A latter-day Paul Revere should have been dispatched along the bridle paths of the Greenbrier resort here today to alert patriotic Americans that their traditional team supremacy in professional golf was being threatened. His message would have been obvious: "The British are coming back; the British are coming back."
Despite the continued brilliant play of makeshift partners Lanny Wadkins and Larry Nelson, who won two matches for the home team for the second day in a row, the 12 men representing the United States saw their seemingly comfortable lead cut to a single point by their counterparts from the British Isles and Europe going into the final day of the 23rd Ryder Cup.
Wadkins and Nelson beat Antonio Garrido and Severiano Ballesteros -- the formidable Spaniards who earned berths in the first year that the European side was opened to continentals as well as Britons -- in both a morning "Scotch foursome" (teammates play one ball and alternate shots) and an afternoon "four-ball" match (two men from each team each plays his own ball, and the best ball wins).
But while the much-heralded Spaniards were being scorched by two men so hot they briefly threatened to turn the whole contest into "The Lanny and Larry Show," the Britons on the European squad were making a spirited charge back into contention.
Spearheaded by Englishmen Peter Oosterhuis and Nick Faldo and Scotsmen Brian Barnes and Bernard Gallacher, who showed true grit in winning two matches apiece, the visitors took five of today's eight team matches and trail by only 8 1/2 points to 7 1/2 going into Sunday's concluding program of 12 single matches (WJLA-TV-7, 3:30 p.m.).
"We have already made it a good performance. I must impress on my men that that is not enough, that we now are in a good position of winning," said the jubilant nonplaying captain of the Euorpeans, John Jacobs, who used the phrases "superhuman effort" and "tremendous courage" to characterize his team's achievements today.
The British have managed only three victories (the last in 1957), and one tie (1969), in 22 previous series since the Ryder Cup was inaugurated in 1927.
The superior depth of American talent should prevail in Sunday's conclusive singles, but the Europeans' collective adrenalin was pumping so palpably at the end of today's improbable events that no one was denying the visitors a chance of recording their first victory ever on American soil.
There will likely only be 11 matches Sunday, since America's Gil Morgan injured his right clavicle in a fall Friday and is considered a doubtful starter.
If he cannot play, one member of the European team -- already designated by Jacobs in a sealed envelope, and thought to be Irishman Des Smyth -- would also sit out. Conversely, if any European player should have to withdraw, an American whose name has already been sealed in an envelope by nonplaying captain Billy Casper would be dropped from the final day action.
Mark James, who was sidelined with a sore left shoulder on Friday, and Ken Brown, who played so indifferently when Smyth replaced James as his partner that he was almost kicked off the team and sent home, are both expected to play Sunday.
Brown is paired against Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller and James against four-time Ryder Cupper Lee Trevino in the last two matches, which could become crucial.
If the rest of the U.S. team had played anything like Wadkins and Nelson today, Sunday's pairings would have been academic.
They were thrown together as partners on Thursday when Tom Watson -- originally slated to play with Wadkins, at least in the four-ball matches -- withdrew and flew home to Kansas City to be with his wife when their first child (a daughter, Margaret Elizabeth) was born.
The flip Wadkins and the taciturn Nelson, dissimilar personalities who share an aggressive attitude on a golf course, shot a best-ball score of 59 in their first practice round over the shortish but demanding Greenbrier Course. They have been playing blissfully ever since.
Blending as naturally as the scenic green Allegheny countryside and the bright blue sky overhead, Wadkins and Nelson beat Garrido and British Open champion Ballesteros, 3 and 2, to prevent a European sweep of this morning's "Scotch foursomes."
Then, after a brief break for lunch, they whipped the 1977 World Cup champions again in the "four-ball," 5 and 4. Wadkins and Nelson played the sort of golf men usually produce only in dreams, starting with six straight birdies, adding an eagle at the eighth, and two more birdies at the 10th and 14th to be 10-under par when they closed out the match after 14 holes.
"We are both playing so confidently, it's unbelievable. We both drove excellently and had the ball in play all afternoon," said Wadkins, who is now undefeated in seven matches in two Ryder Cup appearances. His iron play was superlative, and he holed birdie putts of 10, 15, 40, and 25 feet in the afternoon.
"There were only a couple of holes in the round that we weren't both playing for birdies," added Ryder Cup rookie Nelson, a quiet but pleasantly forceful man who is second only to Watson on the money-winning list on the U.S. tour this year.In the "Scotch foursome," he noted, he and Wadkins went four under par after bogeying the first two holes.
But while Wadkins and Nelson were burying Garrido and Ballesteros (who did the best to make up for his partner's bad day with some marvelous short iron play, especially with his sand wedge) for the third time in 36 hours, the rest of the American effort was uninspired.
It was the visitors who had reason to be discouraged after falling behind, 5 1/2 to 2 1/2, on opening day. But Jacobs, who had come under intense criticism from the British press for his Friday pairings, gave his team a pep talk that it evidently took to heart.
"I think the captain made it clear that we had to make a move today and try to get back in it . . . He got us thinking right, that we had to come out firing this morning," said Oosterhuis, a nonwinner in six seasons on the U.S. tour but a distinguished performer in five Ryder Cups.
Oosterhuis played himself into form after a shaky start, and Faldo was steady throughout, as they beat woefully erratic Andy Bean and Tom Kite, 6 and 5, in the morning, and Lee Elder and Mark Hayes, 1 up, in the last match of the afternoon.