Still, Wadkins's selections, particularly Strange, who has not won an official event since the 1989 U.S. Open at—not coincidently—Oak Hill, were probably the hardest an American captain has had to make since the discretionary picks were instituted in 1989. In picking Strange, Wadkins passed up two players who have each won two tournaments this year, were well up in the point standings and have Ryder Cup experience—Jim Gallagher Jr. and Lee Janzen.
Wadkins had hoped to have his mind made up by the time Riviera rolled around but instead became more unsettled the closer he got to the 8 a.m. Monday deadline. On Friday he awoke at 3 a.m., found himself again weighing his options and couldn't get back to sleep. What Wadkins wanted were two players after his own heart. "You need finishers, finishers, finishers," says Dave Marr, the 1981 U.S. captain. "Players who when they get a guy down, step on his neck." Wadkins clearly did not want to pick a player without previous Ryder Cup experience. That meant Perry, Scott Hoch, Maggert and Faxon would have to make it on points—and so would British Open winner John Daly.
As a double major winner who has shown an impressive ability to close, Daly might normally have transcended the unwritten rookie rule. But in Wadkins's mind, Wild Thing's baggage outweighed his assets. For the record, Wadkins pointed out that Oak Hill's U.S. Open setup would curtail Daly's ability to take full advantage of his length, but he left mostly unspoken his more serious concern that Daly could disrupt team chemistry with his nonconformist bent. Daly's biggest liability is a history of quitting when the going gets tough, and his 41 on the back side of the first round of the PGA smelled enough like another tank job to allow Wadkins to eliminate him from consideration.
All along, the players Wadkins clearly wanted to pick were Strange and Tom Watson. Both fulfilled his old-school criteria of experience, proven toughness under pressure and leadership. There was also the undeniable tug of friendship. Wadkins has known Strange since both were star junior golfers in Virginia. Wadkins and Watson have been good friends since both arrived on the Tour in 1971, and Watson, as captain of the 1993 U.S. team, made Wadkins one of his picks despite the fact that Lanny ranked 32nd in points.
The problem was that neither Watson nor Strange has performed particularly well, with Strange 22nd on the points list coming into the PGA, while Watson was 53rd. Watson's case was especially problematic. Although at 45 Watson has become an even purer ball striker than he was when he was dominating the game in the late '70s and early '80s, his penchant for missing short putts at crucial moments is anathema to the Ryder Cup team.
Still, Watson had impressed Wadkins during the two practice rounds before the PGA. Watson shot 128 over 36 holes, but the magic left when the bell rang. When Watson picked Wadkins in 1993, he did so after Lanny had finished in a tie for 14th in the PGA at Inverness. After Watson's first three rounds at Riviera left him 17 strokes behind Ernie Els, Wadkins gently communicated to Watson that his only chance would be an exceptional finish. Watson shot 70 and tied for 58th.
Strange was keenly aware of Wadkins's inclination in his direction and actually seemed a bit uncomfortable. "I know Lanny has wanted to pick me, but I honestly don't feel I've played well enough to deserve it," Strange said on Saturday after his second straight 68 left him in a tie for 21st. "I want to deserve it. The worst thing would be to go in there as a questionable pick and then mess up some crucial match. I understand chemistry and leadership and toughness, but the real question is, Do I bring the game? That's always the most important thing. But I told Lanny, 'If chosen, I will play my butt off.' " On Sunday, Strange did, shooting yet another 68 to finish tied for 17th.
When it came down to one spot on the American team, it was fitting that the man to grab it was Faxon. No player has expressed more of a desire to make the squad, and his attributes are considerable. Faxon is one of the most sociable players on the Tour, a former Walker Cupper who has a history of good performances in team events and is the owner of a short game so reliable it is referred to as the Fax Machine.
Faxon was also a sentimental favorite because of two flukish penalties he received early in the year that almost certainly cost him Ryder Cup points. In San Diego, Faxon hit another player's ball, and at Westchester his longtime caddie, John (Cubby) Burke, gave him a ball different from the model he started the round with, a violation of the Tour's "one ball" rule.
"This takes away the doubt," said Faxon after securing his place on the team. "If I didn't make it, I always would have been thinking about it."