Lanny Wadkins knows plenty about what it takes to play in a Ryder Cup. The 1977 PGA Championship winner has been a part of nine of them in his storied career, eight as a player and one as a captain.
The Wake Forest product has amassed as many Ryder Cup points as any living American — he’s tied with Phil Mickelson at 21½ — and his 18 total overall match victories are the most by any living player on the U.S. side.
And although he’s 73, Wadkins is showing no signs of slowing down. He still dabbles in PGA Tour Champions TV commentary and his Lanny Wadkins Design firm continues to help with new designs (his BlackJack’s Crossing at Lajitas Golf Club in Texas is Golfweek’s Best Course you can play in the state) and redesigns. In fact, on Wednesday, he was in Austin, Texas, to unveil a massive club rebranding at the former Lost Creek Golf Club. Wadkins’ group helped with a complete redesign of the property at what will now be referred to as Westlake Country Club.
As part of the proceedings, Wadkins gave Golfweek some exclusive time to talk Ryder Cup strategy, discuss his loss as U.S. captain at the 1995 event at Oak Hill, and his recent comments about Mickelson.
Golfweek: As for as the Ryder Cup process, Team Europe went young and the Americans went a little older. Is that good or bad? How do you feel about the selection process?
Lanny Wadkins: Well, the selection process is what it is. I mean, half the team is made on qualification points. So that’s what you had and the captains do the best they can to match up guys to go with who they have, and then they have to also look at the golf course they’re going to play.
That’s the big unknown. That golf course, apparently, is very hilly and hard to walk. You need probably young players who can handle that terrain and stuff. That’s why you have a captain’s choice. He’s going to pick the guys that he thinks they’re going to work best.
Whether we agree with it or not, Zach’s the one who’s got to live with it and if it doesn’t work out he’ll be the one that catches the whole bunch of crap. So hopefully it does. The last time the Americans won over there, I was on the damn team, so that’s way too long.
GW: You were part of a ton of Ryder Cups. What were the highlights and lowlights?
LW: Well, being on eight teams, I had a lot of highlights and really enjoyed it. Any time I had a chance to represent the United States, it was special. Two Walker Cups, eight Ryder Cups, four World Cups, I got to do it a lot.
I played with great people. I got to know a lot of the players better than I knew them because we were competing against each other and all of a sudden for a week of our lives we’re great friends, we’re having dinner together. I had dinner with people I never had dinner with on Tour and got to be better friends with them. Our wives were closer friends and have stayed that way. So, I would say that’s been the biggest part of it.
The competition I loved. I mean, we played against Seve and Olazabal and Faldo and Sandy Lyle and, you know, all the biggies. So I enjoyed every minute of that and playing against Langer and playing against him a lot.
So, I’m not sure there are lowlights. If there’s a lowlight, it’s probably the disappointment of not winning when I was captain. And we had a three-point lead with 11 matches to go and didn’t get it done. When you put two years of your life into something, and the amount of work we put into it and it didn’t work out, that was disappointing. But it’s hard to say they’re lowlights, when you’re involved with a Ryder Cup. There’s all so special.
GW: You bring up the camaraderie and team aspect. How different does that make it?
LW: We don’t play team. We’re individuals. We’re trying to beat each other’s brains out every week. So all of a sudden you’ve got 12 of the best players in the world on your side and that’s exciting stuff. And you know, you can learn stuff, you can learn shots, you can say, ‘Hey, I saw a shot you played, show me how you do it.’ You wouldn’t do that in the normal frame of a tournament week, but there you have a whole different deal.
And they’re all unique. Every Ryder Cup seems to have its own personality, you know, depending on the venue. So that’s one thing that’s always been special. I got to play with, Crenshaw, Kite, Watson, Payne Stewart, Larry Nelson, Hale Irwin, right on down the line. I was on a team with Jack Nicklaus and Don January and it’s neat. I played with a lot of them. I ran the gamut.
GW: OK, 1995 at Oak Hill. Is there anything you would have done differently?
LW: They just didn’t win. I mean, we had a couple guys who made mistakes early in the matches. But I don’t want to get into them, they were idiotic mistakes. That cost us a half-point here and a half-point there. Picking up a ball when they shouldn’t have, stuff like that. Just really dumb stuff.
But overall, we had a three-point lead with 11 matches to go. So we did a lot right. Anytime you’ve got a three-point lead with 11 matches go and you got the American team there you think you’re going to get it done.
GW: I saw you on Golf Channel with our Eamon Lynch, saying Phil Mickelson is 'the most disappointing person in golf.' Do you stick with that comment?
LW: Well, I was supposed to be on the show answering a question about my PGA win and they throw that out there. But the truth is Phil’s disappointing. I mean we all love Phil and watched him play. He was a rookie on my Ryder Cup team and played very well. He went 3-0. He and Amy were dating, they weren’t even married at that point in time. But to do the stuff he’s done and, you know, cause the problems he’s caused and the friction he’s caused, and the divisiveness in golf and he’s caused.
If it wasn’t for golf, where would Phil Mickelson be? You know, he’d be gambling in a ditch somewhere. So, you know, It’s not good. I think he owes more to the game than what he’s done.
No question he would have been a captain, probably a two-time captain. He probably would have been the captain next time at Bethpage Black when it comes over here. Instead, it’ll probably be Tiger.