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Eclectic mix of youth, experience leads U.S. to victory
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When Kenny Perry greeted Henrik Stenson on the first tee at Valhalla on Sunday, he told the Swede whom he considers a good friend that they were going to have a fun day and to battle hard.
Then Perry proceded to birdie four of his first five holes to take a 3-up advantage in their singles match at the 37th Ryder Cup. Even in the heat of the competition, Stenson couldn't resist a chance to needle the Kentucky native.
"He looked at me on the sixth hole, and he said, 'You're going to make it tough on me today, aren't you?,'" Perry recalled. "I said, 'Well, this is my last hurrah. This was kind of the swan song of my career.' What a way to go out."
The U.S. Ryder Cup team that dispatched the Europeans 16 1/2 to 11 1/2 may -- or may not -- have been the finale of the 48-year-old's career. If so, he went out on the highest of highs, winning two matches, including that singles, losing a third and halving a fourth to delight 50,000 racuous and rowdy fans.
What's certain, though, is that an infusion of new talent -- one of whom, Anthony Kim, is the same age as Perry's son -- brought an energy and enthusiasm to an American team that had suffered through three straight losses and had only won once in the last six Ryder Cups.
Kim and the other five rookies -- Hunter Mahan, Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes, Ben Curtis and Steve Stricker -- came to Valhalla without scars, as veteran Phil Mickelson had noted earlier in the week. They were a part of nine victories, eight halves and just four losses, and perhaps just as importantly, they ignited the crowd.
"I've played in a lot of Ryder Cups, experience, experience, experience, that's what we've always driven, and we had a lot of newcomers here and a lot of young guys," said Jim Furyk, who sank the clinching putt for the U.S. Team on Sunday. "You look at them, six new guys and a lot of young guys on this team. They brought a lot of enthusiasm. They fired up the crowd. They infused, I mean, just amazing energy into the crowd, and also into the team, and won probably the majority of the points on this team.
"So from my heart, I appreciate what the young guys did. ... They helped us win The Ryder Cup and I appreciate it.
Furyk leaned over and tapped Kim on the shoulder. The 23-year-old played more like Sergio Garcia than the Spaniard did, and it was only fitting that he beat the heart and soul of the European Team 5 & 4 in the opener on Sunday to set the tone. He also partnered Phil Mickelson to a win and a halve -- matching the six-time veteran's point total in the last two Cups combined.
• Recap: American Splendor
Mahan's fire energized his partner, Justin Leonard, who may have made the clinching putt the last time the U.S. won in 1999 but had never won a match in Ryder Cup competition before they teamed for two victories on Friday. Steve Stricker came up with a clutch putt on the 18th hole as darkness settled in Saturday to assure a halve in the day's final match, rather than let the Europeans pull within a point.
Ben Curtis was shaky at the start but he leaned on Stricker and then beat another of Europe's powerhouses, Lee Westwood, in singles to run his debut record to 1-1-1. And then there was Kentucky native J.B. Holmes, who wowed the crowd with his big drives and joined Mahan as the only two players who didn't lose a match.
And Weekley played like, well, Boo Weekley, hitting a ton of great iron shots and playing with the crowd, cutting the building tension as he galloped off the first tee, riding his driver like a thoroughbred.
"That's one of the greatest things I've ever seen in my life," U.S. Captain Paul Azinger said. "Hey, I'm nervous, and I'm nervous for everybody today. There was a lot at stake for us. We had a little lead, and for him to gallop off that first tee, I'm telling you what, the whole place just cracked up and embraced that guy, embraced him all day.
"That was an amazing moment, never to be duplicated or equaled, I don't think. That was unbelievable."
Together the 12 diverse characters, two 40-somethings, seven in their 30s and three in their 20s -- learned to "combatibate," as Weekley said, coining a phrase that will often be repeated in the coming weeks. And when all was said and done, Team USA had its largest margin of victory since 1981.
"I thought it was such a fun week for us," Mickelson said. "For Jim and I and for some of the guys, Kenny has been on some teams and Chad Campbell has been on some teams and same with Stewart (Cink) here, we have played on Ryder Cups and have not won; we know what it's like to be on the other side of it. It's no fun.
"We had six guys who had not experienced that, who were determined to help turn the United States' performance in The Ryder Cup around, and they did that. Look at their record; it was phenomenal. They brought a game, an attitude, an energy, and it invigorated the U.S. Team."
And they were excited to be part of the red, white and blue. Weekley said he told Azinger that he would be willing to sit out if that was best for the Americans. He embraced his role as head cheerleader, too, saying, "It ain't about me. There ain't no I on this team."
"We play every week, and ... almost every golf tournament, unless you're leading the golf tournament, you don't have that many people behind you and pulling for you," Kim said. "Here, we've got a great bunch of guys that were pulling for each other, and really hoping every one of us did their absolute best, whether it was a win or a loss.
"We just wanted to stick with each other and keep that attitude going. Obviously to have all of Kentucky and the United States behind us was tremendous and we just tried to bring our own attitudes. It wasn't that we had to change and Boo had to be somebody else. That's Boo every day.
"I was just who I am, and Jim was who he was, Phil was who he was, and ... what is that word called?"