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At this Ryder Cup, a country boy can survive
Boo Weekley probably knows all the words by heart while Phil Mickelson may have only heard it sung by Toby Keith on the Ford commercials. But it should be the theme song for the U.S. Ryder Cup team because Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes, Boo and probably even Stewart Cink know that a "Country Boy Can Survive." And after toiling on the Hooters Tour for a couple of years and now playing on his second Ryder Cup team, there is no question Chad Campbell understands. They all do because you can't be a successful player on the PGA TOUR without having a little redneck in your soul.
If the U.S. team has one advantage this week it is the fact there is a rallying point that comes from the town, the players and frankly, a red-neck, blue-collar, down-home country attitude. Now I am not suggesting that our guys are not educated or high-class individuals. The truth is that some are and some aren't but all of them know a heck of a lot more about tax law than your average mechanic. And obviously, most of them don't live in the country except for K.P., J.B. and Boo but that is only geography. I am talking about a comfort level with people more than place.
Growing up in a small town you know the struggles of real people -- not the average country club gossip. Paul Azinger said on Tuesday that his team has a "blue-collar mentality" with a few country clubbers mixed in. I am not sure that has been the case on previous teams. This team has character unlike some of its predecessors. These guys aren't concerned with the underdog label that has been pinned on them because most of them started behind the eight-ball a long time ago. To paraphrase another country truism: "They may be at home plate now but they had to make a round trip to get there." In other words, most of our guys had to take a few swings to get on first and then fight their way around the diamond.
This type of accomplishment is enough to make a man as tough as a $2 steak. And the only thing tougher than a young country boy is an old one. This group has a whole group of them to rally behind. Not just Kenny Perry, who will undoubtedly be the on-course leader, but Azinger and his assistant captains, Dave Stockton, Olin Browne and of course, Raymond Floyd. They are all as tough as nails all with yarns to weave. Heck, old Raymond can still stare down a rabid dog.
You may recall a few years ago when the Red Sox took a similar blue-collar attitude all the way to the World Series and won it for the first time in nearly a century. It seemed odd to the rest of the sports nation that a team from blue-blood New England would rally behind the phrase "Cowboy Up." But you don't have to explain that particular phrase to Hunter Mahan, Justin Leonard or even a cheesehead like Steve Stricker. The point for the Red Sox was that this team of players like Trot Nixon and Jason Veratek was willing to earn every inch they gained in the regular season and the playoffs. The rest is sports history.
Perhaps an American victory in the Ryder Cup won't make history. After all, we are supposed to win this thing on occasion. But the European team has out-gritted us over the last decade. They have rolled up their sleeves and bare-knuckled our best punchers into submission. The best players from the west side of the Atlantic have been forced to say "uncle." But I don't see any give-up in this U.S. team. Sure, a lot of water has passed under their respective bridges but it can't wash away the lessons learned growing up in those towns you can't find on a map.
As they say down home, or here in Kentucky, when a man is a little down, it's "time to giddy up." At home we call this a red-neck intervention. For our boys this week it is most definitely time to giddy up. The reason this U.S. team has a chance is pretty simple. This team is as diverse as any airport terminal in the country on Monday morning. But the backbone of this team is pure Americana. As Hank Williams said, "they come from northern California and south Alabama and little towns all around this land." That is our team and when they pull together there is no question that they will survive.