Welcome to the Ryder Cup: pumping music and incoherent speeches | Ryder Cup 2023

From the deckchairs and beanbags of the spectator village, through parched and fraying voices, came the strains of a song. They had come from all over Europe, taken holiday leave and emptied bank accounts, to join the party. And as they waited patiently in the baking Roman heat, they struck up – organically and quite unbidden – a chorus of Sweet Caroline. It was quite nice. Still, it was nothing that couldn’t be drowned out by an industrial-strength sound system, some synthetic drum beats downloaded straight off Uppbeat and a woman spewing banal platitudes for an hour. Little people of the 44th Ryder Cup: shush. We will decide how you will be entertained.

And so from the eternal city came the eternal opening ceremony: an inexorable treadmill of pumping music and glossy video montages and speeches so incoherent they verged on crimes against language.

Was this sport? Clearly not. But by the same token it was evidently the stuff of which modern sport seems to be made these days: a kind of hydrogenised sport-adjacent substance, the fatty tissue of sport, the bit we now have to wade through to get to the thing itself. “There was something good that we lost along the way,” the singer-songwriter and celebrity golf fan Tom Grennan sang from the stage. Know how you feel, mate. Know how you feel.

There were some decent bits, to be fair. The national anthem Fratelli d’Italia is a banger in any context. Luke Donald’s captain’s speech was a genuinely impressive piece of work, speckled with some fairly accurate Italian and even remembering to shout out the caddies. But most of the rest will pass unheeded into the dustbin of history, in particular the forgettable opening monologue from the local television presenter Melissa Satta, who appeared to be getting paid by the cliche.

The two teams, we were told, would “battle it out like modern-day gladiators”. Paying tribute to the organising committee, she observed that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Eventually she declared that “the time for talking is over” – a barefaced lie, as would become agonisingly clear over the subsequent 45 minutes – and gave way to an ear-splitting military flypast spewing green, white and red smoke that looked less like a display of patriotic pageantry and more like an explosion in a Fruit Pastilles factory.

Next came the Americans, all looking a little weird and discomfited in their suits, with their flushed red faces and cap-flattened hair, like defendants in a poaching trial.

Justin Thomas embraces the US captain Zach Johnson during the opening ceremony.
Justin Thomas embraces the US captain Zach Johnson during the opening ceremony. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The captain, Zach Johnson, began by outlining the “unique relationship” between Italy and the United States. “Italy has given so much to America, and this week we hope America can give something back to Italy,” he said, which to be honest sounded like a pretty inequitable swap deal: millions of immigrant labourers, a rich cultural footprint and an entire national cuisine for the privilege of watching Max Homa for three days.

At least nobody could accuse Johnson of insincerity. You could tell how much this all meant to him: perhaps even a little too much, given the way he stumbled over the local tongue. Grazie took him two goes to get right. But there was a strong and heartfelt sense of mission in his words, particularly his description of the Ryder Cup as “the perfect form of competition”, which in American terms presumably means a competition in which the rest of the world doesn’t compete.

The rest of the ceremony passed in something of a catatonic blur. Donald stepped up and talked about his honeymoon in Sardinia. The captains revealed their opening foursome pairings. Satta interviewed some celebrities at the front of the stage (“How can you compare driving a car and hitting a drive?” she asked Carlos Sainz). Grennan grimaced his way through another song. And finally, just in time for the 2025 Ryder Cup at Bethpage, it was all over, begging the question: why? What purpose had all this served, beyond justifying the lavish fee to an events management company and making all other forms of human activity feel more pleasant by comparison?

It comes down, as ever, to finances. There is a reason the Ryder Cup has swollen well beyond its three-day timeframe, why Uefa is so keen to turn the Champions League final into a week-long festival of football, why fan parks and cultural fetes spring up around major events like bone growths. The more you can pretend you are adding value, that all these other trinkets are part of the actual sport, the more you can persuade people to fork out for an extra night in the hotel, an extra day of shopping and restaurant bills and choreographed fun.

Fortunately for all involved, the real golf starts soon. For which – as Johnson might put it – we say grazi. Sorry, grazie.