Column: Continuity in cups could lead to a closed shop
Americans finally found the recipe for continuity in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
The key now is to avoid a closed shop.
Jim Furyk is the Ryder Cup captain for next year’s matches in Paris, and it will be the fourth straight team event that he is assigned a radio and a cart. He was an assistant captain the previous three cups in South Korea, Hazeltine and Liberty National.
Furyk has appointed only one assistant so far — Davis Love III, who will be involved for the sixth time in the last seven years. Love, popular among the players, was the Ryder Cup captain in 2012 and 2016 and an assistant at the Presidents Cup in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
Steve Stricker was an assistant for three straight years before taking over as Presidents Cup captain at Liberty National. He is a strong candidate to be the Ryder Cup captain for 2020 when the matches are held at Whistling Straits in his home state of Wisconsin. It would not be surprising to see him in Paris.
This was all part of the plan.
Among the strategies that came out of the Ryder Cup Task Force was to choose assistants who either were past captains or would be considered as future captains. It only made sense to apply the concept to the Presidents Cup.
But it led to a question that made Phil Mickelson pause.
With such a solid core, which includes Tiger Woods and Fred Couples, how does anyone join the club?
“We’ll be starting to have turnover and stuff,” Mickelson said. “It’s a good question. But we’re only three years in.”
The turnover should start in the next few months, and it’s one reason that Furyk is more than just a little curious whom the PGA Tour will select as the next Presidents Cup captain for 2019 in Australia.
Ron Cross, the senior vice president in charge of the Presidents Cup, said the tour was still in the early stages of the process. Any decision should not be expected until early next year. Whoever it is just might be among the five assistants that go to Paris.
“There’s a lot of similarities between the cups,” Furyk said. “It’s been good for me to work on both. I would have been bummed not to have been at the Presidents Cup. Stricker fought hard for me to join. It was good to be there with the guys. ... And I think it was good for them to see me there.”
Two names that merit consideration are Justin Leonard and David Toms.
Under this new blueprint, they both might seem like outsiders, and they shouldn’t be.
Leonard played on eight teams, and he hit one of the most memorable Ryder Cup shots with a 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole at Brookline in 1999.
More than most Americans, Leonard has mainly positive memories from the Ryder Cup. His record was 2-4-6, which can be looked at two ways. He only won two matches. He only lost four out of 12. In the three Ryder Cups he played, the Americans won two of them.
The former British Open champion spends most of his time in the broadcast booth these days. He expects to be in France next year, at the very least for NBC and Golf Channel. He would love to be there as an assistant if the door can be opened.
“Ten years ago, I would have thought I’d be a Ryder Cup captain,” Leonard said Tuesday. “Sitting here today, I don’t think it will happen.”
He has not had any contact with anyone. Leonard also wonders if there is room for newcomers when so much has been made about the continuity of past captains and assistant captains that move from cup to cup.
“When that (task force) was formed, everything has stayed within that group,” he said. “But that group eventually will stop doing it. I don’t know what the answer is.”
Leonard feels that Toms should get a close look. Toms played on seven national teams and was captain of the Junior Presidents Cup this year. He was considered a favorite to be Ryder Cup captain in 2014 until former PGA of America President Ted Bishop opted for Tom Watson.
After the task force, Love was given a second captaincy.
And now it’s getting crowded. Still in the pipeline are Stricker, Mickelson and Woods.
In one respect, these are good problems for the Americans to have. More than a decade ago, the two cups were so disconnected that anyone who was a Presidents Cup captain hurt his chances of ever becoming a Ryder Cup captain.
“There was no continuity,” Mickelson said. “The vice captains didn’t transfer over. We weren’t using it effectively. Now we’ve got a nice road map to success. There’s so much continuity between the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup that we already have three pairings set for next year.”
The American talent is so deep that a few new players are expected for Paris.
Next on the list is finding room for new assistants, who might someday have a chance to be captain for either cup.