JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - The 12th Presidents Cup between the U.S. and an International team began in raucous but light-hearted fashion in front of the past three American presidents at Liberty National on Thursday with the national anthem immaculately observed.
A packed crowded in the grandstands surrounding the first tee warmly greeted Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, keen golfers all, who entered via a tunnel and took their seats to the right of the first tee.
Singer-songwriter Darius Rucker then sang the U.S. national anthem as the American team members stood about 50 yards away down the fairway, standing to attention with their hands across their hearts, not even a whiff of protest in the air.
The scene was far removed from the controversy at National Football League games recently, in which many players have protested during the national anthem against racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
American veteran Phil Mickelson then stole the show by walking over and shaking hands with the three former presidents and taking a selfie.
Ceremonies over, it was down to golf, with the U.S. defending the Presidents Cup against an International team of players from the rest of the world, excluding Europe.
South African Charl Schwartzel had the honour of hitting the first shot in the opening foursomes match, in which he partnered Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama against Americans Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.
A group of about 40 International ‘fanatics’ -- mainly Australians and South Africans supporting the visiting team -- mischievously chanted: ‘Justin, you’ve got two first names, Justin you’ve got two first names’ as Thomas stood on the tee.
Obama, after shaking hundreds of hands and having a long chat with U.S. assistant captain Tiger Woods, departed adter the third match started but Bush and Clinton stayed until the end.
Clinton even had a few words with the media after the last match had teed off, talking about the difficultly of the first hole and the best way to play it in a strong wind.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris