While most of the PGA Tour was in San Antonio putting the
finishing touches on another season at the Texas Open, Curtis
Strange was back home in Virginia having wicked flashbacks. It
has been nearly a month since the Ryder Cup, yet Strange can't
get the final day out of his head. He remembers standing in the
16th fairway with a six-iron in his hands and Nick Faldo in the
trees. All he had to do was hit the green to go dormie with two
holes to play. He knew that the half-point would win the Ryder
Cup for the U.S. and finally justify Lanny Wadkins's
controversial decision to make him a captain's pick.
Over and over again in his mind Strange has pulled back the
club, and then it happens, always the same: wide right.
"I honest to god couldn't have imagined hitting a worse shot,
and it shocked me that it was going where it was going," Strange
says. "I just couldn't believe it. You can't imagine what went
through my mind. That was the shot that killed me."
It was also the beginning of the end for the U.S. team, which
subsequently melted in the heat of a white-hot Ryder Cup Sunday.
Strange failed to get up and down from right of the green at the
16th, then missed short par putts at the 17th and 18th holes to
lose to Faldo. Strange wasn't the only American to slip up, but
due to the way the final matches unfolded, and because he went
0-3 overall as a captain's pick, he was cast as the Man Who Lost
the Ryder Cup after the U.S. bowed to the underdog Europeans 14
Strange missed the cut at the recent Las Vegas Invitational, his
first event since Oak Hill. He had planned to play in Texas but
simply did not have the energy to get back on the horse, and he
surprised tournament officials by withdrawing early Wednesday
before the pro-am. And that ended his season, because he had
failed to qualify for this week's Tour Championship--an event he
won in 1988--for the sixth consecutive year.
Strange has very little to say about the Ryder Cup. "I've got
too many black eyes," he explains. Normally stoic, he has been
stung by the barrage of criticism. He said that what hurt most
was the WRONG MAN, WRONG TIME headline that appeared over the
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED account of the Ryder Cup. It was as if he had
lost it single-handedly. Also, his worst fear, that Wadkins, a
fellow Virginian and Wake Forest alum, would be accused of
cronyism if Strange did not come through, was realized.
"I'm a friend of Lanny's, but I can honestly say that in 18
years on Tour I've never gone out to dinner with him," Strange
says. "He honestly felt I could help the team and bring some
things other than my golf game, and hopefully I did. Lanny's a
very proud person. He enjoys and loves the Ryder Cup, but more
than that he loves his country and wants to represent it the
best he can. He wouldn't have jeopardized that by picking me."
Immediately following his loss to Faldo, Strange dealt with the
situation in his usual, straight-ahead way, unblinkingly
providing no-nonsense answers to equally direct questions. It
wasn't until the closing ceremonies, when he spotted his wife,
Sarah, crying in the crowd that he cracked. He reacted by
burying his face in his left hand, his fingers pressing hard on
his temples. It was an image that the U.S. media seized upon.
The picture appeared in newspapers and magazines across the
country, and when it was first flashed on the oversized
television screen set up on the grounds at Oak Hill, Allen
Strange, Curtis's twin brother, turned away in disgust and left
"I was crying because I couldn't be there for him," says Sarah
Strange. "I feel like having been Lanny's pick, we felt more
pressure. To have Lanny respect his game enough to pick him, and
then not come through for Lanny, that was the hardest part for
Loren Roberts was sitting next to Strange during the ceremonies.
"Curtis was as close as you can get to tears--for him anyway,"
Roberts says. "I know how Curtis is and how he prides himself on
being mentally tough."
How tough remains to be seen. Will the three consecutive bogeys
that made up the Ryder Cup collapse of 1995 blot out the U.S.
Opens of 1988 and '89, and all the other accomplishments of a
stellar 19-year career?
The only thing in Strange's past to compare with the Ryder Cup
collapse came at the 1985 Masters when, while holding the lead
on Sunday, he put balls in the water at the 13th and 15th holes
to hand the title to Bernhard Langer. Strange came back from
that, but at 30, he was 10 years younger.
"That was tough to swallow, and this is along the same lines,"
Strange says, "but this is even tougher because you take
Most of his peers feel he will rebound, although no one will
know until next year, when Strange says he will again play a
Wadkins waited until eight days after the Ryder Cup before
getting in touch with Strange. "I was concerned about him, and
it turns out he was concerned about me," Wadkins says. "But
we're both big boys. We've had adversity before. It wasn't the
first time, and it won't be the last, unfortunately. I just told
him not to worry about it. Number one, he didn't ask to be
picked. He's probably the only person who didn't ask to be
picked, quite honestly."
The rest of the U.S. team made a concerted effort at Oak Hill
not to let Strange become the fall guy. Even Paul Azinger,
working for NBC that week, tried to help. He asked Wadkins if he
could speak to the devastated team, and when he walked into the
team room, Curtis and Sarah Strange were sitting at the same
table as Ben and Julie Crenshaw. Ben was in such a state of
shock that he just stared blankly as Azinger tried to put the
loss in perspective. "I'm sorry this happened," he said, "but
you know, 18 months ago I was dying of cancer. The reality here
is that this is just golf. You lost as a team. There is not one
individual to bear the burden."
Roberts, who also lost on Sunday, recalls that the team was not
about to let Strange take the heat alone. "I know Curtis was
hurting. I know he felt bad," Roberts says. "That's why we all
went to the press room together. That was the only way it could
be. It was the whole team. It wasn't Curtis. It wasn't me. It
wasn't any one person. We all wanted to face the music together."
The only formal interview Strange has given since that brief
session at Oak Hill was nine days later, on a Richmond radio
talk show. "When you let Nick out of the bag when you have him
beat, it's disappointing," Strange told Al Coleman of WRVH.
"When you let down 11 other guys and the captain, it's even more
disappointing, especially when you were picked for that reason.
You were picked to finish off a match and do well on Sunday when
the pressure was on. That's all part of my disappointment.... I
didn't come through. I had 11 other guys depending on me. Yeah,
you come in as a team and you win and lose as team, but I
certainly didn't help the cause Sunday afternoon."
In the weeks since, Strange has continued to search for ways to
deal with his disappointment.
Davis Love III, a more successful member of the U.S. team, was
not sure Strange had made much progress until he saw him in Las
Vegas. "I was worried about him at first, right afterwards,
thinking he had already done a little bit of TV, he kind of
makes a comeback, gets on the Ryder Cup team, has it thrown on
his shoulders the last hole and doesn't come through," Love
says. "I thought he might be thinking, 'I've had enough. I don't
want to deal with this anymore.' But when I saw him in Vegas, he
was in a pretty good mood. I saw him every day, and he was
grinding and playing some golf. It just looked like Curtis."
There are other signs that Strange is slowly recovering from his
Ryder Cup hangover. Disheartened after Oak Hill, Strange said
that he was tired of trying to correct a fatal flaw in his
swing. Now he says that was just something that popped out in a
moment of frustration. Now he talks about playing in the next
Ryder Cup, serving as captain of the team in 1999 at The Country
Club, and staying on Tour for another 10 years, right up to the
time he joins the Senior tour.
Those who know him best are not surprised.
"Certainly what he went through at the Ryder Cup is a tough
experience, but he didn't get to where he has been by rolling
over and playing dead,'' says Tom Kite. "It would shock me if he
did now. Obviously he's got two choices. He can say, 'Well, that
was more than I can handle' and roll over. Or he can say, 'This
is going to make me a better player.'"
If Allen Strange knows his brother, there's no question which
route Curtis will take.
"I don't think this changes him at all," Allen says. "He's
pretty stubborn about it. I don't think this changes his
practice habits or his desire or his ambition. God forbid his
accomplishments are forgotten because of one match. He's been
awfully successful over the years. The Ryder Cup can't destroy
that. He's a pretty hard and coarse son of a gun when he needs
COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART Strange lost it when he saw his wife in tears, and found criticism like this SI headline tough to take. [Curtis Strange covering his face with his hand]
COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN (INSET) [See caption above--article in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED about Ryder Cup and Curtis Strange with headline, "Wrong Man, Wrong Time"]COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY/ALLSPORT Strange's family and friends think he'll turn it around. [Back view Curtis Strange]