CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) - Moving tributes to Arnold Palmer and a celebration of sportsmanship from the Ryder Cup past highlighted Thursday’s opening ceremony of the 41st edition of the match play event starting on Friday at Hazeltine.
Under blue skies and warm sunshine, Palmer, who died on Sunday aged 87, was honored in a touching video montage of his life and exploits on the golf course, and a moment of silence was observed for the man who was known simply as, ‘The King’.
Thousands of fans crowded a grassy expanse in front of a stage set under a giant banner of the gold trophy donated in 1927 by Samuel Ryder as a prize for the international competition held every two years.
Before the introduction of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and European captain Darren Clarke and their 12-man teams, two fabled Ryder players and captains - Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin - were saluted for an iconic moment of sportsmanship.
Jacklin and Nicklaus were deadlocked in 1969, as was the overall score, heading to the last hole of the closest Ryder Cup matches to date when Nicklaus conceded a two-foot par putt to Jacklin rather than make him convert in the intense pressure for what resulted in the first Ryder Cup draw, at 16-16.
After receiving a long, standing ovation, Nicklaus said: ”Arnold touched every aspect of the golf world including the Ryder Cup,” said Nicklaus, who called his one-time rival, ”the most popular person ever to play the game.”“We all feel his love and dedicate these games to his honor.”
A U.S. National Guard band, big musical production numbers, stirring renditions of the anthems and a rumbling jet flyover created a festive atmosphere.
The stars of the show were ultimately the players and they made their entrance dressed in dignified dark suits and took their places in the front row.
“I am so proud to be captain and that pride stems from the people that I am representing, and the players are at the top of that list,” said Clarke.
After four days ramping up to the matches the players looked raring to go, most noticeably world number three Rory McIlroy who pumped his fist with gusto when introduced.
Love, as did Clarke, also introduced his assistant captains, a U.S. group that included 14-times major winner Tiger Woods, who like many others on stage had soaked through his shirt with perspiration in the late afternoon heat.
At the end of the introductions, the pairings for the first foursomes matches launching the three-day event were announced.
Clarke put forward his top pair, Olympic champion Justin Rose and British Open winner Henrik Stenson.
Love countered with world number four Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who were unbeaten in tandem two years ago at Gleneagles, winning two matches and halving another.
When their names were called, they jumped to their feet and high-fived each other in anticipation of a big showdown.
Both Love and Clarke also paid homage to Palmer, with the U.S. captain saying: “Arnold, this one’s for you.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes