By Jim Johnson
It was an event filled with missed putts, near shanks and questionable captains picks. All of which left a bitter taste in the mouth of the defeated.
I’m talking about the U.S. Ryder Cup team, right? No, I’m talking about the 2011 Presidents Cup, where Robert Allenby was the questionable captain’s pick who couldn’t make a putt and Aaron Baddeley hit one of the worst shots in international team match history (until Webb Simpson’s hosel rocket at Medinah, that is).
U.S. Presidents Cup Captain Fred Couples seemed to ooze Seve Ballesteros charisma in 2011 at Royal Melbourne. Greg Norman, on the other hand, played the awkward Hal Sutton role to the hilt, cowboy hat, bad pairings and all.
Now that Medinah is a memory, albeit a bad one, at least American golf fans still have the Presidents Cup on U.S. Soil. But, if recent Ryder Cup history is any indication, American fans shouldn’t get too comfortable with being on top. Although the U.S. still leads the overall Ryder Cup by a margin of 25-12-2, they are 2-7 since 1995 and 7-9-1 since Europe joined Great Britain/Ireland in the biannual matches. With all the great players coming out of Asia, Australia and South Africa, it might be only a matter of time before American domination in the Presidents Cup comes to an end. In fact, the Presidents Cup could easily do a 180-degree turn in 2013 under Nick Price’s leadership. There has been much speculation that Couples will get the Ryder Cup job in 2014. But, if Couples isn’t careful, he just may be part of losing effort in 2013.
Here are four things Couples should have learned from 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III at Medinah — things he should do to prevent a defeat at Muirfield Village by the International Team in 2013.
No. 1: Don’t back yourself into a corner before the start of Presidents Cup
As much as possible, Couples should keep an open mind going into the matches. He has to be open regarding how many matches each player will play and with whom. Love backed himself into a corner at Medinah, saying that no one on his team was going to play five matches. Doing this, he hamstrung himself on Saturday with the U.S. poised to deliver a knock out blow to the European team.
By resting Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, Love took the crowd out of the matches and helped allow Europe to regain some momentum. If anything, Love was a bit too open about his approach prior to last Friday’s first matches. Couples would do well to keep things a bit closer to the vest. Some things belong in the team room, regardless how much those of us in the media would like otherwise.
No. 2: Stay with the hot hand
Couples needs to go with who is playing well. Of course, this includes his captain’s picks. But just as important, perhaps more so are those playing well during the event. It’s hard to fault American Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III for picking Brandt Snedeker, the FedExCup champ, and Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk. But, one hopes that Couples will consider factors beyond simply experience and who Tiger wants to partner with (more on that later).
As Keegan Bradley proved, youthful energy can carry a team through a tough match and excite the crowd at the same time. Bradley, Johnson, Jason Dufner, Hunter Mahan and Simpson are all likely to make the team on points. But Couples better have young guns like Rickie Fowler and Bud Cauley on speed dial as well. As hard as it is, it may be time to turn the page on guys like Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.
No. 3: Make sure your assistant captains are there to assist
It was pretty obvious on Sunday that No. 18 was playing shorter than the yardage. Yet, several American players in key matches hit shots that ended up long. Where were the assistant captains to give them that information?
Too often, assistants are viewed as potential Ryder Cup captains giving an audition. Couples needs to make sure that his assistants are engaged and giving needed information to the players, not positioning themselves for Seoul in 2015. Finally, enough with having celebrities like Michael Jordan lying on the tee box smoking cigars and wearing apparel promoting his brand. Sorry Bill Murray, this means you too.
No. 4: Tame Tiger
What should Couples do with Tiger? Davis tried sitting Tiger for the first time in history and it seemed to have zero impact on his play. He didn’t look any fresher Saturday afternoon than he did Friday afternoon. But, it did do two things. On the positive side, it removed a player from a format that didn’t mesh with his game. On the negative side, it absolutely forced him to sit Phil and Keegan.
There was no possibility that Tiger would sit and Phil would play all five matches. Another aspect of Tiger is figuring out who will be his partner. Like other captains, Love apparently allowed Tiger to pick his partner. On paper, Stricker was and has been a nice partner for Tiger, but they were no match for their opponents at Medinah, going 0-3. Couples had the right idea in 2011 when he paired Tiger with Dustin Johnson. He needs to use all of his considerable charisma to get Tiger to take players like Johnson under his wing in team play, on the golf course. Not only will that be good for American golf going forward, it may just allow Mr. Woods to have successful partnerships for future President Cup and Ryder Cup matches. This will take Tiger out of his comfort zone. But, maybe Tiger needs to be a bit uncomfortable out there, not Hal Sutton 2004 uncomfortable, but just enough to get him edgy and intense.
Perhaps, Couples will do some of these things or none of these things. What we do know is that Couples will be Couples… loose as a goose and having fun. It’s worked the last two Presidents Cup events. If it works again, maybe we’ll see him playing bagpipes and wearing a kilt in 2014. Are you listening PGA of America?