SHENZHEN, China (AP) — Maybe the United States doesn’t need Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to win the World Cup of Golf. Two players out of the same high school in the Florida Panhandle are doing just fine.
That would be Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum.
They combined for an 11-under 61 in best-ball play Thursday to take a one-stroke over Germany’s Alex Cejka and Martin Kaymer. Finland, Wales, Scotland, South Africa, Thailand and England were two shots back.
Weekley turned it on with six birdies and an eagle – and a Southern drawl that made him seem farther from home on Thanksgiving than simply an 8,000-mile flight.
“It’s a culture shock for me to be able to come out and see different things, because I’m a home boy,” Weekley said. “I like to stay right around the house in the States.”
Weekley, No. 43 in the world. was picked to represent the United States in the 28-team event after 13 other higher-ranked Americans turned down the invitation. In turn, he picked the 70th-ranked Slocum, his friend from Milton High School at the western tip of the Florida Panhandle.
“I think I was up in a tree deer hunting when I got the call,” Weekley recalled. “I was teary-eyed because it was awesome … To us, this is like our Olympics. To know I can come over and represent the United States, that’s a plus for me.”
Weekley is becoming something of a world traveler, making his first trips out of the United States this year to Mexico, the British Open in Scotland and now China.
However, his caddie – Joe Pyle – needs some work. He was detained without the right visa trying to enter mainland China on Tuesday from Hong Kong. He scrambled and arrived Wednesday.
“I walked in at about 6 (p.m.) and he was asleep and he slept all the way until about 4 this morning,” Weekley said. “He said he was ready to get after it, and that’s what we did today.”
The teams will play an alternate-shot round Friday, another best-ball round Saturday and then close with alternate shot on Sunday on the Olazabal Course – one of 12 courses at the world’s largest golf complex.
Both Slocum and Weekley had eagles. Slocum got his on No. 3, dropping a 25-foot putt. Weekley got his on the par-4 12th when his 6-iron found the hole from 185 yards.
They should prepare for celebrations in Milton if they win the $5 million event, worth $800,000 to each team member.
“They are obviously very proud of both of us for getting to represent, not only the United States, but we’re representing the panhandle of Florida, Milton and Pensacola,” Slocum said.
Asked what he knew about China, Weekley replied: “Not much. Rice. Oh yeah, I knew the Great Wall of China, but I thought it was closer.”
“We ain’t been able to do nothing,” he added. “We go straight to the motel and straight here, but I know the people here are friendly. It’s very nice. They always say `Hey,’ so polite and stuff. That’s always a plus when you show up somewhere in a foreign country.”
One journalist suggested the United States should have sent its top players.
“I thought they sent the best team,” Weekley joked.
England was the pre-tournament favorite with Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, the only two in the tournament ranked in the top 20. Rose is No. 8 and Poulter No. 20.
Poulter had two eagles – one with a 60-yard wedge, and the other 3-foot putt.
The English duo hoped to restore English pride after the national soccer team lost to Croatia on Wednesday and failed to qualify for next year’s European championship.
Poulter and Rose both dressed in red and white outfits, showing off the colors of England’s national flag.
“I definitely wasn’t going to wear all black, that’s for sure,” Poulter said.
South Africa, with Trevor Immelman and Retief Goosen look threatening, as does Scotland paced by Colin Montgomerie. Scotland was the runner-up last year in Barbados to Germans Bernhard Langer and Marcel Siem, who chose not to defend.
Though the event dates from 1953 it’s had trouble getting traction. Part of the World Golf Championships, it was cut loose after last year and begins a 12-year run at Mission Hills as an event co-sanctioned by all the major golf tours.