It was a glorious Saturday afternoon at October's end, a balmy refugee from summer, and Lee Janzen was hard at work. That was a little unusual. For one thing, Janzen was tied for 26th in the 30-man Tour Championship with one round to play. For another, the practice range at the Tour's last official event usually doesn't see much action because almost everyone in the field already has slam-dunked $1 million in earnings, plus hundreds of thousands of frequent-flyer miles, and sees no reason to pound balls like Ben Bleeping Hogan.
Yet there was Janzen, your U.S. Open champ, rolling putts for an hour long after he had finished play at Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club. He had the practice green to himself, except for his five-year-old son, Connor, who mistook it for a playground. Later, when Janzen finally headed for the clubhouse, Connor used a metal handrail next to the portable toilets as a jungle gym, twisting into several precarious positions. Dad carefully peeled him off. "Connor," he said, "you're going to fall on your heinie."
Dad hoped he wasn't about to do likewise. With a strong finish in the Tour Championship, the last event carrying qualifying points for the Presidents Cup, Janzen could have made up the ground he had lost so bizarrely in August at the World Series of Golf—he was disqualified from the no-cut tournament when TV viewers caught him in a rules violation—and played his way onto the U.S. Presidents Cup team. Instead, he closed with a one-over-par 71 to finish 24th, 17 strokes behind Hal Sutton, and left Atlanta having slipped from 11th to 13th on the points list. (The top 10 automatically qualify.) That meant the only way he could make the team was if Jack Nicklaus added him with one of his two captain's picks. "If I get on the team now," Janzen said, "it'll be a bonus. A huge bonus."
What's the big deal? There are two things to know about the Presidents Cup, which will be played Dec. 11-13 at Royal Melbourne, in Australia. One, it's a match play event, like the Ryder Cup, only the U.S. plays against golfers from everywhere in the world except Europe. Two, and this is important, anyone who makes either team also gets to play in one of the $5 million World Championship events that begin next year, in what had been called the World Series of Golf. Going into the Tour Championship, seven players had already clinched spots on this year's U.S. squad. Janzen was one of 16 golfers in the field with a chance to move into the top 12. Only Hal Sutton, whose victory pushed him from 17th to eighth, took advantage.
Janzen knows what it's like to be on the bubble and have it burst. He didn't make the 1995 Ryder Cup team despite winning three tournaments, including the Players Championship, that year. A summer slump left Janzen 15th on the qualifying list, and Lanny Wadkins used his captain's picks on Fred Couples and Curtis Strange. The choice of Strange was questioned when Janzen won the International the week after Wadkins had announced his picks and became a full-blown controversy when the U.S. lost the Cup with Strange kicking away the final holes of his critical singles match against Nick Faldo.
The next year Janzen barely missed the Presidents Cup team. Hoping to eliminate any second-guessing over captain's picks, Arnold Palmer simply selected the first 12 from me points list. Janzen finished—where else?—unlucky 13th due to a Weir'd ending at the Greater Vancouver Open, the last event in which to earn points. " Kenny Perry was the guy to beat," Janzen says. "I knew that if I finished second and he was out of the top five, I was in. Mike Weir, the guy I was playing with, birdied the 17th to tie me for second, and I cussed him all the way to the 18th tee. Then Weir double-bogeyed the 18th and that turned out to cost me, anyway." Weir's double moved Perry from sixth to fifth and bumped Janzen off the team.
This season, after winning the Open, Janzen seemed to be a lock for the Presidents Cup. "I figured I would secure my spot in August," he says. "Then I missed the cut in the PGA at Sahalee, a course that was made for me. I didn't make the three-day cut at the International, where I usually play well. Then I got DQ'd at the World Series. How do you get DQ'd from a no-cut event?"
Oh, he knows. During the first round at Firestone, Janzen waited more than the allowed 10 seconds for a ball hanging on the lip of the cup to drop, and television viewers called in to tattle. Tour officials agreed and assessed a one-stroke penalty. Janzen had already signed for a 78, so he was disqualified for turning in an incorrect score and earned no money or Presidents Cup points. Last place in the World Series paid $18,500, which converts on a two-for-one basis to 37,000 points; a good weekend in Akron might've put Janzen over the top. As it was, he finished 51,599 points out of the top 12.
The situation didn't seem so critical back then, though, so Janzen took off most of September. He came back last month, but his best finish in October was a 27th at Las Vegas, and he had to skip the Tour's final full-field event, at Disney World, because of an endorsement obligation to play the Bridgestone Open in Japan.
That left the Tour Championship. Janzen was optimistic after meeting with Nicklaus and potential team members last week. "Jack told me, 'Play well, and you'll keep your spot,' " Janzen said. "I said I hoped to move up. Jack said, 'That would make it easier for me.' I almost got the impression that if I finished 11th, I would be picked."