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Opinion & Analysis

Presidents Cup: What Couples can learn from DL3

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By Jim Johnson

GolfWRX Contributor

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?

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Podcasts

Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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