CHICAGO, Illinois (AFP) –
Jets roared overhead, flags were raised and national anthems sung as the biennial battle between Europe and the USA kicked into high gear Thursday with the Ryder Cup opening ceremonies.
The one hour outdoor ceremony on the stage in front of the clubhouse of the Medinah Country Club began with a heart-warming poem from master of ceremonies Justin Timberlake and ended with the announcement of the pairings for Friday’s opening matches.
“Welcome to the 39th Ryder Cup,” said US team captain Davis Love. “We are going to have three incredible days of golf here.”
American Olympic swimming hero Michael Phelps gave the the opening speech before handing over the microphone to American singer-actor Timberlake, a six-handicapper who recited a poem about golf while being accompanied by the Chicago Youth Symphony orchestra.
The teams were then led onto the stage by a military band. The wives and girlfriends arriving first and taking their chairs. They were followed by the players from both teams dressed in matching gray suits. The European team wore blue ties and the US players had gray ones.
The site of the American players brought the first chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” from the gallery.
Phil Weaver, chairman of the European Professional Golf Association, paid tribute in his speech to Seve Ballesteros who died in May of last year from a brain tumour.
Weaver’s speech brought a tearful reaction from Ballesteros’ close friend and former playing partner Jose Maria Olazabal, who is captain of the Europe team.
When it was his turn to speak Olazabal talked warmly of Ballesteros.
“How wonderful it is to be at Medinah Country Club for the 2012 Ryder Cup,” Olazabal said. “In my career I have come to realize how unique the Ryder Cup is. When I started playing golf I never thought I could be in this position.
“I can mention a great friend in Seve. He was a special man and I believe Seve represented the core of Ryder Cup values. I learned from him what true passion is all about. Seve we miss you.”
“On our stage we have the best 24 golfers on either side of the Atlantic,” Olazabal said. “
“I know how much you (USA) want this lovely, gold trophy back – but we have every intention of taking it back home with us.”
As Olazabal spoke there were cries of “Oles” and people waving European flags in the gallery.