John Clay

Kentucky boys Ryder Cup heroes

LOUISVILLE — Those snooty, country-club golf types had racked their brains for nearly a decade trying to find some scenario to retake the coveted Ryder Cup from the hands of those dastardly Europeans, all to no avail.

What they needed were some down-home, Southern-fried country boys to get the job done.

Kentucky boys.

Two by birth, one by adoption.

Thanks to a duo of Kentuckians and a now-favorite son from the Florida panhandle, the United States upset the Europeans 16½ to 11½ to win the 37th Ryder Cup at Valhalla on Sunday, snapping a three-match European winning streak and claiming the precious trophy for the first time since 1999.

The Americans did it on the back of Franklin's own Kenny Perry, the 48-year-old who said this Cup would define his career, and Campbellsville's own J.B. Holmes, the 26-year-old Bluegrass bomber with the goatee, the curled-bill cap and drives off the tee longer than the Blue Grass Parkway.

And don't forget country cousin Boo Weekley, the 35-year-old camouflage-loving, country-talking crowd-pleaser, who said the people here had been so nice to him, "I feel like I've been adopted."

"Boo's not from here," added Holmes, "but he might as well be from here."

Individually, each was a part of two wins and one tie over the three-day event. Together, the trio combined to provide the spirit the United States needed to take back the Cup right here on Kentucky soil.

"I figured this was going to define my career," said Perry, the tour veteran, "but you know what, it made my career."

Just as it could be a career-booster for Holmes, who, despite his 17th ranking in the Cup point standings, was picked by Paul Azinger, the U.S. captain. Azinger rightly thought Holmes' presence would fire up the Kentucky crowd, and his long drives would fit the course.

In another genius stroke, Azinger paired the small-town boy from Campbellsville (population 10,947) with Weekley, the small-town boy from Milton, Fla., (population 8,580) for their four-ball matches on Friday and Saturday — a Friday tie was followed by a Saturday win — and the crowds fell in deep and enthusiastic love.

"Your arm hairs stand up and you get chills when they start hollering your name and U.S.A.," said Weekley, whose crowd-pumping gyrations dug deep beneath the European skin. "I'm still shaking and nervous as all get-out."

Even split apart Sunday, Holmes and Weekley succeeded as singles.

Weekley whipped up on Oliver Wilson 4 and 2, then bowed to the adoring crowd at match's completion.

Holmes, meanwhile, was all gravel and grit in closing out Soren Hansen 2 and 1, thanks in part to a dazzling second shot on No. 17 that settled within 2 feet of the hole, prompting NBC commentator Johnny Miller to blurt out, "That's the best shot he's ever hit in his career."

There was no better time to hit it.

The same could be said of Perry, the Franklin (population 8,019) product who has hit many a shot as a touring pro. It was here at Valhalla in 1996 where Perry hit one too many shots, bogeying the 18th hole and then losing the PGA Championship in a playoff.

Maybe that's why Perry stamped this Ryder Cup as the most important event of his professional life. He set a goal of making the team, turned in a career year to do just that, then prepared like a fiend the week before the Euros arrived in Jefferson County.

On Friday, Perry and partner Jim Furyk let a lead slip away, but they rebounded to make amends Saturday morning. Then Sunday, Perry made it all pay off, bursting out of the gate with birdies on four of the first five holes to go 3-up on Henrik Stenson, the 2007 Accenture Match Play champion.

Even after hurting his shoulder on the ninth fairway — "I was eating Advil like candy after that," he said — Perry closed out the Swede 3 and 2.

Then when his wife, Sandy, his three children and his 85-year-old father, Ken Sr., in his familiar overalls — what else to expect from someone whose home course is titled Country Creek, open to the public at $28 for 18 holes — ran up the green to greet him, the emotion came out.

"I couldn't hold back the tears," said Perry. "Magical day for me. It's the greatest day of my life."

"I'm still flying," said Holmes. "To be able to be on a Ryder Cup team, to win two points, is just unbelievable, and to be able to do it in my home state, I couldn't in my farthest dreams have imagined this thing would play out like this."

Even if Perry could, to dream it is one thing, to accomplish it something else.

"It's a week I'll never forget," he said.

And when those snooty golf types write the history of the Ryder Cup, here's betting they won't forget the Kentucky boys.