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McGinley: Players like 'gladiators'

Ryder Cup veteran Lee Westwood called it a cauldron and Graeme McDowell rated his experience as bizarre, but European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley wants his players to take on the stature of gladiators when they walk onto the first tee at Gleneagles.

Every individual handles the occasion differently, but what they will have to cope with, starting from Friday, is the pressure which comes with the fevered atmosphere of the hugely anticipated clash against the United States.

The walk to the first tee goes through a tunnel under a road, and McGinley likened the players' emergence on the other side to that of gladiators entering the arena.

Westwood, in his ninth Ryder Cup, knows what that feels like.

"I was nervous on the first tee at Valderrama (his debut in 1997) and that was without the 3,000 seats at the first tee and all the hype," he said.

"I would imagine for the rookies it's going to be a bit of a shock. It's a bit of an intimidating atmosphere, but nothing they can't handle.

"It really gets you going and gets the juices flowing. It's changed a lot, though.

"It's getting more and more like a cauldron-type atmosphere, an amphitheatre to get your round off.

"Nothing prepares you for the Ryder Cup and getting on the first tee there and the atmosphere.

"I played with Tom Lehman in the singles in 1999 and he got the crowd to sing the national anthem. That was sort of the build-up to the atmosphere that there is now really around the first tee."

As the players stand on the first tee, in their eye-line will be a quote from the late, great Seve Ballesteros posted on the back of the 18th grandstand which reads: "As a player and captain these are unforgettable moments when you are competing for your team-mates, your country and for the people of your continent."

McGinley has tried to make the walk - and he would prefer his players to make their own way rather than be driven there - to the tee more aesthetically pleasant with some cosmetic dressing, but he does not expect it to lessen the impact when they are greeted by the crowd.

"It was a grey, miserable tunnel for carts to go under (but now) we've got flowers and, to be fair to America, half of it is red and half is blue," he said.

"I'm very keen on the players walking to the first tee rather than being taken there in a buggy, although some may choose to be so.

"I think it's important to walk to the tee and we want to bring it to life - a bit like gladiators walking into the arena as you walk up that hill coming out of the tunnel.

"The crowd will get a glimpse of them from the huge stands that are there and from the hospitality (area); it should be an electric atmosphere."

McDowell has experienced pressure situations at both ends of the contest, having holed the winning putt in 2010 and hit the first shot in Medinah two years ago.

"I'm a guy that certainly embraces high-pressure scenarios and tries to put them in perspective and realise that that's why I practise and that's why I should try to enjoy it," the Northern Irishman said.

"Not that those types of scenarios are easy to enjoy - they are very painful.

"They're very unusual because you crave them but when you're actually there you kind of wish you weren't because it's very hard and all you can think about is not messing up.

"2010 was the most nerve-wracking experience probably of my life.

"I thought I would be nervous going into the delivery room four weeks ago (for the birth of his first child) but I don't think I will ever be that tight and that nervous again in my life as that back nine against Hunter Mahan in Celtic Manor.

"Hitting the first tee shot at Medinah a couple years ago was a very bizarre experience.

"I felt very calm and confident as I went to the first tee; the noise was amazing and everyone's excitement levels had peaked.

"I remember putting the tee in the ground, the whole place going deathly silent and standing over the tee shot thinking to myself, 'This is just the most bizarre feeling I've ever had in my life'.

"I didn't put a very good swing on it, like my head was genuinely elsewhere taking in how surreal the moment and the environment was from sort of high noise levels to absolutely zero. The silence level was amazing.

"The great thing about the Ryder Cup is it's Sunday-afternoon pressure from the first tee shot on Friday morning."

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