Thomas Bjørn and Jim Furyk today went head-to-head at The 2018 Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National as the European and United States captains led two teams of junior golfers in a special Captains’ Challenge.
The pair were joined by eight members of the French Golf Federation’s Elite Junior Squad – four boys and four girls – for the fun contest over L’Albatros course, which next year will host The Ryder Cup for the first time, becoming only the second venue in continental Europe to do so.
The Captains’ Challenge was compered by Paul Armitage, Le Golf National’s General Manager, with European Captain Bjørn and United States Captain Furyk steering their respective teams of two mixed foursomes pairings through the five-hole challenge, which was played over the first hole and Le Golf National’s famous finishing stretch, the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes.
Fittingly, the match was halved, with the challenge providing all eight juniors with an experience to remember on the course which will be the backdrop for 24 of the world’s leading players in 12 months’ time.
Team Bjørn, represented by Mathilde Claisse and Dimitri Mary, Lilas Pinthier and Thomas Boulange, and Team Furyk, comprising Candice Mahe and Pierre Pineau, Evangeline Prevot and Clement Charmasson, were then presented with flags signed by both captains as a memento from the day.
The Captains’ Challenge was watched by more than 750 local schoolchildren who were then able to hear Bjørn and Furyk pass on their expertise when the two captains hosted a clinic on the practice range. This group included pupils from the nearby Ecole Robert Desnos, in Guyancourt, who cycled to Le Golf National after earlier in the day receiving a visit from the two captains, who spent time in their classroom learning about the children’s work as part of the Mon Carnet de Golf educational programme.
Bjørn said: “Today brought you back to your own childhood, to see all these kids excited about golf. It was a good reminder of where you came from. It’s been a brilliant day in the sense of seeing the excitement about the Ryder Cup in France.
“We’re in a country where golf is not the biggest sport and The Ryder Cup doesn’t have a history, so to bring it here and see the schools getting involved, and to watch these fantastic young players in the Challenge gives you a few goose bumps. You can feel from them that they are so excited about The Ryder Cup.
“I had some good chats on the golf course with Jim and also with the kids, trying to talk to them about playing the game. They are extremely talented players and it looks like they have a great future ahead of them in the game. One comment to a kid like that can make them because we’ve all had it at some stage in our careers, that one guy who says something that stays with you for the rest of your life. Hopefully we passed on one or two things today that will stick with them and make them into great players.”
Furyk said: “We had a great visit this morning to a local school, and it was then great to see some of France’s elite junior players play a foursomes match. It was nice to see the golf course a bit and enjoy our day with the kids.
“The Captains’ Challenge had some amazing golf. The kids were nervous to start with but they played phenomenal. I enjoyed not only how well they played but how well they interacted. They helped each other reading putts, and played with genuine smiles on their faces.
“I think it was a great experience for them and I can’t imagine putting myself in their shoes, at the age of 16, 18. Trying to go back and hit those shots, I would have been a nervous wreck.
“The clinic was great too. We had a lot of fun interacting with the kids. You want kids them to think of this game as enjoyable, to relate and associate golf as fun. It was good to hear them out there cheering, yelling, and having a great time. It’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
Richard Hills, European Ryder Cup Director, said: “The Ryder Cup is defined by respect and togetherness, and events like the Captains’ Challenge are the embodiment of this. The Captains’ Challenge and Captains’ Clinic demonstrate that golf is accessible to both boys and girls and hopefully all of the juniors involved will be inspired by their unique experience at Le Golf National.
“Thomas and Jim are wonderful ambassadors for our game and for The Ryder Cup, and this undoubtedly came across in both activities, giving the participants a day they will never forget.”
Pascal Grizot, Chairman of Ryder Cup France 2018, said: “This day will leave an unforgettable memory for the numerous children from schools in Saint Quentin en Yvelines and beyond. The Elite teams will also take away great moments from this day with the captains at Le Golf National.
“This is the beauty of major sporting events and the beauty of meeting legends. The French Golf Federation could not dream of a better start to the Year to Go and these two days will really help promote the Ryder Cup to the French public.”
Le Golf National, France, will host The 2018 Ryder Cup from September 28-30, 2018, when Europe will try to regain the Ryder Cup following defeat at Hazeltine National last year. Bjørn’s team will be looking to extend an impressive winning record on home soil which stretches back to Valderrama in 1997.