A 24-time tennis grand slam champion driving the green at the flagship event in men’s golf, toasting it with a footballer’s signature celebration and watched on by a Formula One driver – the 2023 Ryder Cup celebrity All-Star match was a dizzying medley of sporting excellence.
Fresh off a historic triumph at the US Open earlier this month, Novak Djokovic ended September with another win, helping Colin Montgomerie’s team to a 7-4 victory over Corey Pavin’s side at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome on Wednesday.
Paired with England’s Golf for the Disabled (G4D) Tour world No. 1 Kipp Popert against Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz and recent G4D winner Tomasso Perrino, it saw Djokovic swap racket for club – eventually.
The Serbian stepped up to the first tee wielding his customary tool of choice in a golfer’s stance, but quickly exchanged it for a driver before sending a confident first shot down the fairway. Sainz could not match the feat, the Spaniard wincing as his opening effort skewed towards the rough.
That trend followed over the contest’s course, the highlight coming at the par four 16th when Djokovic boomed a laser-like drive 260 yards from tee to green. Squinting to track his shot, the tennis star spread his arms to the crowd before turning them downwards to perform Cristiano Ronaldo’s trademark ‘Siu’ goal celebration.
“The crowd made me do it,” Djokovic said. “I’m really happy they did because I wanted to go safe.”
After sailing to a 3-1 victory, Djokovic was full of praise for Poppert, who clinched his third consecutive G4D victory – and eighth overall – at the BMW PGA Championship earlier this month.
“It was all about my partner today, he delivered his A-game,” Djokovic said.
“It was so much fun walking around and exchanging some great experiences that we have in our respective sports. I just admire him so much and people that are playing disabled golf the way they do, it’s incredible. I was telling him about the wheelchair tennis players that I really have been admiring over the years. It’s just inspiring.
“As for the level of my golf, I have to say I’m pleased because I haven’t been playing much but played some really good holes today.”
Poppert returned the praise, reflecting on an “incredible” day.
“I was telling Novak, I’ve had a lot of operations in my life, and as a kid, I’d visualize what it was like to be in scenarios like this and what it would feel like.
“I actually can’t believe how comfortable I was and having one of the greatest sportsmen ever just be an absolute gentleman and make this experience wonderful was great fun and I really enjoyed it.”
Bale impresses again
Another matchup saw Scotland’s Montgomerie square off against Pavin in a repeat of their duel as non-playing captains at the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales, when Europe won 14.5 - 13.5. Fittingly then, a Welsh sporting icon joined the fray.
Five-time Champions League winner Gareth Bale made no secret of his love for golf during a glittering playing career at Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid and caught the eye with his display at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.
Even a self-confessed back injury did not stop Bale, who plays off a two handicap, as he and his partner ran out 2-1 victors against Ukrainian football legend Andriy Shevchenko and Pavin.
With Team Monty’s Garret Hilbert – from YouTube content creator group Dude Perfect – and Italian Olympic surfer Leonardo Fioravanti drawing 2-2 with Hollywood actor Kathryn Newton and Super Bowl-winning wide receiver Victor Cruz in the final matchup, the overall result saw Montgomerie notch another win over his American counterpart.
“Playing in the Ryder Cup was a great part of my life, never mind my career,” said Montgomerie, who never lost a singles match in eight appearances at the tournament.
“Fantastic golf course, real risk and reward … we look forward to the rest of the week for the lads.”