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Kentucky twosome of Perry, Holmes ready to go
LOUISVILLE -- Kenny Perry will tell you he's put "all my eggs in this basket." J.B. Holmes, on the other hand, will have many more to fry.
But the two Kentucky natives, one 48 years old at the twilight of his career and the other just 26 with a bountiful future, will probably never have a more memorable week than this one at the 37th Ryder Cup.
Perry played his way onto the team at Valhalla -- where he almost won the 1996 PGA Championship -- with three victories in a five-tournament stretch this summer. Holmes, meanwhile, a winner earlier this year at the FBR Open, was one of Paul Azinger's four Captain's Picks.
"This is what I'll be remembered for in my career in golf, period," said Perry, who came to Valhalla for two days last week to prepare without any distractions. "But I've told everybody, I've prepared, I've done all my work, I'm ready. I'm ready to play.
"And if it doesn't go my way, I can live with that. I can lay my head on that pillow at night and I'll sleep good. But if it goes the way I think it can go, it'll be the neatest week of my life. It'll beat any of my wins by a mile."
The crowds at Valhalla, indeed, people across the entire state, have embraced their two home boys -- who join Bobby Nichols as the only other Kentuckians to ever play in the Ryder Cup. Nichols, though, didn't get to do it in the Bluegrass state.
A banner honoring Holmes is being strung across Main Street today in Campbellsville, Ky., where he grew up. There's a larger-than-life picture of Perry holding the John Deere Classic trophy on display at the Louisville Fairgrounds.
"I hear they're going to pull that and bring it to the Western Kentucky football field and display it at the football stadium, which it'll stay there forever, which to me is a big honor," Perry said. "I have a lot of pride and it makes me feel awesome."
Like Perry, Holmes is from a small town in Kentucky. Every summer he and his buddies played 54 holes a day -- swimming during the heat of the afternoon -- at the local country club. He was so good he made the high school golf team when he was in third grade.
Self-taught until he turned pro, the big-hitting Holmes garnered little recruiting attention. UK came calling, though, and he made those other schools drool when he was the SEC Player of the Year. He was an All-American -- athletically and academically, too -- as well as a member of the 2005 Walker Cup team.
And now the two-time PGA TOUR winner, who outlasted the No. 2 player in the world, Phil Mickelson, in a playoff at Phoenix in February, is playing in his first Ryder Cup.
"It shows the people in Kentucky and in small towns that you don't have to be in a big city, you don't have to have the nicest golf course; you don't have to have the nicest stuff; you don't have to have everything be perfect to be able to be successful," Holmes said,
"You can just go out, work hard, do your best and be committed and good things can happen to you. ... It's not given to you or anything like that, so you have to work your butt off. That's what it takes to get here.
"It's not just wake up and here it is; you've really got to work hard to get to this position."
Holmes has a bit of an aw-shucks demeanor about him, and now that he's at Vahalla, he's clearly been overwhelmed by the reception during the two practice rounds.
"There's really no way to describe it unless you've felt that before," he said. "It felt like we were in the final group of a tournament."
Imagine what it will be like if Azinger sends Holmes and Perry off first on Friday as he has suggested he might. European Captain Nick Faldo says Azinger might be trying to "pull a poker move" but the U.S. skipper has mentioned the prospect more than once.
"I'd love to play with Kenny," Holmes said. "Me and Kenny has kind of been talking all year, it would be great if we could get on the Ryder Cup team and play together.
"Definitely Paul's decision, though. He's the captain, and he's going to do what he thinks is right, and if that's sending us off first on Friday, that's great with me. I'd love to go out there and start it off with a bang. That would be awesome. "
Perry said he's been lobbying Azinger for the chance to play with Holmes all year. He thinks the two -- one ball-striker and the other a bomber -- would be perfect in Foursomes.
"I guess it could backfire if we don't play well and they kick us pretty bad," Perry said. "It could also have a reverse role, too. I just think with the energy and the excitement, I just think it's going to put a lot of pressure on the Europeans, and I just think he's playing awesome.
"I just can't believe where he hit some of those drives today. It's just going to be a neat experience for us. He makes lots of birdies. He's a great match-play player. If I can just calm him down a little bit, I think we'd be a tough team to beat."
Perry, a big man with a big heart, said he now knows what Tiger Woods experiences every time he sets foot on the course. He's been under the spotlight and overwhelmed by the reception he's received.
At the same time, both Perry and Holmes must keep their emotions in check.
"A lot of times you can ride that momentum and you can feel all that love and rise to the occasion and it feels great, and a lot of other times you put a lot of extra pressure on yourself," said Jim Furyk, who played with Perry and Holmes in the first two practice sessions.
"I know Kenny -- he was running for office today. I mean, votes aren't coming in until November, but he was pressing some palms out there today. And he was worried a lot more about making sure the fans saw him and were happy. He says, "Man, you sign 100 autographs, there's 101 people, and now one person thinks you're terrible. I just can't live that way." Kenny is just so nice and so worried about everyone else.
"That can also be a negative. You can just try too hard to make everyone happy. ... It probably can't get any better than playing in your home state in front of your home crowd and in a Ryder Cup event like this. I wish him the best. It was fun to be out there with him today and feel all that from the crowd."
And if the first two days are any indication, Perry thinks the crowd will be the U.S. Team's 13th man.
"I know 100 percent it's going to be a great feeling," he said. "If we get behind, they're going to pump us up. If we get ahead, they're going to root us on. It's really going to be an outstanding three days for us.
"They'll do whatever it takes to help us get a win, and I think to me that's pretty special."