‘Pretty surreal’ was Paul Mitchell’s initial thought on seeing Chris Wood stride the spectator-lined fairways of Hazeltine during the first official practice of the 41st Ryder Cup.
And no wonder. The Bristol and Clifton Golf Club head PGA Professional first coached Wood as a teenager so to see him scale the heights of one of sport’s greatest events is definitely something to cherish.
But if Mitchell did give it much thought, it was only fleeting because he had serious work to do – helping the 28 year old Wood get prepared for what will arguably be one of the more nervy first tee shots of his career to date on Friday.
Wood has broadened his coaching team and it also includes fellow PGA pros Mike Walker and putting specialist Phil Kenyon who were also patrolling the fairways and greens.
But while both have experienced Ryder Cups before in a coaching capacity, Hazeltine marks Mitchell’s first involvement in the biennial clash and focus is the buzz word of the day.
“I think it goes back to your professionalism as a club pro,” he said.
“You could easily get a bit side-tracked, and start looking at the other players but you are there with a particular player and your job is to look after them. And to be honest, you are so in your own bubble. It’s like when you are playing golf – you focus while you’re out there and it’s the same when you are coaching at an event like this.
“OK, now and then, you might think ‘bloody hell I’m talking to Rory’ when you are walking down the fairway but you are focused on your player and they’ve always got to come first.
“You want to make sure your player is in tip top condition, and everything you could have done is ready by Friday morning. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
Strategy off the tee is set to be key at Hazeltine and day one gave the players the opportunity to see what challenge the Minnesota course offers. Wood was playing with Rory MclIroy, Sergio Garcia and Andy Sullivan.
“A lot of the time it is more about getting the tee strategy right,” added Mitchell. “The par four 15th was a perfect example. It’s a dogleg left. We’ve hit driver while everyone else has hit 3-wood and actually they’ve ended up with a really difficult second shot to the green. If you hit driver, it’s actually a bigger target once you get past the trees. It’s just working things out like that – devising your own strategy. I noticed that with the players today – they were all doing their own thing which is important.
“I think there are some key holes. There is a particularly difficult hole on the front nine (the seventh) which used to be on the back nine.
“It’s where you have water on the right, you drive over water, and have to hit driver really because it is into the wind. The second shot is to a really narrow green with water all around and today it was into a 15mph cold wind!
“That is a particularly difficult hole and the par threes are long – 250 yards. But you realise when you come out here and see them hit three and four irons, you realise that they are at a different level with long irons. iI’d probably need to use my driver to reach!”