SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
September 24, 1979
The U.S. was missing a few big names at The Greenbrier, but the Europeans were soundly defeated again anyway
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September 24, 1979

The U.s. Rookies Were Rough Ryders

The U.S. was missing a few big names at The Greenbrier, but the Europeans were soundly defeated again anyway

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"Way to go, babe," said Kite, as he and Hayes bumped directly into one another. "Awriight!" said Hayes.

Kite and Hayes then quickly went out on the 18th green and waited for John Mahaffey to protect a one-up lead on Brian Barnes. It had just gone up on the board that Andy Bean had defeated Britain's Michael King, 4 and 3, so the young Americans knew that a Mahaffey victory would clinch at least a tie in the match, and, under the rules, the Cup would be retained by the defending country.

When Mahaffey got home with his win, Kite and Hayes were the first to leap onto the green and congratulate him. Kite had been saying all week that he had not been so nervous on a golf course since he played for the University of Texas. Now on Greenbrier's 18th green, there were three very happy former collegians who had done the job not for money, just for pride. It was the University of Texas (Kite) embracing the University of Houston (Mahaffey) and both of them embracing Oklahoma State ( Hayes).

Only one more match would truly matter, and moments later it was settled when Irwin finished demolishing Des Smyth, 5 and 3. The win guaranteed a U.S. victory. That a couple of old pros, Lee Trevino and Hubert Green, who were still on the course, would win their matches, too, mattered only in the final tabulations, which read 17-11.

The kids had done it earlier. Nelson had gone undefeated in five matches, four of them against none other than Ballesteros. Nelson, whose single previous experience at match play occurred seven years ago, wanted to give Wadkins the credit. "He coached me through those team matches," he said. "I didn't even know how to mark my ball in match play. He made most of the birdies. I just kept driving it in the fairway."

Hayes, too, deserved credit. He had arrived as a last-minute substitute for Watson and was able to play only the quickest of practice rounds among the oaks, maples and hickory trees that spill down the hill from the enormous and elegant hotel. He even missed hearing the Radford (Va.) University band play a variety of national anthems at the opening ceremony. In fact, he got to The Greenbrier barely in time to put on one of the team's color-coordinated ensembles and go listen to non-playing U.S. Captain Billy Casper introduce Lee Trevino at the pre-match banquet as "a credit to his race." Casper then introduced a woman named Rose as Trevino's wife. Now we're getting somewhere, because Rose is the wife of black golfer and Ryder Cup player Lee Elder. Casper obviously had his Lees crossed up.

There are always "international incidents," albeit minor ones, in Ryder Cup play. This year nobody found anything to get worked up over until Sunday morning, when a great deal was made over the Envelope Case. The rules state that on Saturday night both captains could put the name of a player in a sealed envelope, which was to be locked in a safe. In the event that either of those players had to withdraw because of injury, his match would be declared a tie—and the player whose name was in the other team's sealed envelope would sit out the singles. The foreign captain, John Jacobs of Britain, understood the rule. Casper did not, nor did any of the U.S. PGA officials until the last minute. Jacobs put the name of Mark James, who had sustained a rib injury in Friday's competition, in his envelope. Casper put Trevino's name in. Why? "I was told to put down the name of a player I wanted to protect," said Casper. "I thought putting in Lee's name meant he was guaranteed to play. It was just the opposite."

On Sunday morning Casper learned the truth and asked Jacobs if he could please have the U.S. envelope back. Rather than cause a scene, the Europeans agreed. Casper took Trevino's name out and put Gil Morgan's in. Morgan, who had dislocated his left shoulder when he fell on Friday, and James did not play, but each earned half a point for his team. Having gotten his envelope back, Casper now had the benefit of seeing the British-European lineup, so he put Trevino against Sandy Lyle, in the cleanup spot.

It might well have mattered if the Ryder Cup had been decided by the last match and Trevino had won it. But the rookies had taken care of everything earlier. As long as Nelson and Kite and Hayes and Bean and Mahaffey were out on the golf course, Trevino could have stayed in the envelope.

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