Throughout losses in seven of the last nine editions of the Ryder Cup, the job of U.S. captain has most often mirrored that of the president: Only half the people want the man there and even more want him gone once his term is over.
Depending on how you look at it, one man will soon be either honored or sentenced to preside over the team that will compete at Gleneagles in 2014. If the term “thankless” comes to mind, it should. There has often been a public mentality domestically that states if a captain loses, he’s a loser – and if he wins, well, he was supposed to anyway. Such irrational thinking has led some to believe that the next captain will break the mold. Perhaps a legend of the game from long ago, or someone who’s already won or a guy with a fiery demeanor that could inspire his troops.
Officials from the PGA of America don’t want to talk about it. Not yet, at least. Out of “honor and respect” for Davis Love III and the competition that just ended, they haven’t publicly discussed potential captains for the next one. At some point, though – some point soon – these officials will begin internal discussions in regard to whom should succeed Love.
Don’t expect the unexpected. Sure, decision-makers could buck all recent trends or play a newfound hunch, but based on everything we’ve come to know about how the position is chosen, it’s easy to narrow down the list of possible candidates by first figuring out who won’t get the gig.
It won’t be a man whose captaincy would simply right a wrong, an admission that he’s been getting screwed over for years.
Sorry, Larry Nelson.
It won’t be a man who has held the position previously – even if he was the last one to win.
Sorry, Paul Azinger.
It won’t be a man who already has a similar job – no matter how loved, how revered, how successful – because the PGA of America isn’t taking anyone else’s sloppy seconds.
Sorry, Fred Couples.
It won’t be a man who is still very much in the prime of his career, even if his age suggests he’s nearing the twilight years.
Sorry, Steve Stricker.
So, whom will it be? Well, we can deduce some prerequisites based on the last few captains: He’ll be a major champion … in his mid-to-late 40s … with multiple Ryder Cup appearances on his resume … and still active on the PGA Tour.
Those requirements fit a few different players at varying degrees, but many still leave something to be desired. Scott Verplank doesn’t have a major. Justin Leonard is too young. Kenny Perry isn’t regularly on Tour anymore.
Only one man fits the bill. He owns a major title – and it’s the PGA Championship, no less – he’ll be 47 at the time of the next Ryder Cup, he’s played on three previous teams and he’s competed in 18 events so far this season.
Ladies and gentlemen, your next U.S. captain … David Toms.
“If asked, I would not turn it down,” he recently said matter-of-factly. “I would love to be a part of it.”
If there’s an issue with Toms’ candidacy, it has less to do with his resume and more to do with an inherent inability to puff out his chest and declare himself the best man for the job. He’s not the type to lobby on his own behalf. He won’t wallpaper PGA of America headquarters with “VOTE 4 ME” posters. He isn’t going to glad-hand or campaign or otherwise try and win ‘em over.
“If you deserve it, I don’t think you need to do that,” Toms explained. “If they think I’m worthy of the job, that would be great. It’s like being a captain’s pick. I would never as a player go to the captain and say, ‘Hey, watch me play!’ You go out and represent yourself and if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
There are those who may take issue with Toms’ selection because he’s too much like Love, who just presided over a heartbreaking defeat. Which is to say, he’s a nice guy, well respected amongst his peers and would likely be a players’ captain, listening to their requests and responding by obliging them.
None of those should be perceived as negative personality traits. One thing we have learned over the years is that there is no blueprint to picking a successful captain. The last two winners have included the cerebral Ben Crenshaw and the spirited Paul Azinger, two men completely different in most aspects, but each possessing those aforementioned traits.
Does Toms have what it takes to lead the team to a much-needed victory two years from now? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean the team will absolutely win, but it does mean he will absolutely give them a chance.
If you’re a PGA of America official and starting your search for the next man to lead this team, the wish list for a captain should begin and end there. Listen to Toms speak and he clearly understands the most important aspect of finding success in this event.
“I think you have to find some way to break through that pressure barrier,” he said. “That’s how Europe does it and they seem to play well.”
It would be neither a flashy choice nor an outlandish one, but in keeping with similar prerequisites for the next captain, the PGA of America would be sending a message to future Ryder Cup competitors and U.S. fans: The sky is not falling. We are not as far from winning as it may seem.
That’s an important message to communicate between now and the 2014 event.