LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — J.B. Holmes stood on the 13th tee at Valhalla, listened to the urging from the crowd and pulled out the driver.
One big swing and 338 yards later, the ball settled 15 feet from the cup.
No wonder Kenny Perry wants to play with him.
The two Kentuckians and U.S. Ryder Cup teammates put on a show in front of their homestate fans during practice on Tuesday, providing a glimpse of what their gallery would look like if they get paired together when the Cup starts on Friday.
The politicking from Perry has already begun.
“I thought it would be special for two Kentuckians to lead the charge out here to try to win the Cup back,” Perry said. “I guess it could backfire if we don’t play well and they kick us pretty bad. It could also have a reverse role too. I just think with the energy and the excitement, I just think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the Europeans.”
U.S. captain Paul Azinger said he’s thought about sending Perry and Holmes out first to “get this crowd rocking” and Perry said he’d prefer them playing in the alternate shot format, where Holmes’ length could set up Perry’s precision.
“He’s such a dominant force,” Perry said of Holmes. “The whole world loves power, if it’s who can throw the baseball the fastest or who can hit the ball the farthest. If he can get guys like that hot and get them into the game, they’re going to be tough to beat.”
Holmes, a Ryder Cup rookie, said he’s hoping to play with Perry but will defer to Azinger.
“He’s the captain and he’s going to do what he thinks is right, and if that’s sending us off first on Friday, that’s great with me,” Holmes said. “I’d love to go out there and start it off with a bang. That would be awesome.”
MILLER TIME: Johnny Miller still thinks the U.S. will snap its losing streak to the Europeans, but the outspoken former PGA Tour star turned commentator isn’t a fan of Azinger’s four captain’s picks.
Miller called Azinger’s selections of Holmes, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Chad Campbell “OK” but would have traded Holmes for a more veteran player like Scott Verplank.
“I certainly wouldn’t have gone with J.B. Holmes, I tell you that,” said Miller.
Miller said he would have chosen Verplank, Rocco Mediate, Brandt Snedeker and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson over Holmes and Campbell, but allowed his views are like arguing over favorite ice cream flavors.
Besides, for all the risk involved with picking lightly experienced players, Miller said the U.S. team’s problems over the last 13 years have started at the top with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
“The great play by (Jim) Furyk, Tiger and Phil has not been there,” Miller said. “It’s why the U.S. has done so poorly. Those three players have really played poorly in Ryder Cup play.”
The trio has a combined record of 25-37-8, though Woods will be watching this year’s Cup from home while he rehabs his surgically repaired left knee. That may be a good thing in Miller’s eyes.
“Without Tiger there, it surely isn’t going to be easy, but if you’re a gambler or a statistician, you think ‘How can Europe keep making all these putts?”’ Miller said. “It’s time for the U.S. If you’re a betting man odds are putting is going to flip flop in the U.S.’s direction.”
MISSING THE GREATEST: The man was missing, but the message was not.
The U.S. team visited the Muhammad Ali Center on Monday night, but a meeting with the former heavyweight champion and Louisville native had to be rescheduled when weather prevented Ali and his wife Lonnie from making the trip from Michigan.
Instead the team toured the center, which opened in 2005 and traces Ali’s life, boxing career and humanitarian efforts. The tour begins with a brief video about Ali’s legacy based on the Rudyard Kipling poem “If.”
“It’s about ‘What if?’ and dreams,” Azinger said. “I thought that was an important message. That’s such an important perspective on his life, and it’s so vast; it reaches beyond sports and athletics. The players loved it. They loved being in there. I just thought it was a great place to start the week.”
It’s not the first time a captain has turned to an American icon to give the team a little boost. Future president George W. Bush read a note written at The Alamo to the 1999 team before it rallied to knock off the Euros at The Country Club in Brookline.
Justin Leonard called the visit “inspiring,” but doesn’t think the U.S. needs to look outside for encouragement. The U.S. team’s lackluster play – losing five of the last six Cups, including some in embarrassing fashion – is plenty enough.
“I don’t think that we as players need that for further motivation,” Leonard said. “I think the motivation is already there. But it just adds some memories to the week.”
Azinger remains hopeful the team will get a chance to meet Ali later in the week, and Ali isn’t the only luminary Azinger hopes can bring a little juice to the team. Azinger invited former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz to dine with the team on Tuesday.
“He’ll probably say a few words, it’s hard to get him not to,” Azinger said.
PLAYING TO THE CROWD: Azinger is pulling out all the stops in an effort to stoke the U.S.’s homefield advantage.
The team will attend a pep rally at a bar area in downtown Louisville that will include the introduction of the U.S. team and a pep talk from Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
The site is the home of the post position draw for the Kentucky Derby, and nearly 20,000 fans showed up to send the Louisville basketball team off to the Final Four in 2005.
“We want to embrace this crowd,” Azinger said. “We don’t want what happened in ’04 to happen again.”
Four years ago at Oakland Hills the European team provided a little gamesmanship by ignoring a “no autograph” order, signing anything and everything during practice rounds to win favor with the American crowd.
“The Europeans are already requesting Sharpies on the tees and stuff like that, so I know what they’re trying to do,” Azinger said.
Azinger plans to counter the Euros’ charm by handing out lapel pins with the American flag on it to fans, though with just 10,000 pins he’s not sure there’s enough to go around.
“I feel like the people of Kentucky have made me their own,” he said. “I love this town and I love this state and I couldn’t think of a better place for us to be. I know it’s going to be an energized crowd, so to that point we’re going to try to embrace them and try to get them energized.”