The 37th Ryder Cup is underway at Valhalla in Louisville. The American fans, made up of golf fans from Kentucky and around the country, are starving for a U.S. win and are doing their best to boot the Yanks home with only their second win in the last five events.
As an avid golfer and fan, it was a thrill for me to cover the practice rounds earlier this week for WKYT. The Ryder Cup is unlike any tournament Americans are accustomed to watching. Cheering is encouraged and the team format gives fans a chance to be patriotic. Rob Bromley and I traveled to Louisville each morning, our days beginning bright and early, around 6:30 a.m.
For the record, my partner signed the first autograph of the day, when two ladies from western Kentucky recognized Rob. Of course, ever the gentleman, Rob signed several Ryder Cup flags.
Kentuckians Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes were two of the U.S. golfers in high demand, for obvious reasons. Last week, Perry predicted the Bluegrass boys would be treated like rock stars, and they were. If the first day of practice rounds was any indication, the crowds following the two might resemble those at a Rolling Stones concert come the weekend.
Phil Mickelson, arguably the best golfer on the U.S. team (without Tiger Woods), was mobbed by fans when he finished his round on Thursday. Mickelson can be rather surly on occasion, but did his best to accommodate as many autograph seekers as possible.
There were European fans on the course, too. Usually, the Euros are dressed in a way that there's no mistaking who they are, or where they're from.
The week began with the European team, led by captain Nick Faldo, posing for a group picture, on Tuesday, in the 9th fairway. Faldo was flanked by Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood.
The Americans took their team photo on Thursday, seated in the 18th fairway. It was neat seeing Perry and Holmes, and Holmes' caddy, Brandon Parsons, taking pictures with the Ryder Cup. Parsons, who played high school golf with Holmes, has his own large following this week, including mom, Brenda.
On Tuesday, Team Europe went off on No. 1, while the U.S. team started their practice round at the 10th hole. U.S. captain Paul Azinger sent Perry and Holmes out in the first foursome. A huge throng of fans followed the group around all day. Fans were hoping the pairing was a sign from Azinger that Perry and Holmes would be partners when the matches began on Friday morning.
Holmes apparently wowed the crowds at the 13th, where he landed his tee shot on the island green from 328 yards. Holmes explained he was just giving the fans what they wanted to see.
On Thursday, Holmes played 13 again, hitting an iron on his first shot. When the crowd began chanting "driver," Holmes playfully cupped his hand to his ear, as if to urge the fans on. Holmes pulled his driver from the bag and the crowd erupted. His two shots with the big stick failed to find the green.
The highlight of the practice rounds occurred on the practice range. Holmes hit a couple of drives that reached the Opening Ceremonies stage some 316 yards away. He put his final drive on the roof of the stage, prompting Faldo to shake his hand. The captain acknowledged Holmes hits it a mile, but got in a dig, by saying, "fortunately, there's more to this game."
There is a large contingency of foreign media at Valhalla. You can always tell an event, like the Ryder Cup, is "big" when you walk into the media center and hear foreign accents.
It's one of the largest sporting events ever to be held in Kentucky and it appears the folks in Louisville and Valhalla are doing a wonderful job hosting. Let's hope the Kentucky boys, and the thousands of fans on the course, have reason to celebrate on Sunday.
Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.