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A final word about Boo Weekley, Ryder Cup jingoism and our wonderfully flawed country

Last week, in what can only be described as a moment of foolish hopefulness, I wrote an open letter to Phil Mickelson, begging that he step up his game in the Ryder Cup and arguing that he could be the key to a United States victory. Turns out I was as wrong as some of Sergio Garcia's reads. I fell into the classic Ryder Cup trap that too many sportswriters stumble into: superstars don't make the difference in this thing. The Emotional Everyman does. And that's why Boo Weekley was the Redneck King of Valhalla this weekend. I was loving every minute.

The Ryder Cup has always been one of my favorite events in sports, simply because you see golfers who have spent most their careers looking like cardboard-stiff androids suddenly turn into the cast from Rent. They hoot and holler, jump around or gyrate, dance and cry. Steve Stricker is normally so quiet and reserved that he'd put a librarians convention to sleep. But when Garcia started yelping and flexing like a professional wrestler after a birdie putt on Saturday, Stricker not only answered his birdie, he started fist-pumping and screaming back at Garcia, whipping the Kentucky crowd into a minor frenzy. 

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The key to all this was Weekley, a self-described country boy from the Florida panhandle who has said often he prefers fishing and hunting to golfing. Despite the fact that he's one of the nicest players on the PGA Tour, a humble family man with a fondness for spitting and Southern colloquialisms, he probably represents everything that Europeans dislike about Americans after this week. All week long, he was pumping out the crowd with his countrified Southern charm, and on Sunday when the pressure was overwhelming for some, he galloped down the first fairway riding his driver like a runaway pony, mimicking Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore.

I don't know a ton about Weekley, other than the few snippets I've read or clips I've watched on television. I doubt we vote the same, read the same books, listen to the same music, or even drink the same kind of beer. But my fondness for the Ryder Cup is built on the belief that to fill up this great big country of ours, it takes all kinds.

The European press has had plenty of fun in recent years during the Ryder Cup, painting American players as stiff, smug, country club elites with Stepford Wives and as much personality as a box of Pro V1s. And some years, it was hard to argue that they were wrong.

But this time around, it felt different. It's easy to lose sight of it in an election year -- with everyone insisting we draw a red and blue line down the middle of our lives and pick a side to stand on -- but what makes our country special, in my mind, is that the Boo Weekleys and the Anthony Kims are both a part of our big, messy, beautiful American tapestry.

Kim, one of the rising stars on the PGA Tour at age 23, is a headstrong Asian-American kid whose parents immigrated from Korea. He grew up in urban Los Angeles and rebelled against the affluent world of golf. His parents scraped together every nickel to give him a chance at stardom and now he wears a diamond-studded belt buckle with his initials on it. It looks like he might be ready, someday, to grab the torch when Tiger Woods is ready to pass it. He loves video games, the NBA, and his vibe is more hip hop than CEO. His story is very much The American Dream.

Weekley flunked out of college, loves to wear camouflage and once held a job at a chemical plant where he had to be lowered into a tank to hydroblast ammonia tanks with a hose to clean them. He even fought an orangutan at a county fair as a teenager, and lost. For real.

This was always the European team's strength, gathering together a collection of Irishmen, Englishmen, Spaniards and Swedes, some rich, others not, and getting them to buy into the addictive joie de vivre of "TEAM." You didn't have to love one another, you just had to love the idea of one another.

I'm no redneck, and my politics are probably closer to Paul Casey's and Ian Poulter's than Boo Weekley's and Phil Mickelson's. But I love the part of America that gave us Boo Weekley, that Skoal-spitting, yes ma'am, no sir, NASCAR-loving, elsewhere that I can visit, but never truly inhabit.  And so instead of watching the NFL Sunday, I was pumping my fist at every birdie by Kim, hooting and hollering when Weekley chipped in from the bunker in his singles match.

"The adrenaline ... I feel like a dog that somebody done stuck a needle to and it juiced me up like I've been running around a greyhound track chasing one of them bunnies," Weekley said.

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The Europeans, especially Lee Westwood, were whining a bit in defeat, claiming that some of Boo's antics were unprofessional and that the crowd was a little too supportive at the wrong times. They apparently forgot the conga line they did at Valderama, or the fairway snow angels Garcia did two years ago. (Westwood did have to laugh, though, when someone dressed as a ghost jumped in front of him and said "Boo!")

I thought, though, that somehow Azinger and Co. -- as well as the home crowd -- got it just right. Americans can be humble or cocky, and beer-stained or button-downed. Some of us grow up next to swamps and others next to country clubs. A few of us like country, while others sold our souls to rock 'n' roll as teenagers. Rap music might not be your thing, but it's very much a part of this nation.

All of us, however, like to compete. All of us have pride.

So thanks, Boo, and thanks, Anthony Kim, for reminding me that even though Americans pride ourselves in our differences and our individualism, we still know how to work together and get the job done.

PHOTO: AP

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