Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell start Europe's Ryder Cup challenge

Rory McIlroy, the world's No1 golfer, and Graeme McDowell, who sank the putt that regained the Ryder Cup for Europe at Celtic Manor two years ago, will step out for the first match in the opening foursomes round of the 2012 tournament .

The pair from Northern Ireland will face Jim Furyk, a member of the United States team for the eighth time, and Brandt Snedeker, a rookie in the competition whose victory in last week's FedEx Cup swelled his bank balance by the little matter of $10m.

The remaining three matches pit Luke Donald and Sergio García against Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari against Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner, and – in a potentially electrifying climax to the morning session – Ian Poulter and Justin Rose against Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.

The two captains, Davis Love III and José María Olazabal, revealed their pairings at Thursday's opening ceremony, when fanfares were played, flags raised and tears shed at the mention of the name of Seve Ballesteros, whose image appears on the golf bags of the European players.

It might have been fun to have Olazabal and Love make their announcements from the muezzin's platform near the top of the minaret that forms part of the Medinah course's extraordinary clubhouse. Instead they did it the traditional way, each man making a speech characterised by a dignity and modesty not always in evidence on these occasions.

All too often the Ryder Cup opens in a blaze of patriotic zeal, explicitly linking the efforts of golfers with those of the military and encouraging spectators to express their support in an excessive fashion. The 48-year-old Love, who competed six times as a player, demonstrated that he has seen through all that nonsense.

"We should remember that these matches are not life and death," he told his listeners. "Golf should be played in a spirit of graciousness, or it is not golf at all. Nobody should confuse these matches with any sort of battle except an athletic one."

His audience included Corey Pavin, who infamously wore a Desert Storm cap during the 1991 contest at Kiawah Island, and Hal Sutton, who invited the commander of a US Navy aircraft carrier known as the Big Stick to give the invocation at Oakland Hills in 2004. This was a change of tone and a significant one.

Love's conciliatory approach was reflected in the words of his opposite number. Olazábal, who represented Europe seven times as a player, spoke of "a team spirit and a camaraderie between both sides [which] is something that I shall cherish for ever."

Not that the competition will be any less ferocious. "I know you want to win this lovely gold trophy," Olazábal warned Love, "but I can tell you that we have every intention of taking it home with us."

In another break with tradition, the players made their way to the stage separately from the procession of their "spouses and significant others", as they are now described in the official documents. Presumably this is to avoid embarrassing those, such as Woods, whose personal life has been the stuff of tabloid headlines.

Those to whom the competition extends into the realms of fashion will want to know that the US women were clad in buttermilk tops and gold skirts while their European counterparts wore very chic charcoal sheath dresses.

The ceremony took place by a lake, not far from what is surely the most bizarre landmark in the competition's history. This morning the players will emerge from a vast red and yellow brick mosque, complete with domes, green-tiled roofs, Italianate colonnades and a Tuscan campanile.

Critics claim that it resembles a suburban crematorium and someone's hopes will certainly be incinerated there on Sunday night.

The clue to the eccentric architecture is in Medinah's name: it was built in the 1920s by local members of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, better known as the Shriners, a branch of freemasonry established by a doctor and an actor in New York in 1870.

The Shriners have no connection with Islam but were inspired by the Arab theme of a party in France attended by one of the founders, and members wear a red fez – although not, on the evidence to date, while attending golf matches.

Chicago, however, is a beer-and-hotdogs town, and there will be nothing mystical about the events of the next three days, which will take place on fairways parched to the firmness of concrete by a dry summer and, at Love's behest, so denuded of anything resembling rough that they appear to have been given a Brazilian wax.

Olazábal thanked Medinah's greenkeeper and his staff for their efforts. His view on Sunday night will be interesting to hear.

Powered by article was written by Richard Williams at Medinah, for The Guardian on Friday 28th September 2012 00.55 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Ed McDonald