It was supposed to be a bloodbath, the 2008 Ryder Cup. The United States had lost three consecutive matches and five of the last six, and would be without its best player, Tiger Woods, who had missed the second half of the summer following knee surgery. The Americans had six rookies, only a handful of players who were considered in their prime and more than a couple journeymen. Moreover, the Europeans boasted a seemingly perfect alchemy of youth and experience, firepower and steady hands. It would be over before it started.
However, the players who would dress for the red, white and blue had other intentions that week, with the U.S. pulling off one of the bigger upsets in the history of the biennial event. From a bull dance to a downtrodden Nick Faldo to a star who never shined brighter, here's a look back at the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla.
Peak Anthony Kim
Let's start here, for any discussions about the 2008 Ryder Cup must inherently involve Kim, in similar vein to the relationship between Michael Jordan and "Space Jam." Making his first, and sadly, only, Ryder Cup appearance, it wasn't just that Kim recorded 2.5 points for the Americans that week. It was how, with a devil-may-care course strategy and displays of unfettered vigor. He was flamboyant, yes, his gold "USA" belt buckle so shinny it could be seen from Lexington. But with Tiger on the sidelines, the U.S. was in desperate need of someone to inject life into the crowd, and Kim more than filled that void.
“[Anthony] was our off-the-course team leader," captain Paul Azinger told Gary Van Sickle in 2016. "Everybody laughed at AK because he was a street kid, a chip-on-your shoulder kid."
He was the breakout star of this event, especially on Sunday, which deserves its own section.
Kim sucking out the soul of Sergio Garcia
Garcia finished second at the 2008 PGA Championship, coming up short to Ryder Cup teammate Pádraig Harrington (who had beat Garcia in a four-hole playoff at the 2007 Open) by two shots. Garcia would not log under top-5 finish at a major for six more years. A drought that can only be explained by the PTSD suffered at the hands of Kim.
Garcia was tabbed as the gunner on Sunday, believing the Spaniard would put an early point on the board. Instead, Garcia came out on the business end of a hurricane comprised of confidence and charisma. Kim birdied the first two holes and eagled the seventh to go 3 Up, and rolled off victories at the 11th through 13th to close Garcia out on No. 14, 5 & 4.
“He wanted Sergio all week," Azinger told Van Sickle. "I don’t think he realized that we couldn’t just match ’em up when we got there. He kept saying, ‘I want to play Sergio, Zing. I want to play Sergio.’ It never worked out until Sunday, and we got lucky. Anthony ate it up and responded. He said on the 1st tee, ‘I’m gonna whup his ass for you today, Captain.'
“That was one of the classic moments in Ryder Cup history, I think. After he won that match, I gave AK a big hug on the green, and then he kind of backed off. He was pointing at me, and if you can read his lips, he was saying, ‘I told you I was gonna whup his ass!'"
No wonder golf fans still lose their minds at the mere mention of AK. Some stars shine so bright they burn out before their time.
Oh captain my captain
Nick Faldo was a helluva player. As a Ryder Cup captain, not so much.
He admittedly didn't construct a strategy, instead letting his players run the show, a move which backfired on Sunday when the team loaded most of its stars at the back of the lineup instead of running them out early to erase the deficit. He was allegedly skittish and mercurial behind the scenes; the Guardian wrote, "Privately, the mere mention of Faldo's name in the presence of some of those in and around the 2008 European team is liable to produce eye-rolling on the scale of Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein." An icy rapport with the press made matters worse, and Faldo wasn't exactly quick to jump on the sword in defeat.
Heck, Falso was still pouring gasoline on this dumpster fire in 2014, when he called Garcia "useless" during that week. So yeah, don't expect to see Sir Nick get a second shot at captaincy.
Riding the bull, feeling the flow
Boo Weekley produced one of the more indelible images, good ways and bad, of the Ryder Cup that weekend. Do we need to go further? You know exactly what we're referring to, yes?
Fine, just in case you don't...
Just to show you the lack of entertainment options in 2008, this was enough to earn Weekley a spot on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.
But Weekley was more than a sideshow, recording 2.5 points for the U.S. in three matches.
Berth of the pods
A contingent of fans roll their eyes when the "pods system" is discussed, in the sense that those involved tend to over-complicate the proceedings. Nevertheless, there's no doubting Azinger's game plan—making sure partners were practicing throughout the week together—paid dividends at Valhalla, and one so well-received its still employed by the Americans in the present.
The European Team: Maybe not that great?
The Americans were underdogs and Faldo made a mess of things, but it’s not like they took down the '27 Yankees. Harrington was the only major winner at the time for the Europeans, and though four players would go on to claim a major title—Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Garcia—none own multiple championships.
To be fair, seven of the Europeans were ranked inside the world’s top 20 at the time of the match, and few of the Americans' careers ascended after 2008 (poor one out for AK). Still, history has not made the Euros out to be the juggernaut they supposedly were.
In that same breath...
The beginning of Ian Poulter, Ryder Cup slayer
No European has struck the fear of God into American fans during the Ryder Cup than Poulter, who has the best winning percentage (72 percent) of any Euro with over 15 matches under their belt. Though Poulter had played at the 2004 event, he had appeared in just two matches. Louisville was a different story, as the Englishman won four points over the weekend, accounting for over a third of the Euros' total score. However, video shows a stoic Poulter, with the occasional fist pump or two sprinkled in. The scowling, screaming and everything else about the Ian Poulter Experience we know and...well, know would not start until Celtic Manor.
When the team was just the team
Aw, simpler times. The United States had three assistants—Olin Browne, Raymond Floyd and Dave Stockton—the Euros, just one in José María Olazábal (Paul McGinley resigned, believing he had a chance to make the team asa player). No convoy of golf carts with celebrities, significant others and hanger-ons (no need to name names, but you know exactly who we're talking about). Call us old fashioned, but not a fan of the growing legion of non-players that insert themselves inside the ropes during current Ryder Cups.
No one-hit wonder
Ben Curtis is known for coming out of left field to win the 2003 Open, raising the claret jug as the 396th ranked player in the world...and that's about it. However, Curtis earned his way onto the U.S. team in 2008 thanks to five top 10s on the campaign, highlighted by a runner-up finish at the PGA. He contributed just 1.5 points, but did win his Sunday singles match against Lee Westwood.
Oldie but goodie
Azinger was 48 when he captained the U.S. squad in 2008. Also 48: Kenny Perry, who ranked 11th in strokes gained that season and won three times. A Kentucky native, Perry somewhat avenged his 1996 Valhalla faux pas—leading by one, he bogeyed the par-5 18th, and instead of going to the practice range, watched the closing holes with the TV crew, ultimately losing a playoff to Mark Brooks—by logging 2.5 points for the American effort.
Things that have not stood the test of time
These statements were said at some point throughout the ESPN/NBC broadcast:
On Lee Westwood: "It's only a matter of time before he wins his major, and likely multiples ones at that." -- Johnny Miller
On Hunter Mahan: "Game is rough around the edges but I think we all agree he has the potential to reach No. 1 in the world." -- Bob Murphy
On Henrik Stenson: "You gotta wonder if he has the temperament to reach sustained success." -- Miller
On Phil Mickelson: "How many years does he have left? He's getting up there, you know." -- Roger Maltbie. In Rog's defense, Phil did go 1-2-2 that week , but Mickelson had also won twice that season.
As for the comments on Kim, they are too many, too outlandish, and ultimately too sad to post. Never forget.
Not paradise, but...
As a major championship venue, Valhalla is ripped for its Mickey Mouse layout and an aesthetically-challenged front nine. But give credit where it's due: as a Ryder Cup host, its an ideal facilitator of action and scoring, and its confines create a stadium-like atmosphere. The Ryder Cup is booked until...well, until we are all old and gray, but this should be on the short list for future visits.
Victory makes friends of us all, yet there's a genuine affinity on display when the Americans celebrated their W on Sunday night. Perhaps it was heightened by a raucous Kentucky crowd, or the foxhole mentality that develops when the world counts you out. But, in spite of the clashing personalities, the U.S. team came together like the finest of jambalayas, pieces that have no reason sharing space working seamlessly as one.