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With a different player coming up big in every session, the first U.S. Ryder Cup win in nine years was truly a total team effort
IN OTHER team sports—pennant-race baseball would be Exhibit A—a cliché in better clubhouses everywhere is, "On this team we have a different hero every night." And so it was for Team USA at the Ryder Cup. The golfing lads, in uniform for the week, played five in three days, all day games: the Friday morning alternate shot, the Friday afternoon better-ball, with more of the same on Saturday, then concluding with the Sunday singles. Your American golfing heroes:
• Justin Leonard in Session 1, during which the diminutive Texan, thin-lipped and gritty, putted as he did during the Clinton years while introducing his playing partner, fellow Lone Star Stater Hunter Mahan, to the peculiar ways of alternate-shot golf and the unique intensity of the Ryder Cup.
• Phil Mickelson in Session 2, during which the dimpled lefthander from San Diego, with a pedestrian team-events record over the past 15 years, played the Leonard role for another rookie, introducing a fellow Californian, Anthony Kim, to better-ball Ryder Cup play.
• Kenny Perry in Session 3, during which the pride of Franklin, Ky., paired with Jim Furyk to handily defeat one of the strongest European pairings, Padraig Harrington of Ireland and Robert Karlsson of Sweden, along the way giving one million (or at least 40,000) flag-waving Kentuckians on the Valhalla Golf Club hillsides reason to cheer even more lustily.
• Boo Weekley in Session 4, during which the good ol' boy from the Florida panhandle paired with long-whacking Kentuckian J.B. Holmes, whooped and spat his way around the course while holing putts and winning the only full U.S. point of the Saturday afternoon session, along the way also winning adoption by the partisan, drawling crowds as an honorary Bluegrasser.
• Kim in Session 5, during which the loose, talented 23-year-old, playing against Sergio García of Spain in the critical leadoff position in the Sunday singles, made 10 3s in 14 holes, giving the U.S. its first point of the day and setting the tone.
Kim, winner of two Tour events this year, was given the leadoff position by Paul Azinger because, the U.S. captain said, he had an "aggressive" personality. Which Azinger definitely meant as a compliment. "I welcomed it," Kim said of his spot in the order. He has shown, this year in general and last week in particular, that his confidence is not simply a façade, that he is the second-best American golfer and that he may be ready to go head-to-head with Tiger Woods. If Ryder Cup golf doesn't freak you out, nothing really should.
Part of Kim's success last week was a product of his natural exuberance. He's as outgoing as Woods is reserved, and in victory on Sunday, Kim slapped hands with hundreds of fans and doused them with champagne, never taking a Purell break. (Woods is germ-phobic.) Kim said of his Ryder Cup experience, "I wouldn't trade this for $10 million."
As a coach, Mickelson was superb last week. He slowed Kim down at times, putting an arm around his shoulder and getting right in his ear. Mickelson's own golf was good at times but mediocre overall. (He was trounced by Justin Rose in the singles.) Still, from start to finish Mickelson seemed like a 24-hour party person, and Kim was a big reason why. "He's just a funny, funny dude," Mickelson said. "I had the best time hanging out with him." It was the latest example of the teacher learning from the student.