If you could get a straight answer from a Ryder Cup captain on Day 1, you would ask which player held center stage in his mind's proscenium at the moment his eyes popped open in the darkness before dawn.
Lanny Wadkins awoke at 5:45 last Friday morning, 15 minutes before his alarm was set to go off. But if the U.S. captain woke up worrying about Peter Jacobsen's media wounds or Jeff Maggert's rookie jitters, he couldn't betray the fact. One loose comment can wreck a player's reputation.
And make no mistake, that's what the Ryder Cup has become—a reputation maker. It's a three-day ordeal in which the games and guts of the contestants are coldly scrutinized and the chokers singled out. The captain's job, therefore, is not just to win but to protect fragile egos. Wadkins, for instance, wanted his five Ryder Cup rookies—Maggert, Tom Lehman, Phil Mickelson, Brad Faxon and Loren Roberts—to play at least one match on Friday, and not just play but get a confidence boost, as well.
Tall order, but Wadkins got his wish. Lehman hit a brilliant pressure shot on the 18th hole to win the morning's most critical foursome match; Mickelson had four birdies in an afternoon four-ball victory; Roberts led a 6-and-5 massacre of Europe's two hottest golfers, Sam Torrance and Costantino Rocca; and Maggert contributed to one win in the-morning, when rain drenched Oak Hill Country Club, and another in the afternoon, when a chill wind chased away the clouds.
Instead, Wadkins had to worry about his veterans. Fred Couples and Jay Haas were wretched in the morning, and it was hard to tell which bothered Wadkins more: Couples's failure to step forward or Haas's inability to withstand the downward pull of his partner.
And then there was Jacobsen. The day he arrived in Rochester, the 41-year-old PGA Tour veteran launched a spirited rebuttal of some tepid press criticism. "The media, perhaps the public, may consider Peter to be too lighthearted to be taken seriously by the bloodthirsty," declared Chuck Hogan, Jacobsen's mental coach. Before the three days of practice rounds were over, Davis Love III and Curtis Strange had taken their own shots at the nattering nabobs.
Resentment can be an effective unifying force, which may explain why Wadkins didn't immediately squelch the press-bashing. But he had to wonder whether Jacobsen, whose admitted weakness is a tendency to lose concentration, had his head in the game.
The answer came Friday afternoon, when Jacobsen committed a mental blunder of embarrassing proportions. Having chipped his third shot five feet past the cup on the par-4 7th hole, Jacobsen nonchalantly picked up his ball, gave partner Brad Faxon a high five, and said, "Great 4." Faxon, turning pale, replied, "That was a 5." Jacobsen had not noticed that his partner's tee shot had gone in the water, forcing him to take a drop.
Faxon recovered quickly, but Jacobsen never regained his composure. Wadkins tried to loosen him up with a joke on the 8th tee ("Will you need a mathematician the rest of the way?"), but Jacobsen blocked his tee shot right, bladed a greenside bunker shot into the gallery and took an X. "I feel like an idiot. I want to cry," said Jacobsen after he and Faxon lost 4 and 3.
It would be a mistake, though, to assume that the shepherd thinks only of his smallest sheep. As Wadkins cruised the 9th fairway in a golf cart on Thursday, he dwelt on Match 1, which had his best competitor, U.S. Open champ Corey Pavin, joining Lehman against the imposing British duo of Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie. "That's cool, very cool," said Wadkins. "I wanted something to light a fire under Corey. He's been going through the motions here."