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Grant Me This: Team USA had every reason to 'Celebrate' after Friday
By Grant Boone, Special to PGA.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- First off, I have to admit I didn't see it coming. I'm not talking about the U.S. team's first first-day Ryder Cup lead since the Jonas Brothers were in Underoos.
I mean the conga line that was forming at the front entrance of the Borders bookstore on Fourth Street in downtown Louisville Thursday night. It was 9 p.m. when my broadcast partner on Ryder Cup Live (www.rydercup.com/2008/usa/live), Brian Katrek, and I ducked into Borders so I could snag a cup of Seattle's Best Americano before they emptied the pots for the night.
As they announced over the intercom that the store would be closing in five minutes, I began adding half-and-half when the whole Americano team came bounding in. I spotted the captain first and told Brian, "I think that's Paul Azinger," followed shortly by, "And I know that's Anthony Kim." They all came in eventually, some -- including a bespectacled Phil Mickelson -- with their wives, and all wearing white t-shirts that said "13th Man." (I'm not sure what number that makes Azinger.)
The whole parade was hootin' and hollerin' past the Self-Help section as they manually (and wo-manually) maneuvered up a non-escalating escalator, out the upper exit, and down the stairs en route to the stage at a downtown music festival called Fourth Street Live. There they attempted to rally the pep of a partisan crowd who'd come to see, among others, Three Dog Night.
That's not just a classic rock group; it's how Azinger has billed this Ryder Cup. Over a three-day weekend, his underdog Americans -- playing without the world's best player, no less! -- would go up against the big, bad (and three-time defending Cup champion) Euros. So there they were on the Fourth Street stage Thursday, sending out the Twilight Bark to anyone and everyone who could come out 11 hours later and cheer them on.
Friday, the crowd at Valhalla threw that U.S. team a bone.
After an early wake-up call -- the Europeans won the first hole in three of the four foursome matches Friday morning -- the gallery got going when Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan erased a 2-down deficit to Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson with three straight birdies. That dynamic Dallas duo would never trail the rest of the day, either for the remainder of that match (a 4-and-2 win) or their afternoon fourball against Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez (an even more economical 4-and-3 decision).
In fact, America needed just a Lone Star of its available 50 to outpoint all of Europe on Friday's first day. Leonard and Mahan's fellow Dallas denizens Chad Campbell and Anthony Kim meant Texas had a hand in 4 1/2 points as the U.S. headed into Saturday with a 5 1/2 to 2 1/2 lead.
The roars ricocheted across Valhalla like a pinball and it wasn't just background noise. Each of the four morning teams created their own inspirational reverberations, then received back their teammates' renditions in front or behind them. Campbell and Stewart Cink, for example, rallied from 3 down in the morning's third foursome to beat Englishmen Ian Poulter and Justin Rose on 18, thanks in large part to a 5-iron Campbell lasered in from 186 yards to within 12 feet. Leading that ensuing ovation was his brother Mike, the golf coach at Abilene Christian University, who texted me afterward from the course, "Chad's shot on 18 gave me chills."
That's how it went all day with only Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis in an afternoon fourball unable to pick up at least half a point.
We're only one day into Azinger's Three Dog Night. But if the next two are like the first -- as sure as Jeremiah was a bullfrog -- you can expect the Captain back on stage Sunday night singing "Joy to the World."
Grant Boone is a husband, father, broadcaster, and journalist born in Tennessee and living in Texas. During his nearly 20 years in sports journalism, he's been heard on tape delay in pizza joints half-filled with fully-drunk beer league softball teams and around the world covering major sporting events for ESPN, Turner Sports, Golf Channel, and CBS Radio. To read past installments of Grant Me This, click here. You can contact Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.