The official gala dinner on Wednesday night was a prime opportunity to engage in some of the Ryder Cup’s more stubbornly enduring traditions: golf-themed desserts (this time a lavish coconut cream effort called “Hole In One”), bad music (the singer-songwriter Phillip Phillips, who I’m sure played in the singles at Celtic Manor in 2010), and of course putting women in expensive dresses and making them stand silently while other people photograph them. As the European players and their wives descended the famous Spanish Steps, two of their number were conspicuously unaccompanied: Viktor Hovland and the vice-captain José María Olazábal. And so, in an arrestingly tender gesture, Olazábal and Hovland decided to couple up, posing hand-in-hand as they entered the Piazza di Spagna. A powerful stand against the heteronormativity and innate conservatism of professional golf? Or a piece of quite cringey banter? Probably depends how the rest of the evening panned out, to be honest.
To Viktor the spoils
Certainly Hovland seemed suitably refreshed when he arrived at the course on Thursday morning, if his practice drive at the fifth hole was anything to go by. Taking on the green at the 302-yard par four with a three-wood, Hovland’s ball cleared the lake and skipped on to the dancefloor before landing flush in the cup. Cue hugs on the tee, pandemonium in the stands and beaming smiles from Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald, who were watching a short distance away. And nobody seemed overly fussed that it was actually Hovland’s second ball, after his first had disappeared into the right rough.
A planned public transport strike that could have disrupted the opening day of the Cup has been controversially called off after the intervention of Italy’s transport minister, Matteo Salvini. The Unione Sindacale di Base originally announced a 24-hour nationwide industrial action for Friday, only for Salvini to obtain an injunction restricting it to just four hours, citing the Ryder Cup as justification. The union has described the minister’s move as “an absurd ordinance that debases the entire history and value of the right to strike”, and has decided to postpone its action until 9 October. Golf: the original game of the working man!
Europe claimed first blood on the course on Thursday, as the final day of the Junior Ryder Cup ended with a crushing 20.5-9.5 victory to the home team. The win broke a run of six consecutive American triumphs going back to 2008.
The smell of success
The diary returns once again to the merchandise tent, where this week’s longest queues at Marco Simone can be found. One of the more eye-catching wares on display on this visit is the official Ryder Cup fragrance, Roma Uomo, priced at an aromatic €80 and promising to capture “the elegance of Rome and the essence of the Ryder Cup” in a bottle. So what’s in it? Lake water? Bunker sand? Fescue grass? Shavings of Tyrrell Hatton’s beard? Alas, the manufacturers have stuck to the tried and tested notes of geranium, oakmoss and sandalwood, which feels like something of a missed opportunity.
Back to basics
Meanwhile, it’s fair to say most Italians don’t have much of a clue about the global sporting extravaganza being parachuted into their midst. Fortunately the local Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper has offered its readers a handy Q&A guide to the event. “Let’s start with the basics: what is the Ryder Cup?” the first question reads. Well, we all have to start somewhere.