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By Larry Fine
MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - The 39th edition of the Ryder Cup was officially launched in a formal ceremony with pledges of sportsmanship and fair play, and a moving tribute to the late Seve Ballesteros at Medinah Country Club on Thursday.
U.S. captain Davis Love and Team Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal introduced their players and underlined the importance of playing in a spirit of friendship, while making plain their fervent desire to win the three-day event that begins on Friday.
Musical performances, processions, flag-waving, a fighter-jet flyover above the grounds outside Chicago, and the appearance of Michael Phelps and Justin Timberlake at the presentation gave a rousing kick-off to the biennial competition.
The tributes to Ballesteros, who died last year after a battle with cancer, began with Phil Weaver, chairman of the European Professional Golf Association, and provided an emotional underlining to the ceremony.
"Seve Ballesteros became the heartbeat of that team," Weaver said about the resurgence of interest in the Cup after the Great Britain and Ireland squad was expanded to Europe to end U.S. domination of the event.
"He spoke from the heart and played with his heart. He triggered a golfing explosion throughout the whole of Europe. The Ryder Cup lost a dynamic talent, a true genius and a great friend."
Olazabal, who was mentored by fellow-Spaniard Ballesteros and teamed up with him to become the most successful partnership in the Ryder Cup, wiped away tears after Weaver's remarks.
Olazabal saluted the passion of Chicago-area fans, but said he expected them to "honour the tradition of courtesy and sportsmanship that is the bedrock of the Ryder Cup."
He then took a moment to reflect on Ballesteros. "He was a special man. I believe Seve reflected the core of Ryder Cup values. More than anything, I learned from him what true passion is all about. Seve, we miss you."
It was not all sentiment and Olazabal made it clear his goal was to retain the gold trophy Europe won two years ago at Celtic Manor in Wales.
"We have every intention of taking it back home with us," he said. "(But) we will leave Medinah as friends."
Love echoed the same message. "These matches are not life and death. Golf has to be played with a certain spirit of graciousness or it's not golf at all.
"We will start these matches in a spirit of friendship and we will end them the same way," Love said about what he vowed would be "an honest, fair and intense competition."
(Editing by Julian Linden)
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