I was 20 when I first played in the Ryder Cup, in 1977. My partner for the week, Peter Oosterhuis, was 29 and looked after me. On the first day we beat Raymond Floyd and Lou Graham 2 and I in foursomes, and on the second we drew a four-ball match against Floyd and Jack Nicklaus. I thought, Wow, here I am playing Big Jack! It was a good opportunity to take a scalp, as they say.
I'll be playing in the Texas Open next week because for the first time in my career I didn't make the European team. Neither did Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer or Ian Woosnam, so we'll have a new bunch of guys, seven of whom will be representing Europe for the first time. The key bit for the rookies is how well they play with all the razzmatazz of the Ryder Cup going on around them. Another important point is that they have to realize they've got everything to gain. That attitude can make a player very dangerous.
That said, I believe the key to the Cup isn't the rookies but how well the top four players perform. By playing in four or all five matches, they set the trend for the team and can account for 50% of its points. For the U.S., the big four are Tiger Woods, David Duval, Phil Mickelson and another hot player. For Europe, they're Colin Montgomerie, Jesper Parnevik, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, who will have to forget that he's a rookie.
As for me, I knew it was doubtful that I'd make the team. I kept hoping that at the 11th hour I would do something great, but at the BMW Open, the final qualifying event, captain Mark James said that even if I won, he wouldn't pick me. I wish he had said that earlier. I could've gone from the PGA, in Chicago, to Florida to visit my kids, instead of to Munich. Still, there's always the Belfry in 2001 and time for me to piece it together again.
Somewhere inside lurks the game I had when I first played Big Jack in 1977. By the way, Oostie and I won that match 3 and 1.