By Tony Jimenez
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) - The destiny of the Ryder Cup may rest on how Europe's six rookies perform this week, according to Tony Jacklin, described by ESPN this week as the man who saved the biennial team event in the 1980s.
Jacklin, Europe's most decorated captain after winning twice and tying once in four Ryder Cups, says no one knows how Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters will fare under the microscope.
"Everyone's pontificating about this and that and going on about statistics but the bottom line is that we don't know how these six rookies are going to perform," Jacklin, 72, told Reuters in an interview at Hazeltine National on Wednesday.
"Some people rise to it and some don't respond quite so well so for me, someone who has been in the captain's seat, that would be somewhat of a concern."
Interest in the competition was waning 31 years ago but that changed from the moment Jacklin led Europe to victory at The Belfry in 1985.
It was the first time the United States had been beaten for 28 years and, since then, Europe have taken a grip to such an extent that they have won 10 of the last 15 editions.
The Ryder Cup is now recognized as the greatest rivalry in golf and millions around the world will be riveted by the Hazeltine thrills and spills on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Twice major champion Jacklin believes the Americans are now close to reaching the point of no return.
"It's desperate measures if they don't get it done this week on home turf," he said.
"One thing for certain over the last 30 years is that Europe have had better team unity than America no matter what characters have come and gone... and I think that's been a great advantage.
"Egos have to be left outside the door for this deal. The 12 guys, the captains and vice-captains need to run a steady ship, not panic and try and get off to a flying start."
Jacklin, who triumphed at the 1969 British Open and won the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine, said Darren Clarke's European team would quieten down the home fans if they came charging out of the traps on Friday morning.
"Already you can see the crowds are ready to burst at the smallest opportunity so if we can get our noses ahead early, that would dampen that down a bit and would help our cause," he added.
From the point of view of the U.S. team, Jacklin suggested skipper Davis Love III should not attempt to over-analyze things too much from the sidelines.
"I think the Americans are so pre-occupied with statistics and numbers," he said. "If you use your eyeballs and see how the guys are reacting in the team room and use your senses and have a one-on-one with everybody, you've got an open mind.
"You can talk to them and say, 'if you're not happy, speak up now'.
"That's the way I did it. I think they get so panicked, they go over things five, six or 10 times, whereas sometimes you are best using your instinct," explained Jacklin, global ambassador for Glenmorangie, official spirit of the British Open.
"Just let it happen... and at the end of the day you need to do a lot of praying, I promise you that, because you need a hotline to God."
(Editing by John O'Brien)