Well, that’s certainly a bit of a motley crew. Jack Nicklaus and his wife Barbara hosted a dinner for potential U.S. Ryder Cup team members on Thursday night at their home in North Palm Beach — not far from this week’s Honda Classic.
The attendees included Captain Davis Love III, PGA Chief Pete Bevacqua and Vice Captains Tiger Woods, who drove down the road from his home, Jim Furyk, who made the trip from Ponte Vedra Beach, and Tom Lehman, who flew from Arizona for the evening before heading back west early today for a charity outing.
22 potential players from roughly the top 40 in the U.S. Ryder Cup team points standings were present, including Zac Blair, Keegan Bradley (who is 42nd), Jason Dufner, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Billy Horschel, John Huh, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Brooks Koepka, Jason Kokrak, Jamie Lovemark, Andrew Loupe, Ben Martin, Phil Mickelson, Brendan Steele, Robert Streb, Jimmy Walker and Gary Woodland.
Blair. Harman. Huh. Kokrak. Lovemark. Loupe. Martin. Steele. Streb. The Europeans must be shaking in their spikes! Absolutely terrifying.
The American leadership is trying to get some of the older players acquainted with the younger guys earlier than usual this year since the U.S. team has performed so dreadfully against Europe in this century. The last time the Americans prevailed was in 2008 and team USA has only won the biennial matches twice in the last 10 Ryder Cups.
“I’m happy that I got to go to Jack and Barbara’s house, first of all,” said Love after posting a one-under 69 on Friday morning. “That was the neat thing. I think most of the guys, that was the main focus.
“But once they heard Jack talk about The Ryder Cup, his great memories of it, and we talked a little bit about preparing for major championships or for Ryder Cups, and so we all learned something for sure.
“We got to see Tiger, Phil and Jack, all in the same room, and talking to each other and asking each other questions. We had an awful lot of wins sitting there for some young guys to listen to.
“And it was just great to get everybody together, because you know, that’s not even all the guys that might make The Ryder Cup Team but it was a big group of guys that are now excited about it, thinking about it and are part of the process.”
Added Fowler: “Just having a chance to be with the Americans that are playing the best right now, obviously in points, for Ryder Cup, and being there with Davis, obviously I got to spend a lot of time with him the last two days, which has been a good time. That’s always fun. And to be around both Jack and Barbara, who I feel like I’ve continued to grow closer and closer to over the few years down here, Barbara is like a mom to me down here.
“So it’s pretty special to have that kind of relationship with two people that have had a pretty big impact on the golf community on and off the course.”
Multiple players attest that Woods, who hadn’t been spotted by most his peers since hosting the Hero World Challenge, looked happy and healthy.
“I talked to him for just a second. I said, ‘Wow, you’re standing up, you’re not dead,’” said Jimmy Walker. “He said, ‘I know, everyone thinks I’m dead now.’
“‘I said, ‘I’m glad you’re here,’ and he said, ‘I wouldn’t miss it.’”
It was really cool to see Tiger there,” said Brendan Steele. “Obviously he’s not fully healthy and we haven’t seen much of him lately, so for him to show up there really shows what it means to him, these Ryder Cup and team events, how important they are because it would be really easy to not go when you’re not even playing.”
Love said Woods seemed to be in good spirits and to enjoy the comraderie of hanging with the guys.
“He looked great,” said Love. He always looks good. He looked fit. Looked happy. I think Jim said it best, he goes, “I miss being with the guys. I think Tom and Jim and Tiger enjoyed it just because they are back with the PGA Tour guys and back in the mix a little bit. So it was good for all of us.
“You know, the Ryder Cup Team only gets together as a team for one week every two years, so we’re trying to change that. So it was nice to get everybody in the same room and talk about it.”
Love knows that Tiger, who has already been named an assistant captain, wants to be a playing — not just driving around a golf cart.
“(Tiger) wants to play,” said Love. “Phil wants to play. Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, they all want to play. So right now, I’m getting great support from Jim and Tiger, but we want them off the bench and in the game, so hopefully they will get back at it soon.
Jack held court and told stories and the current players were able to pick the brain of the 18-time major champion.
“We knew the questions to ask,” said Love. “Asking about preparing for major championships or asking about being nervous, how he handled pressure, things like that, and just him telling stories.
“His memory, as you all know, is just phenomenal. He remembers every shot, every hole, and every situation that he was in, and he’s always honest, whether it’s about how well he played or how poorly he played. It was very educational I think for jet ran players like me and for some of the young guys.”
Fowler, the 36-hole leader at the Honda Classic, was paying attention to the wisdom Nicklaus shared.
“I think some of it was just learning a little bit more of his prep work, kind of how he went about things, and then the confidence and belief that he had going into a tournament once he had that preparation done. He knew he was ready to play on Thursday.
“And I feel like I’ve begun to learn a little bit more what he’s talking about the past couple years, where Thursday I’m ready to go and know what I’m bringing to the golf course and know what I’m capable of. It was cool to kind of hear a little bit more of his background and he’s in a position now where he can kind of share that and he’s not giving away any secrets.”
Oh, and the food was great, in case you were wondering. The players ate steak, lobster, and of course, Jack Nicklaus Ice Cream.
With the Americans getting together in February for an event that doesn’t take place for seven months is interesting — and it obviously shows they’re trying to shake things up and show they’re really serious about producing a winning team (for a change). The U.S. players want to get their hands back on the Ryder Cup badly.
Members of the European Team responded and weren’t quite sure what to make of the early pow-wow. (The difference is, a group of Euros would get together like that without it being a huge thing and organized.)
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” said Sergio Garcia. “If it works, it’s great. If it doesn’t, then, you know, they will try something else. There’s really not much I can comment on that. We’ll see if it pays off or not in September.”