” Paul Casey concurred. “It’s intimidating. It’s long. It’s such a strong stroke-play golf course, but gosh, I think it’s an even better match-play golf course. It’s just perfect for this. It’s got so many attributes which will make this an amazing Ryder Cup.”
There’s a fine line between great stroke-play courses and those which might be perfectly routed and manicured, but don’t necessarily fit this format.
Others agree with Casey’s assessment that Le Golf National will be a special venue for this specific competition.
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic fan golf course, the way it’s sort of set up,” said Justin Rose. “There’s going to be a lot of risk-reward holes, a lot of water in play, a demanding finish. So it should have everything for drama.”
Conditions, of course, will have the greatest impact on whether players need to make birdies to win holes or simply avoid bogeys to keep from losing them.
If the course plays as it did two months ago, with wind whipping across narrow fairways bordered by thick rough, the idea of conservative golf might be the strategic play.
On the week that Noren won, only a half-dozen players posted sub-70 scores in the opening round and just 27 broke par for the entire tournament.
“That week, it was just all about getting the ball in the fairway, because the fairways are extremely narrow and the rough was very long and the fescue was very close to that, as well,” Thomas recalled. “It was more so about getting the ball in the fairway and then from there you could attack on some of the holes.”
“To me, it’s just going to depend on the weather,” explained Tony Finau, who played the course as part of a U.S. team scouting trip two months ago. “If the wind blows, the course is hard for anybody. It plays that way because there’s so much water that comes into play. When we played it a couple months back, there was not a lot wind. Just with the group of guys we had, we made a lot of birdies. So it just depends on the wind.”
Requiring precision over distance and strategy over bomb-and-gouging, Le Golf National should provide an advantage to those who are best able to think their way around a golf course.
On a track that appears tailor-made for this match play format, that could be the key element to claiming the Ryder Cup.