MEDINAH, Ill. – Michael Phelps introducing Justin Timberlake.
Welcome, folks, to the Ryder Cup.
This is a tournament where a man walks around in a kilt, a pair of golf shoes and a Ralph Lauren bag draped over his shoulder, and no one does a double take.
Where Brandt Snedeker tossing lapel pins into the air sends a screaming crowd of 40-somethings in collared golf shirts scrambling to grab one as if it's Eddie Van Halen's guitar pick.
Where Tiger Woods is average.
Where chants of USA! USA! spontaneously break out, only to be silenced the moment anyone steps up to their golf ball.
Where Bubba Watson pulling out a pink driver causes a near riot.
Where the player who lives the closest to the course is part of the away team.
And it's where, as Europe's Ian Poulter put it, "you can be great mates with somebody, but, boy, do you want to kill them."
So is the essence of an event that every two years pits a team of United States golfers against one from Europe in what amounts to a three-day, 28-match intercontinental showdown.
In the week leading up to this year's 39th edition, player after player, as well as both team captains, went to great lengths to talk about how much respect they have for one another.
"It's friendly," U.S. captain Davis Love III said. "It's definitely not a war or a battle."
And it won't be, at least not until someone lines up that first putt, stands over it and nervously knocks it in the cup to win a hole. At that moment, when a player feels the urge to pump his fist in the air and offer his partner an emphatic high-five, it'll become quite clear that this isn't your average tournament.
This is what the Ryder Cup does to golf: It turns it into Auburn vs. Alabama.
[Related: Can Rory keep up with Tiger's career arc?]
It's why the American players lost their heads in 1999, jumping around the 17th green at Brookline to celebrate Justin Leonard draining a 45-footer even though Europe's José María Olazábal hadn't putted out. It's why the fans that same year in suburban Boston spent three days mercilessly abusing Colin Montgomerie with jeers about his weight and dubbing him "Mrs. Doubtfire."
No doubt Olazábal, captain of this year's European squad, had this in mind when he essentially lectured the crowd at Medinah Country Club during Thursday afternoon's opening ceremony.
"Chicago is a passionate city. We know you will be strong in your support for your team," Olazábal said in his address. "But I also believe you will honor the tradition of courtesy and sportsmanship that is the bedrock of our game and the Ryder Cup."
The world is smaller than it was in '99, and that's changed the dynamic of the contest to a point where Olazábal probably didn't need to go as far as he did. Most European players make their home on this side of the pond -- England's Luke Donald, a graduate of Northwestern University, lives about 25 miles from Medinah – and have become as popular with the American fans as the American players themselves. These days, U.S. fans clamor for Rory's autograph as much as they do for Tiger's.
But this being the Ryder Cup, where flag-waving fans can easily get caught up in a wave of jingoism, Olazábal felt compelled to say something.
"We know Chicago is going to be loud," he explained later. "They love the game of golf, and I'm pretty sure they are very strong in their support for the U.S. team, without a doubt. But I felt that I need to make that point clear.
"Even though we are going to try to beat each other, obviously, but the spirit of the Ryder Cup is what it is. We are here just to compete for the Samuel Ryder Cup in a friendly way. I mean, there is no need for any harsh words or bad comments at the wrong time. That's why I felt I need to make that point."
Lest you've forgotten, we're talking about a golf tournament here, the kind of event where spectators are self taught not to clap too loud.
And still Olazábal felt compelled to wag his finger at a crowd that Timberlake, serving as emcee for Thursday's ceremony, joked didn't know what beatboxing is. That knee-slapper came after he read a poem. About golf.
That's right, the same guy who sang "…. In A Box" entertained a crowd at a country club by reading a poem about golf.
Welcome to the Ryder Cup.
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