The skies over Hazeltine National Golf Club cleared and the sun shone just in time for Thursday’s Ryder Cup opening ceremony in Chaska.
Maybe just in time, too, to blow away the clouds, the cold weather and all the nattering between teams — and within teams — that has led to Europe’s Justin Rose striking the first ball for teammate Henrik Stenson in a foursomes match against Americans Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed just after dawn Friday.
By then, perhaps long forgotten will be Lee Westwood questioning the opponent’s team unity and spirit; U.S. captain Davis Love III calling, whatever the context, his team maybe the greatest ever assembled; Phil Mickelson blaming past captain Hal Sutton for Ryder Cup mistakes made 12 long years ago; and Europe rookie Danny Willett’s brother waxing not-so-poetic about American golf fans.
By then, perhaps maybe the biennial match-play competition will be played with the spirit of the man both teams and dignitaries remembered Thursday, Arnold Palmer.
A video tribute and moment of silence honored the “King,” who died Sunday at age 87. They did so on an afternoon that welcomed a long weekend of golf with song, speeches and special guests Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin.
They did so while fans by the tens of thousands gathered on the driving range and looked down into a natural amphitheater from corporate tent after corporate tent.
Nicklaus and Jacklin recounted one of the Ryder Cup’s most memorable moments — Nicklaus’ conceding Jacklin’s short putt in 1969, a gesture that ended in a tied competition — while Love later in addressing the crowd declared, “Arnold, this one’s for you.”
This one will begin with four morning matches that start with two young Americans facing Europe’s Olympic gold and silver medalists. It will finish with world No. 2 player Dustin Johnson and partner Matt Kuchar facing 10-time Ryder Cup player Lee Westwood and rookie Thomas Pieters.
“Just as Lee says: I hit it really long, he hits it close, I make it,” Pieters said. “Simple.”
Fans will rush onto the grounds at 6:30 a.m. to crowd 15,000 or more around the first tee and points elsewhere for sessions of morning and afternoon play that are filled with sights and sound unlike any other in golf.
“I’m expecting it to be loud, I’m expecting it to be fun, I’m expecting it to be nerve-racking,” said Rose, the Rio Olympic champion. “I’m expecting it to be the Ryder Cup, which is why it’s special. I can’t wait.”
Europe has won three consecutive Ryder Cups, six of the past seven and eight of the past 10. Love’s Friday morning twosomes include the fearless Spieth and Reed as well as the popular Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, together in a pairing that spans a generation.
“Every time I looked at this lineup, I just got more and more excited about all four matches,” Love said.
Love and Europe captain Darren Clarke each submitted his lineup without knowing the other’s intentions. The pairings were announced at the end of the 75-minute opening ceremony that featured several music groups and singers, an out-of-town speaker who praised “Minnesodians” and both captains who introduced their teams.
Friday morning, Love is sending out Mickelson, playing in a record-tying 11th Ryder Cup, and Fowler out to play Europe’s Rory McIlroy and first-timer Andy Sullivan in the day’s second match.
They’re playing for one point, but that’s not how McIlroy sees it.
“It’s an important match, and that match is worth nearly more than one point for Europe,” he said, “because if we can beat their two most popular players, you know, that’s an early blow for them.”
Let the gamesmanship begin.
Or continue, more like it.
While each side has tweaked the other with its words, both have dealt with unwelcome internal issues.
Mickelson apologized to 2004 captain Sutton in person Thursday for comments he made Wednesday. He used Sutton as an example for how a captain can set up his team to fail, and he did so in a Ryder Cup year when Love has reached out to include more past captains in the team’s preparations.
“I feel awful,” Mickelson told the Golf Channel. “It was never meant to be like that. I was trying to use an example of how a captain can have a strong effect. Unfortunately, it came across the way it did. … I was totally in the wrong. I never should have brought it up.”
Willett, meanwhile, played his first full practice round Thursday since his brother Peter had categorized American fans in an essay as “brainless” and “pudgy, basement-dwelling irritants” in an apparent attempt of British humor gone bad.
“Luckily, it has not been too bad with the fans,” said Willett, the reigning Masters champion. “The fans have still been great. There are a few shouts out there, but you can expect that.”
Willett will not play Friday morning, but Clarke said he will play in the afternoon.
U.S. golfer Jimmy Walker will play in Friday morning’s third match with partner Zach Johnson. But before he does, he had a message for 45,000 fans or so expected Friday.
“Be loud, be courteous, be nice, be respectful,” he said. “But cheer hard.”
And even though he didn’t say it, be a bit like Palmer, golf’s greatest ambassador.
“If I may,” Love told the crowd while turning toward Clarke, “I would like to suggest that there is one more captain here working for both teams, our friend, Arnold Palmer.”
Players on Friday will wear pins and fans will receive buttons that say, “I Am a Member of Arnie’s Army.”
“It has been a tough week knowing he’s not there anymore,” U.S. player Brandt Snedeker said. “But it also has been a great week that we have been able to talk about what Arnie meant to us. The game of golf is grieving. … It has been a tough thing, and will be a tough thing, to go through. But he will never be forgotten. He will never be lost. He is a part of us in every way, shape and form.
“There’s a reason I sign my autographs the way I do. There’s a reason I take my hat off when I go into a clubhouse. There’s a reason I try to write thank-you notes all the time. It’s because Arnie does it.”