Perhaps the biggest negative about the much-ridiculed – and yet ultimately successful – U.S. Ryder Cup Task Force is that it has served to virtually erase any bit of drama or mystery associated with the naming of the new captain.
Jim Furyk, who will lead the U.S. against Europe at the end of September in France, could be seen as the next U.S. captain from as far away as Chaska, Minn., where the Americans thumped Europe at Hazeltine National in 2016, just their third victory in 11 matches. Furyk, who is fully aware of the pain and suffering the Americans have endured in this competition, was named to the 2018 post just a few months later.
An assistant to captain Davis Love III in Minnesota, Furyk also served under Jay Haas during the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea. He served as an assistant last year to captain Steve Stricker in the Presidents Cup; and Stricker is an assistant this year in France, as is Love.
See how this works?
For all the snickering that surrounded the formation of a task force in 2014, it has served an important purpose as far as the U.S. Ryder Cup plight is concerned.
“We had a goal for the next five to 10 Ryder Cups,” Furyk said. “I’ve said all along that if we won that’s great, but let’s not raise the flag and say, “This is the greatest thing ever.” And if we lose let’s not say, “Oh, s—, this doesnt work. It’s a long-term plan.”
The plan was for continuity. For cohesion. For consistency. Gone are the days of one-and-done captains who had no prior or follow-up role. Now there is a group of friendly faces that are to always been involved, led by two of the game’s greatest players, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
And all of that leads to the lack of suspense over Ryder Cup captaincies. Aside from a few variables that are bound to emerge from time to time, you can pretty much pencil in the next several U.S. captains.
Furyk was all but certain to be named for 2018 in France based on the blueprint that was set up and his desire to take the job. He was a member of the original Task Force which was charged with naming Love as captain for 2016 but also setting up a points structure and a system by which there would be input from players as well as familiarity from one Cup to the next.
It is often referenced, but the Task Force – which was made up of several current and former captains and players, including Furyk – was disbanded after Love was announced as captain in early 2015. The Task Force was replaced by a Ryder Cup committee that includes three PGA of America executives along with Woods, Mickelson and Furyk – the current captain.
So look at who played a big role behind the scenes in Minnesota and prior: Love, assistants Stricker and Furyk, along with Mickelson and Woods. Stricker was the Presidents Cup captain last year and a strong bet to be Ryder Cup captain in 2020 when the matches are played in his home state of Wisconsin; Mickelson and Woods undoubtedly still want to play on the team and are locks to be future captains – and Tiger has already been named the 2019 U.S. Presidents Cup captain while he will be serving as an assistant to Furyk this year. And then there is the core of young players who should be part of U.S. teams for years to come: Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson. That is a formidable group to build around.
“We’ve had a very close-knit team for the last handful of years,” Furyk said. “We have a lot of young players on the team now that hang out a lot off the golf course. They are a tight-knit group. It’s been fun that they have sparked some energy, not only on the golf course, but in the team room for us year-in and year-out. It’s been a fun process getting to know them. You want a good mix of players in your room but I’m surely thankful for some of that young, I guess exuberance, and a spark of life that we’ve had for the last few years. It’s been fun.”
Very much part of the success, behind the scenes, have been Mickelson and Woods. Mickelson has played on 11 straight U.S. Ryder Cup teams and has been on every Presidents Cup team since 1994.
He knows the ins and outs of all these team deals, and controversially criticized captain Tom Watson following the 2014 loss, leading to numerous changes in the system. Although he has yet to say when he will take on any kind of captaincy role, he is clearly a huge influence to whatever captain is in charge. Woods is less visible, but extremely active behind the scenes, even last year when he was recovering from back surgery and could barely walk.
“What Tiger really has brought to the table for our vice captains is a great knowledge of X’s and O’s,” Furyk said. “I think he’s done a really good job of pairing players together in foursomes and fourballs.”
“When you look at our team room and you look at a lot of the youth that we have in that team room now with the younger players, a lot of them became golf professionals, fell in love with the game of golf because they wanted to be — they wanted to emulate Tiger Woods. They wanted to play against him on the golf course.”
“So to have him in the team room really being that humble guy that’s ready to serve and to help them do whatever they can to play better, it means a lot to them in the team room. It’s been a huge asset for our captains the last couple years.”
Furyk, of course, sets an excellent example himself, having won the 2003 U.S. Open and a total of 17 PGA Tour titles. He’s been a consistent player for two decades and still competes quite well.
Interestingly, Furyk, 48, has one of the worst playing records in U.S. Ryder Cup history. He is 10-20-4 – tied with Mickelson for the most defeats in U.S. history. He’s played on nine teams, and suffered an excruciating singles loss to Sergio Garcia in 2012 – he lost the last two holes to lose 1-up – which essentially cost the U.S. the Cup.
But he’s also 20-10-3 in seven Presidents Cup appearances. He clinched the winning point at the 2008 Ryder Cup. And he’s been an assistant on the last two U.S. Cup teams, both victories.
Furyk’s appointment is all about the plan that was put in place in the aftermath of defeat at Gleneagles in 2014 – a third straight loss and sixth out of seven. It might not result in a victory in France, but it undoubtedly will not be a detriment, either.
“I’m very proud to represent my country and when I look back on my career and things I’ve done, making nine teams means an awful lot,” he said. “You have to be consistent and to be able to qualify by right for eight them, to be in the mix that often, I’m proud of that. I don’t think you ever need motivation to play in the Ryder Cup. It is my favorite event.”
September 01, 2018