The PGA of America hosted a red carpet gala to kick off the 2012 Ryder Cup Wednesday night from Rosemont, Ill. Having never been to a gala of this magnitude, my photographer and I knew going in that we were in for quite the experience.
We were not disappointed.
The gala provides golf fans the only opportunity for fans to see the 2012 U.S. and European Ryder Cup teams together outside the grounds of Medinah Country Club. Held at the Akoo Theater, roughly 20 miles outside of downtown Chicago, players were joined by their spouses and significant others on the red carpet and on stage during the gala.
Starting at roughly 7 p.m., the night's featured guests began filtering in to the theater via the red carpet. U.S. captain Davis Love III and his wife garnered much of the attention from reporters and photographers alike, followed closely by European captain Jose Maria Olazabal. Assistant captains from both teams were also in attendance, including Fred Couples, Mike Hulbert, Jeff Sluman and Scott Verplank for the U.S. and Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Paul McGinley for the Euros.
Local Chicago stars and past athletes also made an appearance, much to the delight of the local crowd. Chicago sports legends Ernie Banks, Richard Dent, Stan Mikita and Scottie Pippen were no strangers to the cameras and numerous reporters lining the red carpet.
Then, of course, the first-ever Ambassador of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team, Justin Timberlake absolutely stole the show as he strolled into the Akoo Theater.
Serving as the emcee for the evening, Timberlake mixed comedy with genuine excitement on hosting the event and participating in such a major event for the sport that he loves.
"How much do I love the game of golf?" Timberlake joked to the crowd. "When I get into an argument with my girlfriend, I simply hold up the ‘Quiet' sign. ‘Sorry honey, I'm just playing through.'"
Finally, all members from both teams made their respective appearances on the red carpet beginning at 9 p.m. Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods represented the U.S. on the red carpet with poise and a fair level of reporter engagement.
Likewise, European team members Nicolas Colsaerts, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer, Paul Lawrie, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood were welcomed with a warm reception from onlookers.
All gala attendees were treated to an impressive show that lasted well into the evening and included performances by Grammy-award winning band Chicago and comedian George Lopez.
Thursday's Opening Ceremonies Officially Kick's Off 2012 Ryder Cup
The next morning we attended Thursday's final practice round at Medinah, leading up to that afternoon's opening ceremonies. Many of the same faces we saw the night before were in attendance for the golf and ceremony, including Timberlake.
Resting in an area between Medinah's No. 1 and No. 3 courses, the ceremony stage featured architecture similar to that of the club's massive Shriner-design clubhouse. As the American and European teams walked to the stage collectively, captains Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal introduced each player to the massive crowd gathered before and around the ceremony. Two large LCD-screens were useful for those fans that wanted to see the ceremony but were too far from the stage to view the action up close.
A touching tribute to the late Seve Ballesteros was also included in the ceremony, emceed by Phil Weaver, chairman of the European PGA. Ballesteros succumbed to his bout with cancer last year.
"Seve Ballesteros became the heartbeat of that team," Weaver said about Ballesteros' efforts to spread awareness of the event, especially following the decision to expand the former Great Britain team to include all of Europe.
"He spoke from the heart and played with his heart. He triggered a golfing explosion throughout the whole of Europe. The Ryder Cup lost a dynamic talent, a true genius and a great friend."
American Pop sensation Jordan Sparks led a stellar rendition of the United States' National Anthem, which prompted a resounding response from Chicago fans.
Following the announcement of Friday morning's foursome pairings for both squads, Love closed the ceremony in a manner that reminded all in attendance that the Ryder Cup is more about mutual respect than just intense competition.
"We will start these matches in a spirit of friendship and we will end them the same way," Love said about what he vowed would be "an honest, fair and intense competition."