A two-time U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Davis Love III seemed an odd choice to be in charge of this year’s U.S. Presidents Cup team. Been there, done that.
Love, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who won 21 times on the PGA Tour, seemed past the point of doing this again. And yet, when you consider how the U.S. cup team effort has evolved over the last eight years, he really shouldn’t have been a surprising choice at all.
The idea, by and large, is to have a group of former players who gain experience as assistant captains and captains to form continuity from one year to the next as Americans compete in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
And when Tiger Woods declined the opportunity to hold the Presidents Cup captaincy again following his victorious run as captain—and going 3-0 as a player—at the 2019 Presidents Cup, the powers that be looked around and decided that Love made for an easy and logical choice.
All of this goes back to … the infamous Ryder Cup Task Force. And the origins of that? Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson, perhaps the biggest of the LIV Golf defectors, proved to be a disruptive force back then, too, much to the dismay of many, who believed Mickelson was over the top in his criticism of captain Tom Watson in the aftermath of the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
It was there that Mickelson basically called out Watson specifically for a poor captaincy and the PGA of America generally for the way it went about selecting captains and not taking player input. Sound familiar?
Whatever you think of the delivery or the messenger, it worked. Within weeks of yet another Ryder Cup defeat, plans were put in place that would see the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup be collaborative rather than competitive.
The idea of a “task force” was ridiculed, but it put the Americans on a better path that has seen them lose just one Cup competition since the 2014 Ryder Cup—the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris.
“Well, the task force was just a bad name,’’ Love said. “But what happened was a bunch of veterans and a bunch of future leaders of Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups, sat together in a room and discussed how to get better at what we were trying to do, and it started with Raymond Floyd was in that call, and then on down the list, (Tom) Lehman and (Jim) Furyk and (Steve) Stricker and future captains and Tiger Woods. There was a bunch of guys in that room that were invested in Team USA, and we have gotten better at being captains and leaders since then.
“We do a lot of things differently than we did back when (captain) Dave Stockton had to pick that (1991) team. He went on guts that Davis Love was not a good pick. You know, he was right. But he didn’t have any analytics to back it up. He didn’t have any team communications program. He didn’t have assistant captains that had been in the program for three or four years. So we’ve gotten a lot better at it.
“It’s not perfect. We are still just a bunch of golfers trying to figure out how to help this team play well. But we’ve gotten a lot better at it since the board of directors or the team ownership was kind of changed.’’
There are no guarantees. While the Americans will be heavy favorites this week at Quail Hollow over an International team that has taken several hits due to LIV Golf, it still comes down to performing. The Americans have done that for the majority of this competition. They have not, mostly, for three decades of Ryder Cups.
Love will be assisted this week by Stricker, both a winning Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup captain, Fred Couples, who has assisted several times and three times was a winning Presidents Cup captain, and Zach Johnson, the 2024 U.S. Ryder Cup captain who was an assistant last year at Whistling Straits and in 2019 at Royal Melbourne.
The final assistant is Webb Simpson, who could find his game and be a part of the Ryder Cup as a player next year. If not, he becomes an obvious choice for Johnson as an assistant, and it’s quite possible he’d bring on Stricker again and maybe even Woods.
How does all of this help? Well, it’s probably no stretch to think that Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele will make up a team this week, as will Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. They teamed together last year and likely will again. Collin Morikawa won’t have Dustin Johnson as a teammate this time, but Tony Finau seems a good possibility or even Scottie Scheffler. That gives the Americans three solid teams no matter who is left out.
Newcomers Max Homa, Billy Horschel, Sam Burns, Cam Young and Kevin Kisner will get worked into the lineup, and with five matches on each of the first two days, all will get a chance.
There is still work to be done, regardless of the outcome this week. The captain pool seems to be think with Mickelson—once all but certain to be the U.S. captain for the Ryder Cup in 2025 at Bethpage—quite possibly out of the mix. Who succeeds Love in two years in the Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal also seems far from certain. Does Woods step in at Bethpage?
Whatever the answers, the plan in place, once ridiculed, has put the U.S. teams in a better position.
After this week, the next big step? Winning in Europe for the first time in 30 years.
Tiger’s Presidents Cup role
Tiger Woods won’t be in Charlotte but he will be helping captain Davis Love nonetheless. The 15-time major champion who once was criticized for seemingly being aloof about the team competitions has been all-in over the past several years, assisting at the Cups played in 2016 and 2017, playing in 2018 and working as the playing captain in 2019. While recovering from his car crash injuries during the Ryder Cup a year ago, he was also a presence from afar as he will be this week.
“He’s very helpful,’’ Love said. “We send him the analytics stuff we get and he makes his own pairings and sends them to us. I still have copies of the notes he was sending me back in 2015 to get ready for 2016.
“He’s a great—he’s his own analytics team and he gives us a lot of great information. He’ll be very helpful. He just can’t come to the Presidents Cup but the text messages and the Zoom calls and the e-mails will be flying for sure.’’
1. It was a painful way to lose for Danny Willett—three putts from less than 4 feet on the final green at the Fortinet Championship—but the second-place finish was his best on the PGA Tour since his 2016 Masters victory.
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2. Robert MacIntyre gave his European Ryder Cup hopes a big early boost with his victory at the Italian Open, where he rallied from three strokes back with a final-round 64, and then defeated U.S. Open champ Matt Fitzpatrick on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.
3. The Italian Open offered a great glimpse of next year’s Ryder Cup venue, Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, and it is quite obvious now: the course will be set up similar to Le Golf National in Paris, as it appears perfect for narrow fairways and difficult rough.
4. Rickie Fowler finished eagle-birdie-par at the Fortinet Championship to finish tied for sixth, his best since a tie for third nearly a year ago at the CJ Cup.
The OWGR quest
LIV Golf officials are getting antsy in their quest to get Official World Golf Ranking points, as Sports Illustrated reported on Friday. The process only formally began in July when LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman submitted its application.
But while LIV Golf waits, it would do several things to check some of the OWGR boxes, and make its quest for points less of a debate among those who do not see it as being viable. Here are a few quick ideas, some of which could be implemented immediately, others in 2023.
> Institute a 36-hole cut. How hard would it be to take only the top 24 players and ties from the 48-player field into the final round for the purposes of the individual competition? All who miss the cut would still be paid, as they are now, simply in order of their 36-hole finish. And they could compete the final day as part of the team competition. To make that even better, pay the top six teams instead of just three.
> Play some 72-hole events. While it goes against the “54’’ mantra, there would be no harm in, say, four events among 14 that are 72 holes. Make the season opener and the season finale 72 holes, and pick two others where the venue or the market is suitable. When considered along with the International Series events that LIV Golf is underwriting, it gives the entire enterprise a more substantial number of 72-hole tournaments, which appears to be an OWGR sticking point.
> Make 12 spots available each week, meaning that each team would only have three set players. Access to LIV Golf is another issue. There are numerous ways this could be handled, but a weekly qualifier that awards four spots, plus four more spots from the top four finishers among the top 10 not already qualified from the previous International Series event and four not qualified off LIV’s most recent points list is an easy starting point. Then let the team captains pick who they want to fill out their teams.
> Go to 60 players. This is admittedly more drastic. But it would mean adding just three more teams for a total of 12 players. A bigger field simply means more competition, you could still have a 36-hole cut and instead of having 12 openings each week, make it 15.
The Masters Countdown
The first round of the Masters is in 199 days, and numerous opportunities to earn an invitation are available the end of 2022. The Fortinet Championship was the first of nine PGA Tour events this fall that bring an invitation with a victory for those not already qualified.
The final Official World Golf Ranking top 50 at the end of 2022 will also receive invites if not already qualified to play the first major championship of 2023.
There are currently 59 players qualified for the 2023 Masters, including Ireland’s Matthew McClean, who won the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship on Saturday. Others are scheduled to receive invitations based on past champion status, winners of past PGA Championships, U.S. Opens and British Opens, the finalists for the U.S. Amateur, the winner of the British Amateur, those finished among the top 12 and ties at the 2002 Masters, the top four finishers at the PGA, U.S. Open and British Open, nine PGA Tour winners since the Masters and seven who qualified by making it to the Tour Championship.
Still to be determined are the winners of the Asia Pacific Amateur and the Latin America Amateur along with the final-year top 50 in the world, PGA Tour winners and those who qualify via the top 50 two weeks prior to the Masters.
Speaking of the Masters
It is more than apparent now that the legendary par-5 13th hole at Augusta National will play longer for the 2023 Masters. The dogleg hole where so many Masters have been won or lost or at least impacted over the years has been the subject of immense conjecture over the years concerning its lack of difficulty at times and if the hole should be lengthened.
That speculation came into full focus a few years ago when Augusta National bought adjacent land behind the tee from Augusta Country Club—actually paying for redesign of a hole on that course—that allowed for a road, more infrastructure … and the possibility of a new tee.
The offseason has allowed that to take place, as noted by Eureka Earth, which has taken aerial shots of the course for several years. Here is a photo which shows a fully-grown in tee box well back of where it played in 2022.
What the length will be remains to be determined, but it has played in the 520-yard range for years and plays have routinely been hitting short-iron second shots to the green. Tiger Woods hit 8-iron to set up a two-putt birdie on his way to his 2019 victory.
> Another great start to a new season for Max Homa, who defended his title in Napa, California.
> Bryson DeChambeau was still smarting from this afterward.
> Padraig Harrington did right by the caddies.
> Jon Rahm was setting the record straight.
After opening the 2022-23 season at the Fortinet Championship, the PGA Tour takes a week off for the Presidents Cup, which is being played for the first time since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The event begins Thursday at Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Davis Love III will captain the U.S. team and Trevor Immelman will captain the International squad.
The competition will see five foursomes matches played Thursday, five four-ball matches on Friday, then four of each on Saturday for a total of 18 points. With 12 singles matches on Sunday, there will be 30 points total at stake—two more than at the Ryder Cup.
The U.S. has won eight in a row and leads the overall series 11-1-1, with the tie coming in 2003 and the lone loss in 1998.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism