LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Initially, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger hoped to pull a personal nip-and-tuck at Valhalla, crafting it into a course that suited the advantages of a long-hitting American team.
He cut back the rough and widened the fairways in spots, but the bombers mostly failed to land berths on the team, giving the Yanks no perceived edge over the equally long Europeans.
|Phil Mickelson passes out some limited-edition lapel pins to grateful fans. (Getty Images)|
After widening fairways didn't give them an upper hand, the Americans are widening their arms in an attempt to win over the Kentucky fans, a concerted effort to give the home-field advantage back to the Americans, who have lost five of the past six Ryder competitions.
Tuesday at Valhalla, with a large throng already on hand to watch the teams practice, the American players began handing out commemorative pins to fans. That's just the beginning.
"We actually are loving our gallery," Azinger said.
It seems to be mutual.
"This is awesome," said Lonnie Wilson, 19, a Cincinnati resident who secured one of the limited-edition lapel pins.
Azinger is determined to capture the fancy of the fans, which certainly didn't happen the last time the matches were staged on U.S. soil, in 2004. Under orders from captain Bernhard Langer, the Europeans signed autographs, kissed babies, shook hands and posed for more photographs with the American fans than did the Yanks.
It was a masterstroke of strategy that endeared the Europeans to the American masses. It effectively defanged the gallery, although quickly kicking the Americans in the teeth on the course quieted the fans, too.
"You don't have a home-court advantage in golf, and this is it for us," American Hunter Mahan said.
Win over the crowd, win the matches?
We shall soon see. In what represents the biggest pairing since Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were twinned with disastrous results in 2004, Azinger said he is considering sending homegrown Kentucky heroes J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry off in the first group on Friday morning, when play begins.