Valhalla braced for epic battle
I knew I was in America when I ordered a beer at Chicago airport as we waited for our onward connection and was asked for ID. On my 37th birthday!
And our presence in the US was confirmed when we revved up the Chevy (very cheap, bean counters), cranked up the country music and set out from downtown Louisville, bound for Valhalla.
Flicking through the morning papers on the freeway, the hot topic was the chaos wreaked by the tail end of Hurricane Ike, which had caused up to 250,000 homes to lose power.
If omens are to be believed, the K Club was hit by remnants of Hurricane Gordon two years ago. And we all know what happened in that event.
But instead of driving wind and lashing rain this week, Valhalla looks set to be bathed in sunshine.
"It's all about what-ifs and dreams," said Azinger. "The players loved it. It was a great place to start the week."
On our search for Valhalla we passed Dick's Sporting Goods, some tanning salons, lots of tyre shops, plenty of churches and Moby Dick's fish restaurant where you can get "A whale of a sandwich".
But while Dolly Parton did her own wailing we began to wonder whether we had the right week. The only betrayal that something was afoot was the presence of a few rozzers.
Then a small sign confirmed we were in the right ballpark. Lanning's Paint Store had erected a banner saying "USA, make some putts". Bingo.
Soon we hit Ryder Cupville and Valhalla appeared on our left, in a leafy hollow. Not like, say, an Open venue that spreads out in all its glory in front of you. More tantalising glimpses through the trees.
First impressions are that it is lush, good-looking and pretty undulating (not unlike Ms Parton), though for the perfectionists the electricity pylons that bisect the plot slightly detract.
The grounds were already heaving with fans and the players were on the course early doors, the Europeans on the front nine, the US side on the back half.
Already us hacks were scrambling to find some meaning in this when Faldo came in for a news conference.
"I thought we were playing in threes on Friday," said Faldo, acting baffled, before admitting to those not tuned in to his unique sense of humour that he was, in fact, joking. The newcomers will have to get used to him, because there'll be a lot more.
But, generally, Faldo's "presser" was going well. He sounded like he already knows what his pairings will be and was upbeat and fairly open. That is until someone piped up with: "Are you confident you can detach your own ego from managing the team over the next few days?"
The Faldo eyebrows lifted slightly there was a pause, a stern look and in a low, slow menacing voice he said: "I'm very confident". Cue silence in the press room.
With everyone's attention, and possibly trying to cover up any of the awkwardness, he added: "I've got a dozen characters [in the team]. I'm the quiet one in there."
To be honest, though, Faldo's "gags" aside, he comes across as a man very comfortable in his role, contrary to those who suggested his once singular mentality would be a hindrance to the side.
"I love being mother hen to this lot," he said. "I'm just loving every minute of it."
Azinger's conference followed Faldo's, and though he's not yet sure of his pairings, he let on that all 12 Americans will play on the first day.
Again, things were going swimmingly as he chewed the fat over various issues, until he was asked whether it was true that he regretted picking Raymond Floyd and the fiery Dave Stockton as his vice-captains, as Faldo had suggested last week.
Like a lion sensing a vulnerable prey, Azinger couldn't help himself and went in for the kill.
"Did you hear him say it? Did you ask him? Who asked him? Did someone hear him say it? Did you?" Azinger badgered the journalist in true Paxman fashion.
"I question whether he said it, and if he did, it's completely untrue."
That was us told. And like Faldo's flashpoint, you could hear a pin drop afterwards.
It was almost like both captains wanted to make their mark, or didn't want to be out-stropped by the other.
There's so many strands to this part of the week, from prospective pairings, to captaincy style, to course set-up and home advantage. And with it the press pack are like one of those flocks of birds or shoals of fish you see on TV nature programmes - darting and dancing this way and that, always on the move, but always as one.
To drum up the local support, Azinger's side are passing out lapel pins with the US flag and Ryder Cup logo on.
"They're loving that," he said. "They're screaming for more pins. We only have 10,000. That might not be enough."
His men will also be attending a "pep rally" in downtown Louisville on Thursday where they will be firing T-shirts out of guns for the fans.
"We want to embrace this crowd and try to get them energised," he said, before adding quickly, "All the while, the message is certainly always going to be to maintain a certain level of sportsmanship. We don't want anybody out of hand and, of course, there will be some alcohol served, but we are engaging the crowd."
The Europeans are also keen to make friends, though in a more low-key way. Paul Casey's caddie Craig Connelly was spotted handing out balls, while Ian Poulter, for example, took four drives to find the 10th fairway and then punched the air in ironic triumph to cheers all round.
"Well, most of your states are bigger than our countries," he said, alluding to the fact that they might be from Kentucky but that doesn't mean they are "local". You can't fault his logic, but when the battle heats up, logic is likely to go out of the window.
"I'll tell you one thing," added Azinger. "On 13, it's 330 yards to the front of the green and Holmes flew it all the way. The crowd went absolutely crazy. That was just the kind of a dose of what we could be in for and I look forward to it."
You bet he does. But then so does Faldo. Asked whether there was a key to being successful in the Ryder Cup, his eyes sparkled.
"There sure is," said the record points scorer, puffing out his chest. "A big heart, strong in mind and strong in battle."
Valhalla will not be a place for the faint-hearted this weekend.