J.B. HOLMES IS THE CROWD FAVORITE at Valhalla this week. At least that’s my snap judgment after attending a Ryder Cup practice session on Wednesday. Chants of “J.B.!” filled the air from the time the Kentucky bomber stepped onto the practice tee.
Kenny Perry, another Kentucky-native Ryder Cupper, is also hugely popular. Don’t be at all surprised if the two Kentucky boys team up in tomorrow’s opening match. U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Paul Azinger wants to set the tone early and figures some Holmes-Perry style Kentucky thunder will shake things up at Valhalla. I can’t fault his logic.
I saw the three groupings of Americans open their practice sessions. As if on cue, J.B. nearly holed his second shot on the par-4 1st hole. His short-iron shot covered the flag and spun its way to within six inches of the cup. The fans were in a tizzy. Just wait until the weekend.
To get a feel for Valhalla, my friend, Doug, and I walked the back nine in reverse until we intercepted the European team.
The 18th hole is a reachable par-5 that will have dramatic implications for matches that go the distance. Near the 18th tee we encountered Mike Tirico and Andy North of ESPN scouting the course. “Hey, Andy.” North won three times on the PGA Tour, including two U.S. Opens.
The 16th and 17th holes are long par-4s that will put a premium on good driving. Almost all of the players we saw had trouble with club selection on their second shots at the 16th hole. The par-4 measures a lengthy 511 yards and will be a brute, especially for the shorter hitters.
In general, the Valhalla course setup is just as advertised. The rough is negligible. The landing areas about 300 yards away from the tees are pretty generous. The greens are smaller than I expected, and many are tiered. The approach shots will make the difference between possible birdies and grinding for pars.
The greens are fast, but not as speedy as at the U.S. Open. He who makes the most putts wins. The Ryder Cup will be won or lost on Valhalla’s undulating bent-grass greens.
−The Armchair Golfer
More Ryder Cup coverage:
2008 Ryder Cup: Super Bowl of Golf
2008 Ryder Cup: Rendezvous with a Childhood Friend
2008 Ryder Cup TV Schedule
2008 Ryder Cup Report