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Wadkins Plays a Ryder Cup Hunch : Golf: U.S. captain decides Couples' back is OK and Strange can recall Oak Hill success, so he adds them to the team.

August 15, 1995|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lanny Wadkins filled out the last two places on his U.S. Ryder Cup team as if he were filing a medical report, selecting Curtis Strange because of his "heart and guts" and Fred Couples because his back seems stable again.

The United States will defend its Ryder Cup title against a 12-player European team in match play Sept. 21-24 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.

"I don't foresee anything but pleasant problems for me up there," Wadkins, captain of the U.S. team, said Monday at Riviera Country Club.

Couples and Strange join 10 others who played their way onto the team in a two-year points race based on tournament finishes that ended Sunday at the PGA Championship.

The top 10 in points are, in order, Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Jay Haas, Jeff Maggert, Loren Roberts, Ben Crenshaw, Peter Jacobsen and Brad Faxon.

Pavin and Love are the only holdovers from the 1993 team.

Strange was No. 23 on the points list and Couples was No. 34. Wadkins passed on two-time tournament winner Jim Gallagher Jr., who was 13th in points; Lee Janzen, who was No. 3 on the money list; and two-time Ryder Cup player Mark Calcavecchia, who was 11th in points.

Wadkins' choice of Couples was not surprising because he is convinced that the 35-year-old former Masters champion is capable of playing a full Ryder Cup schedule and has solved a problem with muscle spasms in his back.

Wadkins played 54 holes with Couples in two days at Preston Trail in Dallas the weekend before the Western Open in early July.

"My eyes were opened," Wadkins said. "I didn't think Fred, up to then, was going to be healthy enough to play the Ryder Cup matches."

Wadkins has contacted another player to step in should Couples or Strange be unable to play. He would not identify that player.

Tom Boers, a physical therapist at the Houston Clinic in Columbus, Ga., has been working with Couples after being recommended by touring pros Don Pooley and Larry Mize.

Couples is planning to play in the World Series of Golf, the Bell Canadian Open and the B.C. Open, then will take a week off before the Ryder Cup.

"When I get to the Ryder Cup, I'll be ready," he said. "The golf swing is OK. And if it's not, I'll be the first to call Lanny and tell him. If I can't play like I did and feel like I did the last two weeks, there's no reason for me to be on that team."

Couples finished sixth at the Buick Open two weeks ago and tied for 31st at the PGA, closing with a 66.

Wadkins' selection of Strange, a longtime friend, could be the bigger gamble. Strange, 40, is a two-time U.S. Open champion, but hasn't won since his second Open title--in 1989 at Oak Hill.

Strange, who will play in his fifth Ryder Cup, also played well in another major at Oak Hill when he finished fifth in the 1980 PGA, won by Jack Nicklaus.

Strange finished tied for 17th in the PGA after missing the cut at both the British and Buick opens.

"I needed somebody with some real heart and guts," Wadkins said. "Curtis brings to the team what a Raymond Floyd or a Tom Watson would bring to the team. I just think they're horses for courses, and I think Curtis Strange is going to have a great Ryder Cup for me up at Oak Hill."

The European team will be completed Aug. 29, after the Volvo German Open. Bernard Gallacher has two selections to add to the 10-player team that is led by PGA runner-up Colin Montgomerie of Scotland.

Gallacher could choose from among three of Europe's top players--Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, Ian Woosnam of Wales and Nick Faldo of England--who are not in the top 10 in points.

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