It's no fun explaining yourself. It's no use, either, as Bernard Gallacher learned in his two previous terms as Europe's Ryder Cup captain. When you're drowning in a sea of second guesses, even a proffered oar can look like a murderous instrument.
Which may explain why, at Oak Hill, Gallacher was by turns testy, sullen and sarcastic; why he was mute and then suddenly verbose. Last Friday evening, when asked by a British reporter about a Saturday pairing, he exploded, saying, "Dammit! I take enough responsibilities around here without taking that from you." At other times Gallacher went into confessional mode. He had erred Friday afternoon, he said, in not substituting a rested Ian Woosnam for the struggling Per-Ulrik Johansson. He had also miscalculated in sending out older players like Sam Torrance and Costantino Rocca to play a second round on spongelike, strength-sapping fairways.
To his credit Gallacher didn't publicly unpack the heavy baggage he brought to Rochester: a fading Eurostar fighting the yips ( Woosnam), a tabloid celebrity ducking published rumors that his marriage was on the rocks ( Nick Faldo), a quintet of players incapable of keeping their tee balls out of Oak Hill's confining trees and rough ( Johansson, Seve Ballesteros, Philip Walton, Howard Clark and Mark James), not to mention his own lukewarm mandate (further weakened by widely publicized criticism from former Ryder Cup captain Tony Jacklin). Given that he was on the verge of being remembered as a three-time loser, Gallacher seemed almost gracious.
That's what he told his team when they met Friday night: "Gracious!" Put a bit more strongly, of course, and with the side of his shoe applied soccer-style to their collective butt. "It was what you Yanks call a tongue-lashing," said an amused British writer. "Something to wake the lads up."
And on Saturday they came out smoking. In the morning foursomes, all four of Gallacher's picks hit the 1st fairway with good drives, while only Tom Lehman succeeded for the U.S. The Europeans then began to pour in putts, adding an olive when Rocca made a hole in one on the par-3 6th. "It was a very great moment for me and for my partner because with the hole in one, it's very difficult to lose the hole," he said with unassailable logic. After the easy 6-and-5 victory over Davis Love III and Jeff Maggert, Rocca's partner, Torrance, said, "You beat him. You beat him." Torrance meant Love, who took Rocca on the last hole of the crucial singles match in 1993. An endearing, almost cartoonish figure, Rocca seemed to be seizing the respect that has been denied him on this side of the Atlantic. "He's a great technician," said Gallacher. "And on a big, tough course like Oak Hill, the best strikers of the ball will come through. Rocca is just churning it out."
With the Europeans making easy work of the Americans in three of the morning matches, the pressure shifted to Loren Roberts and a suspect Peter Jacobsen, who were playing Woosnam and first-time Ryder Cupper Walton. Jacobsen, teased to good effect at Friday night's team dinner ( Brad Faxon: "Now, Peter, I have one fork and one glass here...."), had something to prove. And he proved it, hitting good iron shots for birdies on 12 and 13 and draining the winning three-foot par putt set up by Roberts's gutsy wedge from the 18th fairway. "Your emotions really swing," said Jacobsen.
With the matches tied again at 6, Gallacher decided to shake up his team by splitting his established pairs of Faldo and Colin Montgomerie and Rocca and Torranee. One of the new pairings, Woosnam-Rocca, produced a win. Another, Torrance-Montgomerie, served up a sweet victory to Faxon and Fred Couples—sweet because it came against Montgomerie, who had been quoted as saying, "The main strength of our team is theirs." With the loss, Montgomerie, touted as Europe's best player coming in, was 1-3.
More ominously for Gallacher, Jay Haas and Phil Mickelson easily handled the hand-in-the-back act of Ballesteros and David Gilford. The match was essentially two-on-one, with Ballesteros playing atrociously. Completely lost with his mechanics, he hit tee shots that would have gone a full fairway over if not for Oak Hill's huge trees. On the 9th hole he scattered spectators with a hook. As he approached the ball, a loud New York voice yelled, "Hey, Seve, jeez, you almost killed me with that ball!" A stone-faced Ballesteros quietly responded, "That would have been a pity."
The real pity was Seve. Considering his record in eight Ryder Cups, Ballesteros is arguably the greatest match-play partner in history. But on Saturday he was reduced to cheerleader and ego massager for Gilford, who played well but finally bent under the load. "Seve's game is simply awful," said swing coach David Leadbetter. "I'm amazed he's even playing." Paul Azinger, out of the U.S. lineup for the first time since 1989, said that Ballesteros was suffering from paralysis by analysis. "He should pretend he's hitting every shot from out of the trees because that's when he forgets technique. He should just try to curve every shot instead of trying to hit it straight and seeing it spray off in one direction or another."
With that match lost, Europe needed Faldo and Bernhard Langer to beat Corey Pavin and Roberts to stay tied 8-8. The significance was huge. The U.S. had only lost the singles portion of the Ryder Cup twice in 40 years, in 1957 and 1985. Lacking the depth Lanny Wadkins had at his disposal, Gallacher felt he needed a lead going into Sunday; a 9-7 deficit seemed insurmountable.