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Ryder Cup begins with moving and colorful extravaganza
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With all the pageantry and celebration that one would expect from the premier event in golf, the 37th Ryder Cup officially got under way Thursday with a grand Opening Ceremony.
A large group of invited guests and dignitaries enjoyed the festivities in front of an elaborate stage while a large overflow of fans positioned themselves in a field beyond the seating area.
"Coming to the Ryder Cup is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Bill Evans, a fan from Indianapolis, Ind., who was part of the large gathering of fans taking in the spectacle. "Everything about it has a special feel."
John Spratt, a friend also from Indianapolis, agreed. "The Ryder Cup is just so unique, so different. There's not a lot of corporate invasion, all the players wear the same shirt, have the same bags -- it's just a great event."
The ceremony began with the traditional lone bagpipe player welcoming the golf world to the event, and then a montage of great moments in Ryder Cup history was shown on the large video screen.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear presented opening remarks, offering an official Kentucky welcome that promised Southern hospitality on a worldwide scale. Beshear called hosting the Ryder Cup in the Bluegrass State a "dream come true," and thanked the Gahm family (the founders of Valhalla Golf Club) and The PGA of America for dreaming big and then making the dream come to fruition.
NBC sports anchor Dan Hicks, who served as the host of the event, then gave a brief history of The Ryder Cup before offering an emotional recognition to the family of the late Payne Stewart, the U.S. golfer who had become a fixture in the event before tragically losing his life in a plane crash in 1999.
Emotion, which always plays a large part of Ryder Cup week, was available in abundance throughout the ceremony. In an unprecedented move, 18 past captains (six from Europe, 12 from the United States) emerged on stage to an exuberant ovation and shared their thoughts as to what makes The Ryder Cup the most compelling event in golf.
Ben Crenshaw, the last captain of a victorious U.S. team in 1999, offered some encouragement to the American squad by offering that he had a good feeling about them and they had "nothing to lose."
After the actual trophy was brought in (announced by the marching bands from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville) by PGA of America President Brian Whitcomb and Philip Weaver, chairman of the Professional Golfers' Association, the members of each team were introduced.
Both heads of their respective organizations addressed the overflow crowd. Whitcomb remarked that golf's "thoroughbreds" should feel comfortable at the home of the famed Kentucky Derby and cited the appropriate nature of the state motto,"United We Stand, Divided We Fall." Weaver paid homage to Samuel Ryder, the founder of the event, and quoted his hope that the "match will be to influence a cordial, friendly and peaceful feeling throughout the civilized world."
And in perhaps the most anticipated moment of the ceremony, U.S. Captain Paul Aziner and Europe Captain Nick Faldo addressed the crowd and announced the pairings for Friday morning's alternate shot matches. Each pairing came down as announced and shook hands. In a light moment, when Azinger was asked to explain his rationale behind the pairing of Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan, the captain replied, "I went by height."
The ceremony closed with a spirited rendition of "My Old Kentucky Home" and streamers that filled the skies above the crowd. It could have been seen as a grand finale. But as the speakers and ceremony reminded the crowd several times, it marked only the beginning.