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They’ve got a saying around here.

Chi dorme non piglia pesci.

Those who sleep don’t catch any fish.

It’s the Italian equivalent of “the early bird catches the worm” and it rang as true and as loud as any of the 900 church bells in Rome this morning.

Whilst the ghosts of the Eternal City slept, the latest great war to be waged between these seven hills at last got under way.

The Ryder Cup might not be as bloody as the battles of Silva Arsia or Heraclea but the passion and partisanship run plenty deep.

That much was evident when the media shuttle rolled into the bus terminal this morning. It was a little after 6am and, already, hundreds – if not thousands – of fans were filling the tented village waiting for the course to open.

There was just about enough time to abandon the laptop and grab a coffee before dashing to the first tee. A small media platform has been reserved at the top of it, up several flights of stairs, and it’s available on a first come, first served basis until it hits its capacity of 70.

By 6.30am, more than an hour before the first tee time, it was fully occupied, the marshalls guarding the entry point pivoting to a ‘one out, one in’ policy. Like anybody was leaving.

Several hundred people had already claimed their seats – presumably paying handsomely for the privilege – by the time the public gates opened. A stampede of frantic fans raced to the stand, desperate for a seat as a blood red moon behind them gave way to a glorious golden sun in front.

The unmistakable clank of grandstands being trampled was gradually drowned out by the first few weary, expectant chants of ‘Olé’. The amphitheatre of blue seats encircling the tee dissolved into a pantheon of colour. A group wearing Swedish football shirts with ‘Aberg, 1’ on the back sat seats apart from a half-dozen lads in Offaly GAA tops. The much-maligned ‘Guardians of the Ryder Cup’, they were there, too, and to their credit made no attempt to hijack the first tee experience for their own celebrity or gratification.

Then, at 6.50am, came the first ‘moment’.

The unmistakable melody of ‘Nessun Dorma’ rang out from the speakers high above the grandstand.

First performed in Act III of Puccini’s 1924 opera Turandot, the haunting anthem gained mainstream popularity when Luciano Pavarotti performed it ahead of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Its lyrics matched the mood of this morning beautifully.

Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win!
I will win!

There are moments in life that are hard to articulate. That was one. Emotional, evocative, exhilarating. The song’s inimitable crescendo made the hairs on every neck within earshot stand to attention in a way the chill breeze fluttering the flags could only ever aspire to. Goosebumps.

Shortly after quarter past seven, the stand – still some way short of capacity – erupted as the European vice-captains emerged into the arena. Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari punched the air as the crowd roared but it was Nicolas Colsaerts who seized the moment best.

The Belgian shushed the stands before leading them in a thunderclap befitting of the occasion. Slow and precise at first, gradually building to a cacophonous rapture. Channeling his inner Freddie Mercury, Colsaerts then led the crowd in a series of back-and-forth chants of ‘EUR-OPE’, the fun coming to a premature end when his voice could take no more of it.

Standing by the tee, taking it all in, was Scottish rookie Robert MacIntyre. His hometown of Oban has a population of around 8,000. More than half of them could have fit in the seats around the first tee.

The clock showed 7.24am when European captain Luke Donald emerged to a deafening roar of ‘LUUUUKE’. It was a welcome fit for an Emperor. A conquering one? We’ll find out on Sunday.

His opposite number Zach Johnson soon followed and the pair exchanged a warm embrace.

By now, the grandstand was full. Those who couldn’t get a seat lined both sides of the first hole all the way up to and around the green.

At 7.32am, Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton strode onto the tee, the latter acknowledging the huge cheers with a defiant punch of the air. Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns joined them moments later, a significant contingent of American supporters doing their best to drown out the predictable pantomime boos.

At last, we were here. The destination to which all roads had led.

“Welcome to the 2023 Ryder Cup,” announced the starter. “This morning’s play will consist of four foursomes matches.

“Representing the United States of America, Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns.”

Booing, cheering.

“Representing Team Europe, Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton.”

An eruption of noise that must have echoed all the way to the Vatican.

“Electing to play first for the United States of America, Scottie Scheffler.”

The world No.1 teed up his ball and stepped back, puffing out his cheeks ever so slightly. Even the best player on the planet feels the sense of occasion from time to time.

“You suck, Scottie!” screamed an idiot from the back of the grandstand. Whilst others tut-tutted and sighed in exasperation, Scheffler didn’t so much as blink. He addressed his ball and launched a drive that wound up in the right-hand rough.

“Electing to play first for Europe, Jon Rahm.”

Another eruption of noise, this time without the off-colour heckles.

With a characteristically short swing and a swoosh, Rahm ripped his tee shot. More cheers. More guttural cries of encouragement.

The players strode off down the fairway with Pretorian purpose.

The 2023 Ryder Cup had begun.

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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