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New breed and newcomers carry Americans to victory
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Finally, the Americans figured it out.
They didn't need to all come from the same background, or play a similar style of golf, or even have the best player in the world leading them into the Ryder Cup.
They just needed some passion, some camaraderie, some sense of purpose.
So, it was a country boy from Florida's Panhandle who kept everyone in stitches. It was a brash kid from L.A. who stared down one of Europe's superstars. It was two native sons of Kentucky who brought the sort of desire that only comes from playing in front of the home folks.
Tiger Woods wasn't at Valhalla. But Boo Weekley was. So were Anthony Kim, Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes.
Sunday evening, they joined hands on the balcony of the clubhouse at Valhalla Golf Club, sprayed champagne on the crowd below and celebrated the Ryder Cup's return to this side of the Atlantic.
With Woods back home in Florida, recovering from knee surgery, the Americans turned to an unlikely band of seeming misfits to wrest the gold chalice away from Europe for the first time since 1999.
"This is a week I'll never forget," said Perry, at 48 the oldest member of the team. "It's the greatest experience of my life."
Kim set the tone by winning the first match of the day in a rout. Perry, Weekley and Holmes each added a point to the U.S. cause. When it was done, the Americans had romped to a 16 1/2 - 11 1/2 victory that ended a streak of three straight European wins, the last two of them not even close.
Their records over three days were stunning: Kim and Perry each went 2-1-1; Weekley and Holmes both went 2-0-1. Together, they had a hand in 8 1/2 points.
"That was more excitement than I've had in a loooooong time," said Weekley, who certainly came out of the week as a folk hero -- and surefire target of the Europeans should he make the team in 2010. "It's hard to describe. It's not all sank in yet."
As one Ryder Cup loss after another piled up, five of the last six in all, the Americans were accused of being too robotic, too individualistic when it came to team golf. There was no doubt they had most of the best players, but they were a disjointed, disparate bunch when joined as one.
That all changed in the Bluegrass State.
At the very first hole, Weekley galloped down the fairway like Happy Gilmore after hitting his tee shot, using his driver as a toy horse while whipping his behind. The gallery roared with delight. Hard to imagine Woods doing anything like that.
"An amazing moment," U.S. Captain Paul Azinger said. "Never to be duplicated."
Weekley revved up the crowds all weekend -- so much so that Europe's Lee Westwood complained about him broaching the lines of proper decorum -- but there's little doubt from all those chants of "Boooooooo!" that American golf has its new John Daly.
"I kind of took it on my own," said Weekley, who beat Oliver Wilson 4 and 2.
"I felt like I needed to do it in a way. I'm not going to say I'm the most outgoing guy on the team, but there if was one who was going to cut up the most, it was going to be me. I thought I might want to do this and see if I could help get the team fired up and the fans fired up."
Kim broke out one of his gaudy belt buckles, this one bejeweled in red, white and blue with the letters "USA," and conceded nothing to Garcia -- not even 2-foot putts. It was over by the 14th hole, though Kim didn't even fathom his 5-and-4 win until someone stopped him on the way to 15.
That said, the 23-year-old's greatest contribution might have come behind the scenes, where his youthful exuberance and cocky demeanor gave him a leadership role that no one could have expected from the youngest team member.
"That guy is the funniest guy on the team," said Phil Mickelson, who paired up with Kim three times and basically just got out of the way on Sunday. "Everything that comes out of his mouth is a hoot."
Certainly no one on the team had more on the line than Perry.
Two years away from the old-timers tour, he built his whole schedule this year around qualifying for the Ryder Cup, even when it meant skipping a chance to qualify for the U.S. Open and choosing to play in Milwaukee rather than at the British Open. That certainly subjected him to plenty of criticism, but he was born, raised and still lives right down the road in Franklin, Ky.
No event -- not even a major -- meant more to Perry than this one.
He birdied four of the five holes and never let up in a 3-and-2 win over Henrik Stenson, who had been one of Europe's best in the match-play format. When it was done, Perry's overall-clad father hugged him along the 16th green.
"I said this was going to define my career," Perry said. "You know what? This made my career."
Holmes was the lesser-known of the two Kentuckians on the team, a monstrous hitter who first joined his high school team in the third grade and overcame dyslexia to make it at the state's flagship university. He was one of four players added to the team by Captain Paul Azinger, who figured he might benefit from the home-course advantage.
Feeding off Weekley's energy -- the two paired up twice in four-balls -- Holmes had to go it alone on Sunday. He was up to the challenge, winning a crucial point with a 2-and-1 victory over Soren Hansen.
It ended in true Holmes fashion: a huge drive that headed left and looked as though it might not stop until it got to downtown Louisville. The crowd parted like the Red Sea and the ball caught the trees, bounced off a cart path, hopped along the trampled down rough, caught a bank and rolled back toward the fairway, finally stopping some 370 yards from where it started.
Holmes flipped a wedge toward the green, the ball checking up some 3 feet from the pin. Hansen missed his birdie try and the American sank his gimme to pull the Americans within one point of the win. A few minutes, it was over.
"It was pretty much perfect," Holmes said. "You couldn't draw it up any better."
Jim Furyk actually clinched the win when Miguel Angel Jimenez conceded a putt at that same 17th hole. But there was no doubt who carried the load for the Americans.