A wet day in The Windy City couldn’t dampen the spirits and sense of anticipation as three days of festivities culminated today when shortly before 1.30pm CDT the 2012 Team Captains, Davis Love III and José Maria Olazábal, took to the stage for the Year-to-Go Captains’ press conference.
It should perhaps come as no surprise, coming from a country that has forged a multi-billion dollar industry on the back of spectacle and entertainment, that a year out from The 2012 Ryder Cup in Medinah, Illinois, the Chicago celebrations are being carried out with all the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood film premiere.
The magnificent Medinah Country Club Ballroom played host to the more orthodox segment of Monday’s activities, which became more jet-set as the day progressed.
Following a compelling hour of the Captains taking centre stage at Medinah, the pair travelled by police escort first to Trump Towers for a ceremonial Captains’ Charity Golf Shot from the sixteenth floor of the Chicago skyscraper that replicated the par three 17th hole at Medinah, before throwing the first pitch at the White Sox baseball game at Cellular Field.
In a city famed for its sporting zeal it is fitting that the overriding flavour of the four day celebration has been the sport of the city, with the Captains taking in a Chicago Bears American Football game yesterday before this evening’s baseball showpiece.
But before the Year-to-Go bonanza left for nearby Chicago, both Captains had appeared in fine form at the press conference, espousing effusively the spirit that makes The Ryder Cup the most unique of grand sporting events, embodied in the great mutual respect the two men appear to have for one another.
European Captain Olazábal said: “I’m thrilled to be here kicking off this one year to until The Ryder Cup.
“[Me and] Davis go back a long way. We actually turned professional in the same year in 1986 and we have played a lot of times together, and we have played against each other quite a few times at The Ryder Cup.
“You’ve had a successful career, but I think most important of all is that you’ve earned the respect of the golf community for the way you have conducted yourself through all these years and I think that is very important.”
The United States Captain was also sincere in his assessment of the man whose team he will be looking to defeat in a year’s time.
“We have been friends and competitors for a long, long time, and I think this two-year process is going to bring us even closer together,” he said, before adding, “I have really enjoyed this day. We didn’t get to play golf but we’ve had a good time hanging out in the locker room in this great clubhouse.”
Both men, however, were insistent upon the fact that their close relationship wouldn’t alter their fundamental goal of winning The Ryder Cup come next September.
Olazábal said: “Don’t get mistaken. Even though we have a lot of respect for each other, we played together a lot of times for many years, we are still competitors.
“We are going to try to beat each other like hell, that’s for sure,” he laughed, sending chuckles around the room.
In the 1916 poem, “Chicago”, Carl Sandburg christened the Midwest metropolis the “City of big shoulders”, and both Captains will need the same to bear the weight of responsibility that comes with being a Ryder Cup Captain.
But Love believes the passionate Chicago faithful can play a part in attempting to wrestle the trophy from European hands.
“Medinah is going to be an incredible place for a Ryder Cup,” he said. “Chicago fans have been great to me already in the last year. I know they are going to be very supportive of both sides, but I feel like we’ll have a nice home-field advantage playing here at Medinah, a great history of the game, and great sports fans.
“I certainly feel like we are going to have a 13th man, because we are at home.”
Yet Team Europe will have another form of inspiration to further spur them on next year, as The 2012 Ryder Cup will be the first since the passing of the current Captain’s friend, mentor, and colleague, Seve Ballesteros, and the late Spaniard’s name was unsurprisingly not far from Olazábal's thoughts throughout.
Ballesteros’s name is simply synonymous with The Ryder Cup, and Olazábal’s memorable moments of previous Ryder Cups naturally involved the undisputed figurehead of European golf, reminiscing how Seve coaxed him through his first Ryder Cup at Muirfield in 1987, telling him, “José, you just play your game, I will take care of the rest”.
It is the blend of camaraderie and respect, in the face of great rivalry and intense longing for the sweet taste of a special victory, that makes The Ryder Cup such a thrilling phenomenon.
In fact, Ballesteros once famously stated: “I look into [my opponent’s] eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck, but I am thinking, ‘I am going to bury you’”.
Davis Love recalled a special moment with Darren Clarke in Detroit after a closely-contested battle, a moment he feels exemplifies the inimitable nature of the contest.
“It was a hard-fought match between friends, and then afterwards, we were sitting on the side of the green sharing a cigar together watching the rest of the matches unfold.
“I’ll always remember sitting, talking with him about our match and about The Ryder Cup and what it meant to us, and that’s what it is all about.”
And Olazábal agreed with his opposite number, saying: “We are going to try, both of us, to win that trophy. And that’s not going to change our relationship at all.
“When everything is done and over, we’ll be as good friends as we are now. And that, I think, is the true spirit of this event.”
And as the focus moved to the razzmatazz of a star-studded evening in Chicago, the words of a more modern day poet, native Midwesterner and singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, ring true after a thoroughly entertaining day.
The title track of Stevens’ 2005 concept album, “Illinois”, is called “Chicago”, and its main refrain seems appropriate as we step to within a year of tee off at Medinah:
“All things go”.