Tom Watson withdrew and flew home to be with his wife and newborn child. Lee Trevino was concerned about his son, hospitalized in Texas. Hubert Green worried about his home and family, threatened by Hurricane Frederic.
Jack Nicklaus, scheduled to appear as course architect, couldn't make the opeing ceremonies because his father-in-law died. Officials openly feared bad weather. Andy Bean borrowed his captain's three-iron to kill a copperhead on the 10th hole.
Otherwise, there wasn't much out of the ordinary happening as a 12-man team of top American professional golfers -- including Lee Elder of Washington, D.C., a rookie to international team competition at age 45 -- went through the final day of preparations before meeting a similarly Doughty Dozen from Europe in the 23rd biennial Ryder Cup matches scheduled to begin Friday morning at the famed Greenbrier resort in the picturesque Allegheny foothills.
The Ryder Cup is frequently overlooked on this side of the Atlantic, but golf aficionados relish its international flavor, unique match play format, and accompanying pomp and cermony. This year it has attracted special attention because the traditionally outmanned team representing Great Britain and Ireland has been expanded for the first time to include the best golfers from the rest of Europe.
Additions include reigning British Open champion, Severiano Ballesteros, the dashing, 22-year-old "Arnold Palmer of Europe," and his Spanish countryman, Antonio Garrido, who teamed with Ballesteros to win golf's World Cup for Spain in 1977. They have given the visitors hopes of winning on American soil for the first time.
The British have won only three times, and tied once, in 22 meetings since a wealthy English seed merchant named Samuel Ryder put up a handsome gold cup as the prize for an international team match against America's leading professionals in 1927. The British last won in 1957.
The U.S. team is again heavily favored to win the Prestigious and colorful competition -- which now consists of eight "four-ball" matches (best ball wins), eight "foursomes" (one ball per team, teammates alternate shots), and 12 singles matches, all spiritedly man against man. But the Europeans have come to the three-day festivities with unusual optimism.
Ballesteros is a confidence-inspiring figure, even though his mammoth drives tend to go every which way but straight. That can be a worrisome state of affairs on the narrow, treelined and heavily-bunkered Greenbrier course, which is only 6,721 yards long but plays to a demanding par 72.
Watson, the leading player and money-winner on the U.S. Tour the past three years, withdrew early today after getting a 4:30 a.m. Phone call from Kansas City that his wife, Linda, had gone into labor. He informed non-playing U.S. captain Billy Casper, departed shortly after breakfast, and was at his wife's side when she delivered a daughter today.
Watson's place on the squad was taken by Mark Hayes, 13th man on the qualification list, who caught a plane from his home in Oklahoma and was expected to arrive late today. He was delighted with his late selection, especially since it gives him a two-year automatic entrance to the Masters tournament, plus other exemptions.
Trevino and Green, both veterans of Ryder Cups past, are here in body but at least partially elsewere in spirit.
Trevino, playing for the fifth time, maintained his typically jovial exterior, but quietly informed officials that he might have to pull out and go to Houston, where his 10-year-old son Tony is being treated for an injury suffered a week ago in a fifth-grade football game.
The youngster, an 82-pound middle guard, has suffered recurring fever and vision problems since being bumped on the head during a game. He was transferred Wednesday from a hospital in Dallas to one in Houston, and if his condition does not improve, his father may fly to his bedside.
Meanwhile, Green was preoccupied with the progress of the storm that forced the evacuation of his family from their seaside home in Panama City, Fla. He, too, considered leaving.
"There's no doubt that the key to this course is driving the ball accurately," Elder said. "The landing areas are narrow and the rough very severe. You have to put the ball on the fairway and position it well because there are so many bunkers. When they start putting the pins behind bunkers, there is no way You're going to be able to shoot at the greens unless you are approaching from the right angle."
Elder was introduced by Casper at today's opening ceremonies as "the first man of his race ever to play on a Ryder Cup Team." Elder expects that, but considers his first appearance in the prestigious competition as a professional rather than social breakthrough.
"A lot has been written about me being the first black to do this and the first black to do that," Elder said. "But I look at this as a professional accomplishment. I was picked to be on the team because of my results on the course, just like everyone else," continued Elder, who has enjoyed his best two seasons at an age when most professional athletes are beyond doing anything new.
"It's certainly something that far exceeds anything I dreamed about for my career.I dreamed of winning a PGA tour event, qualifying for the Masters, getting into the top 60 on the money list. But making the Ryder Cup team far outweights all of that. It gives me a chance to represent my country, something I've always wanted to do."
Elder arrived here Monday and played the Greenbrier course three times in three days. When his teammates went out for a second round today, he declined, reasoning: "I feel if you continue to play the golf course you kind of take it for granted. This is the kind of course you have to stay on the defensive. If you take it for granted, it can hurt you."
Elder is pleased with his game, particularly his driving, and thinks he can score well if he avoids the thick rough. "If I get into that, I don't know if I'm strong enough to advance the ball very far out of it," he said, "but this is the type of course I enjoy -- tight fairways and fast greens."
Elder has enjoyed the special camaraderie that comes with the Ryder Cup, and the challenge of match play that is missing from the individual, medal play on the U.S. tour.
"You have to feel the spirit, because normally we compete against each other on the tour, but now we come together as a team, 12 guys with a very close-knit feeling. It has to be a lift."