While most of the PGA Tour was in San Antonio putting the finishing touches on another season at the Texas Open, Curtis Strange was back home in Virginia having wicked flashbacks. It has been nearly a month since the Ryder Cup, yet Strange can't get the final day out of his head. He remembers standing in the 16th fairway with a six-iron in his hands and Nick Faldo in the trees. All he had to do was hit the green to go dormie with two holes to play. He knew that the half-point would win the Ryder Cup for the U.S. and finally justify Lanny Wadkins's controversial decision to make him a captain's pick.
Over and over again in his mind Strange has pulled back the club, and then it happens, always the same: wide right.
"I honest to god couldn't have imagined hitting a worse shot, and it shocked me that it was going where it was going," Strange says. "I just couldn't believe it. You can't imagine what went through my mind. That was the shot that killed me."
It was also the beginning of the end for the U.S. team, which subsequently melted in the heat of a white-hot Ryder Cup Sunday. Strange failed to get up and down from right of the green at the 16th, then missed short par putts at the 17th and 18th holes to lose to Faldo. Strange wasn't the only American to slip up, but due to the way the final matches unfolded, and because he went 0-3 overall as a captain's pick, he was cast as the Man Who Lost the Ryder Cup after the U.S. bowed to the underdog Europeans 14�-13�.
Strange missed the cut at the recent Las Vegas Invitational, his first event since Oak Hill. He had planned to play in Texas but simply did not have the energy to get back on the horse, and he surprised tournament officials by withdrawing early Wednesday before the pro-am. And that ended his season, because he had failed to qualify for this week's Tour Championship—an event he won in 1988—for the sixth consecutive year.
Strange has very little to say about the Ryder Cup. "I've got too many black eyes," he explains. Normally stoic, he has been stung by the barrage of criticism. He said that what hurt most was the WRONG MAN, WRONG TIME headline that appeared over the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED account of the Ryder Cup. It was as if he had lost it single-handedly. Also, his worst fear, that Wadkins, a fellow Virginian and Wake Forest alum, would be accused of cronyism if Strange did not come through, was realized.
"I'm a friend of Lanny's, but I can honestly say that in 18 years on Tour I've never gone out to dinner with him," Strange says. "He honestly felt I could help the team and bring some things other than my golf game, and hopefully I did. Lanny's a very proud person. He enjoys and loves the Ryder Cup, but more than that he loves his country and wants to represent it the best he can. He wouldn't have jeopardized that by picking me."
Immediately following his loss to Faldo, Strange dealt with the situation in his usual, straight-ahead way, unblinkingly providing no-nonsense answers to equally direct questions. It wasn't until the closing ceremonies, when he spotted his wife, Sarah, crying in the crowd that he cracked. He reacted by burying his face in his left hand, his fingers pressing hard on his temples. It was an image that the U.S. media seized upon. The picture appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country, and when it was first flashed on the oversized television screen set up on the grounds at Oak Hill, Allen Strange, Curtis's twin brother, turned away in disgust and left the premises.
"I was crying because I couldn't be there' for him," says Sarah Strange. "I feel like having been Lanny's pick, we felt more pressure. To have Lanny respect his game enough to pick him, and then not come through for Lanny, that was the hardest part for us."
Loren Roberts was sitting next to Strange during the ceremonies. "Curtis was as close as you can get to tears—for him anyway," Roberts says. "I know how Curtis is and how he prides himself on being mentally tough."