LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Disappointing is the only way I can describe the scene on the first tee Friday morning. I remember what it was like two years ago at the K Club. The roar of the crowd when local hero Darren Clarke, whose wife had recently passed away, walked from the putting green to the first tee was deafening, like nothing I've ever heard on a golf course anywhere. I get goose bumps just recalling it.
So I guess I was expecting too much when Kenny Perry finally appeared before his fellow Kentuckians. The front nine at Valhalla is wide open, and the area around the first tee is devoid of trees. Plus, the grandstand behind the tee is Lilliputian compared to the monsters the Euros erect on their courses. So it was a smaller crowd.
They were enthusiastic, yes, and as loud as they could be. But it wasn't deafening. And if I were a European player, I wouldn't have felt remotely intimidated. As Perry approached the tee ground, fans were chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" They quickly switched to singing their hero's name in a high-note-low-note singsong--"Ken-nee Pair-ree! Ken-nee Pair-ree!" Jim Furyk, his partner, began waving his hands with his index fingers stretched out, like he was conducting the choir.
Perhaps the cheers would've been even louder if Perry had hit the opening tee ball in the alternate shot match, but that honor went to Lee Westwood for the Euros, and then Furyk for the Americans.
It was a nice moment, it was a memorable moment. But it was far from deafening. A surprising number of European followers were in the stands, too, and they seemed more vocal. Give them points for originality, too. In the crowds milling about the hillside right of the tee and the first fairway, a half dozen Euro followers appeared in full matador costumes of bright red and black with the little black hats. Impressive. Another fan I talk to said I'd just missed an earlier group (probably following Padraig Harrington) dressed as leprechauns.
Maybe I set the bar too high after the K Club. I really thought the Kentuckians would blow the roof off this place, but they didn't. Whether it was the volume or how the Americans played the easy opening hole (three of the four groups missed the green in regulations), it felt the same--disappointing.