After Phil Mickelson played with Jordan Spieth on Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship and watched the 20-year-old phenom fire 62, he was impressed, to say the least. Mickelson was so impressed with Spieth that he sent a text almost immediately after they signed their scorecards to Fred Couples, captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team, that said: “Dude, you’ve got to pick this guy.”
And Couples was sold.
“I had great help from my team and probably all of the United States and every golfer out there that I’m going to go with Jordan Spieth,” said Couples, half-jokingly, when he announced Spieth as one of his wildcard choices.
Yup, I think it would have been really disappointing had he not been picked. He’s young and playing his face off, not just at the Deutsche Bank Championship but all year, including a win at the John Deere Classic and came close at the Wyndham Championship before he lost in a playoff to Patrick Reed.
Couples also learned from his decision two years ago when he passed on Keegan Bradley, who won twice as a rookie in 2011, including a major.
“I feel like two years ago, I left Keegan Bradley off the team who was a PGA Champ and also a Byron Nelson Champ, and wore on me a little bit, especially when I saw him play at The Ryder Cup last year,” said Couples. “I was one of Davis (Love’s) assistants and I talked to Keegan a little bit and I told him that unlike what I did to you by not picking you, I’m going with the young guy, and our whole team is excited.”
Naturally, Spieth is the most thrilled, especially about the format.
“As far as match play goes, it’s fun playing one‑on‑one,” said Spieth, who was a member of the 2011 Walker Cup and finished with a 3-1-0 record (win-halve-loss). “There’s just a lot more thinking that goes into it, preparing for each shot. When you combine the two on a stage like The Presidents Cup, I’m just super stoked and happy I woke up this morning and it wasn’t a dream.”
Couples actually chose Webb Simpson as his first captain’s pick. Simpson, who hasn’t had a great year, was ranked 10th in points going into the Deutsche Bank Championship. However, Zach Johnson came through in the clutch and birdied his last two holes in the final round to surpass Simpson.
“I’ve gotten to know Webb a little bit,” said Freddie. “There’s some guys, you like the way they play, but Webb deserves to be on the team. He has been inside these numbers, and at no given time did I ever think of a scenario in the last three or four months that really Webb was not going to be on the team until Zach Johnson went birdie, birdie on the last two holes.”
But that didn’t matter because Couples had decided beforehand that the guy who finished 11th in points would be an automatic captain’s pick.
“So, form didn’t come into play, even if Webb finished last at Boston, I was still going to pick the 11th guy, which happened to be Webb Simpson.”
Couples had some tough choices to make, with Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, etc. not in the top 10 in points going into the DBC. He was worried about the semi-retired Stricker, who skipped The Barclays, but Stricker made it easy on Freddie.
“I told Steve Stricker that he was going to be on the team and then he told me, no, I don’t want to be picked, I want to make your team; and so he did,” said Couples.
Stricker finished second at TPC Boston to move to no. 9 in the Presidents Cup points rankings.
The hardest decision for Couples was leaving Jim Furyk off the team. The two are good friends and have been on many teams together, not to mention Furyk has actually been playing very well recently — in his last five starts, he’s had four top-tens, including runner-up at the PGA Championship.
“This time, the two guys that I wanted dearly to be on the team were Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk,” said Couples. “That’s not to say I didn’t want any of the other 11 or 12 guys. Those are really my guys…
“As soon as we are done here, I’ll call him. But I took the easy way out and sent him a text and I just felt like it was just a spot that was unfortunate for him not to be chosen. Tabitha (Furyk) is from Ohio; they met at Ohio ‑‑ the whole thing was not fun; Jim Furyk has won at Memorial. I know all the stats.”
Well, at least Fred knows texting Furyk the bad news was a major copout.
“So when you hesitate on one guy ‑‑ I mean, Jim Furyk could come and play with five guys,” said Couples. “Jordan, I didn’t know, but there were a lot of guys jumping in line to play with Jordan. As a young player, he’s got a lot of people’s attention, but again, you know, you can’t go wrong with Jordan Spieth and Webb Simpson. They are quality players.”
In other words, a lot of players went to bat for Spieth and that text from Phil might have been the dealmaker.
“I feel like at this time, it’s Jordan Spieth’s time, I feel like Jim Furyk is a man, he understands it, it’s no fun for him, it certainly isn’t any fun for me but really today is about Webb and Jordan and they are two quality players,” said Couples.
On the International side, Captain Nick Price threw a bit of a curveball with one of his picks. He chose Marc Leishman — who was an obvious one — and then he passed up Tim Clark for Brendon de Jonge. Like myself, I’m sure 90% of people figured Price would go with Clark.
“My first pick is Marc Leishman from Australia, who I’m sure many will agree is a guy who is on the rise, a young player who has played really well in major championships this year; particularly at Augusta, had a really good chance,” said Price.
“And my second pick is my fellow countryman and Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge who I’ve watched with close interest over the past four or five years. He brings a consistency and he’s just a wonderful guy, and I’m really looking forward to having both of those guys on the team.”
Why not Tim Clark?
“Well, that was what it came down to yesterday, and Tim Clark was the third guy,” said Price, who decided to think outside the box given the Internationals record in the biennial matches is 1-7-1. “For the last month and a half, two months, I’ve confided a lot in Tim Clark about how he felt, and I really thought he was going to make the team; until Monday, I honestly thought he was going to make the team.
“But you know, he has not played much at Muirfield over the last seven or eight years. In fact, I think he’s played once there since 2006. And his lack of length off the tee at Muirfield really was probably one of the deciding factors. It was probably the hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make in my life yesterday to phone Tim and tell him he wasn’t on the team.
“I just think that it would have been very difficult to pair him with someone with a distinct lack of distance off the tee. Experience‑wise he was the one guy who I thought would bring a lot to the team. But Muirfield Village is a specialist golf course, and I think both Marc and Brendon both cut the ball, both fade the ball and hit the ball pretty far. That was sort of one of the factors.”
De Jonge, who finished 14th in the rankings for the International team, was obviously over the moon when he got the call to play in his first Presidents Cup and under his Captain Price, a fellow Zimbabwean.
“It’s unbelievable,” said de Jonge, who has notched four top-10s this season, including T9 at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday. “This was obviously the primary goal starting out last year was to make this team, and especially playing for Nick. Nick has been everything to us growing up in junior golf in Zimbabwe, and now to have an opportunity to play for him is definitely a dream come true.”
I’m just hoping the Internationals give the Americans more of a run for the Cup, so to speak, instead of the usual U.S. blowout!
Your thoughts on the picks for both the U.S. and the Internationals? Do you agree? Or whom would you have picked if it were up to you?
(Photo via PresidentsCup.com)