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Ryder Cup’s opening act pays tribute to Palmer

CHASKA (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – 

Arnold Palmer, one of golf’s greatest icons and an ebullient ambassador for the sport, was remembered during emotional opening ceremonies at the Ryder Cup.

The 41st version of the biennial golf tournament kicked off Thursday at Hazeltine National Golf Club with a lavish ceremony that paid tribute to Palmer, who died on Sunday at the age of 87.

There was a moment of silence and a video presentation of Palmer’s career followed by mentions in speeches from team captains, Darren Clarke of Europe and Davis Love of the United States.

Grieving golfers from both teams will also wear special pins on their uniforms this week for Palmer, a six-time Ryder Cup winner whose 22 match victories remains the US record.

Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 major championships, said Palmer’s “lasting legacy will be that he was the most popular player to play the game”.

“I speak for everyone in mourning our friend Arnold Palmer. We all feel his loss and dedicate these games to his honour,” Nicklaus told the large crowd assembled near the south end of the practice range at Hazeltine.

Nicklaus was speaking from a temporary stage that featured the Ryder Cup trophy on display. The raised platform was colourfully decorated with the red, white and blue of the American flag on one side and the blue and gold of Europe on the other.

The team introductions were accompanied by live music, anthems, fireworks and special appearances from Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin, the most successful European Ryder Cup captain ever.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung by Alisan Porter, winner of NBC’s “The Voice” while singers Aloe Blacc and Trent Harmon also performed.

But Palmer’s death was on everyone’s mind as the players and coaches from both teams all looked up to him as an elder statesman, legend and role model.

“Never forget that the game is about camaraderie and the spirit of sportsmanship,” said Nicklaus. “No one exemplified the Ryder Cup more than Arnold Palmer.”

Love said Palmer’s spirit will be watching over both teams on the weekend and not just the Americans.

– ‘Working for both teams’ –

“I would like to suggest one more captain working for both teams, our friend Arnold Palmer,” Love said. “He was my captain 20 years ago at the Presidents Cup. His enthusiasm touched all of us. Arnold this one is for you.”

Said European captain Clarke, “The start of week was tinged with sadness here and around world at the passing of Arnold Palmer.

“Golf didn’t lose just a King, it lost a true legend. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.”

Thursday’s ceremony was just one of a number of planned events that will pay tribute to Palmer over the next week. There is a public memorial next Tuesday in his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

© 2016 AFP