MEDINAH, IL -- They came in the dark by the thousands.
Long before the first yaws of sunshine broke over the dome atop the clubhouse, the grandstands beside and behind the first tee at Medinah were full.
Some sprinted from the main gate to the first tee-- a full three-quarters of a mile-- and even a few bold souls wearing kilts broke into a trot. Those already there, huddled beneath jackets and nursed coffee, not yet up for the singing and chanting spectacle that always accompanies the opening shots of the Ryder Cup.
The first costumes arrived at 6:40, a foursome wearing European flag capes along with a couple of guys in towering red, white, and blue wigs. A sextet in royal blue European vests and yellow touring caps led a couple of cheers before being drowned out by Chicago boo birds.
Seven minutes later the songs started: the standard "Ole, ole ole," followed by boisterous chants of "USA, USA." Realizing that they were losing the glee club battle, American fans broke out a ball-park rendition of "God Bless America," all before the first shot was struck.
Fred Couples and Jeff Sluman got into the act, throwing caps into the stands and leading a cheer war between the two main grandstands.
It was a full-bore football game by the time the players arrived.
Neither of the first contestants hit it well. Graeme McDowell stuck a heel pull that clipped a large tree 90 yards in front of the tee.
Jim Furyk was unable to take advantage, hitting a pull hook toward the bunker.
A few minutes later, the second group walked over the bridge from the putting green to the tee, and the European fans booed as Phil Mickelson kissed his wife, Amy.
Luke Donald hit first in the second group and found the fairway up the right side. Then Keegan Bradley stuck a tee in the ground looking like a man ready to climb into an MMA cage. Bradley ripped a drive long, high and straight to boisterous cheers.
By the time the third group walked out, the fans had fallen into a rhythm, conserving energy so that they could go full-bore when the players marched onto the tee. The Americans cheered loudly for something they had never seen, Jason Dufner fist-pumping before striking a shot.
Lee Westwood hit a perfect tee shot down the right center of the fairways, but Dufner pulled his opener into the fairway bunker.
The flags came out en masse for the final match of the morning and the one with the only real animosity among its players. Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter don't get along very well. It seemed appropriate that they were the two men to strike the opening shots for their teams.
Poulter hit a bomb, gritting his teeth and giving a wild-eyed stare to his following.
Woods, who got one of the largest ovations of the morning, quieted the crowed quickly when he hit the worst first-tee shot of the day, a 40-yard hook into the hospitality area.
By then some of the throngs of fans had been sitting in the cold for three hours, the length of a well-played football game. And just as happens when the final whistle blows, they got up and filed out, cheering and laughing and feeling energized for the rest of their day.
It was, all told, a great way to start.
By: Steve Eubanks, PGA.com