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.
November 9, 1998
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 the 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."
The long trip to Australia wouldn't be an inconvenience for
Janzen--he will be in Taiwan for an exhibition the weekend before
the Presidents Cup, "so I'm not that far away," he says.
On Sunday, as he emptied his locker at East Lake and headed home
to Orlando to wait for a phone call, floating on the bubble, he
couldn't say the same.
If the World Ranking is any yardstick, the U.S. should have no
problem running its Presidents Cup record to 3-0 against a badly
overmatched International team. Every member of the U.S. team, a
balanced blend of rising young stars and veteran talent, has
played in at least one Ryder or Presidents Cup. Listed below are
the top 12 qualifiers for each team (minus Japan's Jumbo Ozaki,
who is rated No. 4 but has declined to play) along with each
player's World Ranking.
UNITED STATES RANK INTERNATIONAL RANK
David Duval 4 Ernie Els 5
Tiger Woods 1 Nick Price 7
Jim Furyk 12 Vijay Singh 8
Justin Leonard 16 Greg Norman 14
Phil Mickelson 10 Steve Elkington 17
Davis Love III 3 Stuart Appleby 34
Mark O'Meara 2 Carlos Franco 38
Hal Sutton 32 Shigeki Maruyama 41
Scott Hoch 21 Craig Parry 46
Mark Calcavecchia 18 Joe Ozaki 53
Fred Couples 11 Frankie Minoza 55
John Huston 28 Frank Nobilo 57
Average Rank: 13.17 Average Rank: 31.25
Janzen felt he had the team made: "Then I got DQ'd at the World
Series. How do you get DQ'd at a no-cut "event?"