Brad Faxon has aspired to plenty of great moments. All his
golfing life he has pretended to have putts to win major
championships. He has even simulated the infamous six-footer
Bernhard Langer faced to win the 1991 Ryder Cup--and made it.
This is an article from the Aug. 21, 1995 issue
But Faxon was in uncharted territory in the final round of the
PGA Championship on Sunday when he got over a 15-foot downhill
slider on the 18th hole at Riviera. It was a putt he desperately
needed in or der to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Somehow drawing on every golf dream he has ever had, Faxon knew
what to do. He hit the purest putt of his life and watched it
roll perfectly into the center of the hole. Just like that, golf
had a new fantasy moment. With a closing 63, a figure that tied
the lowest round ever shot in a major championship and included
a seven-under-par 28 on the front nine, Faxon catapulted himself
out of a tie for 21st after three rounds to grab fifth place,
the absolute minimum he needed at the last qualifying event to
secure the last available spot on the Ryder Cup team.
"It's the biggest thing I've ever done in my life," said an
emotional Faxon, a 12-year pro who has won four PGA Tour events,
while accepting congratulations from his peers in the Riviera
locker room. "The Ryder Cup is one of the few things left that
is pure sport. It's about the things you miss when you play for
money. It's about the love of the game. It's why everybody wants
So it is. For many American players, the nearly two-year-long
points competition that determines who qualifies for the team
has taken on an importance second only to winning major
championships. It's a race whose pressure becomes almost
paralyzing in its final weeks. Players in contention to earn
their way onto the team inevitably find that the top-10 finishes
needed to garner points are as elusive as actual victories. This
year, for example, no new players cracked the American top 10
from the U.S. Open all the way up to the PGA.
With all the urgency at Riviera, something finally gave. Faxon
jumped from a tie for 14th in the standings into 10th, while
Jeff Maggert's tie for third took him from 12th all the way to
They bumped No. 9 Mark Calcavecchia, who missed the cut at
Riviera, and No. 10 Kenny Perry, who finished tied for 49th.
While Faxon's clear goal all week was to make the team, Maggert
tried to put all thoughts of the Ryder Cup out of his head and
concentrate instead on winning the tournament.
"It made things a lot simpler,'' said Maggert. "When I think
about how to finish in the top 10, I'm thinking about the wrong
things on the golf course. And that's when I would feel
A different but related pressure made it a very long week for
U.S. captain Lanny Wadkins, who after much deliberation,
soul-searching and cogitating, finally chose Fred Couples and
Curtis Strange, each a Ryder Cup veteran and major-championship
winner, as his two picks to fill out the 12-man squad. The
choices were not surprising in that they provided additional
experience, which Wadkins feels his club will need at Oak Hill.
Of the 10 players who made the team on points, only two, Ben
Crenshaw and Corey Pavin, have played in more than one Ryder Cup.
When he is right, Couples, who has played in the last three
Ryder Cups, brings more strength and talent to Wadkins than any
other American player. Apart from Davis Love III and Phil
Mickelson, the U.S. team is composed mainly of Steady Eddies,
and Couples packs a birdie-making explosiveness and length off
the tee. His injured back makes him iffy, but Wadkins has a
safety net. Under Ryder Cup rules, if Couples is hurt anytime
from now until the eve of competition, Wadkins can pick another
player to replace him. Wadkins said he already has a replacement
Strange brings leadership and toughness to a young team that,
except for its captain, outwardly lacks a gritty competitive
edge. "People look at us and say, 'Geez, everybody's too nice,'"
admitted one of the nicest, Jay Haas. "They won't say that if we
Still, Wadkins's selections, particularly Strange, who has not
won an official event since the 1989 U.S. Open at--not
coincidently--Oak Hill, were probably the hardest an American
captain has had to make since the discretionary picks were
instituted in 1989. In picking Strange, Wadkins passed up two
players who have each won two tournaments this year, were well
up in the point standings and have Ryder Cup experience--Jim
Gallagher Jr. and Lee Janzen.
Wadkins had hoped to have his mind made up by the time Riviera
rolled around but instead became more unsettled the closer he
got to the 8 a.m. Monday deadline. On Friday he awoke at 3 a.m.,
found himself again weighing his options and couldn't get back
to sleep. What Wadkins wanted were two players after his own
heart. "You need finishers, finishers, finishers," says Dave
Marr, the 1981 U.S. captain. "Players who when they get a guy
down, step on his neck." Wadkins clearly did not want to pick a
player without previous Ryder Cup experience. That meant Perry,
Scott Hoch, Maggert and Faxon would have to make it on
points--and so would British Open winner John Daly.
As a double major winner who has shown an impressive ability to
close, Daly might normally have transcended the un written
rookie rule. But in Wadkins's mind, Wild Thing's baggage
outweighed his assets. For the record, Wadkins pointed out that
Oak Hill's U.S. Open setup would curtail Daly's ability to take
full advantage of his length, but he left mostly unspoken his
more serious concern that Daly could disrupt team chemistry with
his nonconformist bent. Daly's biggest liability is a history of
quitting when the going gets tough, and his 41 on the back side
of the first round of the PGA smelled enough like another tank
job to allow Wadkins to eliminate him from consideration.
All along, the players Wadkins clearly wanted to pick were
Strange and Tom Watson. Both fulfilled his old-school criteria
of experience, proven toughness under pressure and leadership.
There was also the undeniable tug of friendship. Wadkins has
known Strange since both were star junior golfers in Virginia.
Wadkins and Watson have been good friends since both arrived on
the Tour in 1971, and Watson, as captain of the 1993 U.S. team,
made Wadkins one of his picks despite the fact that Lanny ranked
32nd in points.
The problem was that neither Watson nor Strange has performed
particularly well, with Strange 22nd on the points list coming
into the PGA, while Watson was 53rd. Watson's case was
especially problematic. Although at 45 Watson has become an even
purer ball striker than he was when he was dominating the game
in the late '70s and early '80s, his penchant for missing short
putts at crucial moments is anathema to the Ryder Cup team.
Still, Watson had impressed Wadkins during the two practice
rounds before the PGA. Watson shot 128 over 36 holes, but the
magic left when the bell rang. When Watson picked Wadkins in
1993, he did so after Lanny had finished in a tie for 14th in
the PGA at Inverness. After Wat son's first three rounds at
Riviera left him 17 strokes behind Ernie Els, Wadkins gently
communicated to Watson that his only chance would be an
exceptional finish. Watson shot 70 and tied for 58th.
Strange was keenly aware of Wadkins's inclination in his
direction and actually seemed a bit uncomfortable. "I know Lanny
has wanted to pick me, but I honestly don't feel I've played
well enough to deserve it," Strange said on Saturday after his
second straight 68 left him in a tie for 21st. "I want to
deserve it. The worst thing would be to go in there as a
questionable pick and then mess up some crucial match. I
understand chemistry and leadership and toughness, but the real
question is, Do I bring the game? That's always the most
important thing. But I told Lanny, 'If chosen, I will play my
butt off.'" On Sunday, Strange did, shooting yet another 68 to
finish tied for 17th.
When it came down to one spot on the American team, it was
fitting that the man to grab it was Faxon. No player has ex
pressed more of a desire to make the squad, and his attributes
are considerable. Faxon is one of the most sociable players on
the Tour, a former Walker Cupper who has a history of good
performances in team events and is the owner of a short game so
reliable it is referred to as the Fax Machine.
Faxon was also a sentimental favorite because of two flukish
penalties he received early in the year that almost certainly
cost him Ryder Cup points. In San Diego, Faxon hit another
player's ball, and at Westchester his longtime caddie, John
(Cubby) Burke, gave him a ball different from the model he
started the round with, a violation of the Tour's "one ball''
"This takes away the doubt,'' said Faxon after securing his
place on the team. "If I didn't make it, I always would have
been thinking about it."
Instead, Faxon can always think about his magical finish at
CAN THEY TAKE THE HEAT?
Pressure is the X factor in the Ryder Cup. The players'
abilities to keep their cool in the heat of competition will
determine the outcome of the Sept. 22-24 matches at Oak Hill in
Rochester, N.Y. How will our guys hold up? The SI Heat Index is
based on ability, past performance and--what do we know?--the
first five numbers of the Illinois lottery. Players are rated by
how much heat they can tolerate before boiling over (the higher
the boiling point the better) and listed in order of
[five suns] Man of steel
[four suns] No sweat
[three suns] Is it just me, or is it warm in here?
[two suns] Half-baked
[one sun] Gooey mess
Corey Pavin [five suns]
Shades of Walter Hagen. Gritty Little Bruin also known as Mr.
Tom Lehman [two-and-one-half suns]
We've seen the ring around the collar. Show us some starch.
Davis Love III [three-and-one-half suns]
Beat Rocca in '93, but who hasn't? A little on the jumpy side.
Phil Mickelson [four suns]
Could be a warrior. Because of putter, already feared match
Jay Haas [one sun]
What's he doing here? Besides Curtis, only guy on team who
hasn't won in two years.
Jeff Maggert [two suns]
Nice swing, no Sunday punch. Could be the weak link when things
Loren Roberts [three suns]
Steady Eddie. Will not beat himself. Psst, Lanny, pair him with
Ben Crenshaw [two suns]
Depends which Ben shows up. Awesome when he's on, awful when
Peter Jacobsen [one-half sun]
Nice guys finish last. Too soft to stick it to the likes of Seve.
Brad Faxon [three-and-one-half suns]
Excellent late addition. Wins Mr. Compatibility award, plus
great short game.
Fred Couples [one-and-one-half suns]
Heat sensitive. Most talented American, but makes Watson look
like a good putter.
Curtis Strange [three-and-one-half suns]
Lanny opts for experience. Has something to prove, but can he