As expected, Tiger Woods was absent from Valhalla over the weekend.
And without the services of the world's No. 1-ranked player, most experts figured the outcome of the 2008 Ryder Cup was a forgone conclusion. After all, the Europeans had defeated the Americans soundly in their last two meetings on the world stage " and that was when Woods wasn't out rehabbing a knee injury.
But as it turned out, the self-described "Wonder-Dogs" didn't need Woods to help them bring the cup back to the United States for the first time since 1999. Indeed, Tiger would probably have been a distraction to this unusually eclectic lineup of American golfers that relied more on camaraderie and raw emotion than star power to defeat the three-time defending champs.
By the time late Sunday afternoon rolled around, the thunderous chants of "U-S-A" could be heard miles down the road from Louisville, Ky., as young players like Hunter Mahan and Anthony Kim made sure celebration would take the place of lingering Ryder Cup disappointment for the American squad.
Mahan and Kim, two players with Oklahoma ties and both making their Ryder Cup debuts in 2008, proved instrumental in the American's most lopsided victory (16.5 to 11.5) since 1981. Where many young players past have wilted under the enormous pressure that comes with representing their country, Mahan and Kim thrived.
A former All-American and two-time Big 12 Player of the Year at Oklahoma State, Mahan did not lose a single match during the weekend, finishing an impressive 2-0-3. Mahan made the team as a captain's pick, according to Agence France-Presse.
Meanwhile, Kim, a three-time All-American at the University of Oklahoma, continued what has been an incredible second professional season. The 23-year-old former Sooner finished 2-1-1 and it was his 5 and 4 victory over Sergio Garcia on Sept. 21 that set the stage for the United States' triumph.
"I wouldn't trade this for $10 million," Kim reportedly said in the aftermath of his final match. "I wanted to come out here and give the fans what they wanted to see. I got chills up my spine the whole day."
Kim and Mahan helped whip the mostly partisan, flag-waving U.S. crowd into a frenzy with their performances. The duo provided a level of energy and passion " and maybe a little cockiness " that seemed infectious for the Americans and the throngs of fans who lined Valhalla's fairways 10 deep, from tee to green.
With Woods out and veteran Phil Mickelson not playing at the top of his game, young guys like Mahan and Kim, along with other less-than-household names Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes, proved to be the difference.
"I'm coming out of my skin right now I'm so excited," Kim reportedly said.
"We're obviously very proud of ourselves. Hopefully we got a lot more coming."
After criticizing the Ryder Cup during the summer " describing the event as little more than a money-making machine " Mahan changed his tune once he became part of the team. And by Sept. 21, the 26-year-old had developed a whole new appreciation for the prestigious event.
"I knew what to expect, but it blows that out of the water. The people, the fans, the moments we had " I just felt a lifetime of memories right there," Mahan reportedly said.
"It's an incredible, incredible experience. I wish every golfer could experience this, because it's amazing." "Jay C. Upchurch