Oh Captain My Captain

By Rex HoggardOctober 6, 2009, 12:52 am

Presidents CupATLANTA – Kenny Perry wrinkled a sweaty brow and pondered the question for a pregnant moment. The three-time Presidents Cup and two-time Ryder Cup player has seen it all by way of captains, from the controlled chaos Paul Azinger delivered last fall to the relaxed swansong of Arnold Palmer at the 1996 Presidents Cup, yet there was no way to put a Twitter (140 characters or less) bookend on a Fred Couples’ captaincy.

“I haven’t got a feel for this,” Perry said during last week’s Tour Championship. “I don’t know how he’s going to do it. I think it’s going to be a very loose atmosphere in the clubhouse. I don’t think it’s going to be too much stress.”

Stress-free seems to be the consensus among American players bound for Harding Park and this week’s international grudge match. But then a life choice is no way to continue the American dominance of the biennial matches (the U.S. leads the series 5-1-1), not even with the Tour’s quintessential iconoclast at the switch.

Fred Couples
Fred Couples has a 9-5-2 career record as a player in the Presidents Cup. (Getty Images)

In many ways, Couples has played by the traditional captain’s playbook. His picks (Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan) were safe and all but dovetailed with the current points structure (Glover was 11th while Mahan was 14th), particularly when compared with International captain Greg Norman’s selection of an off-form Adam Scott and a Japanese teen sensation (Ryo Ishikawa) with a limited American resume.

Couples did rock the boat with his selection of NBA great Michael Jordan as an assistant captain, but even that was not groundbreaking considering MJ’s regular appearance in team rooms from The K Club in Ireland to last year at Valhalla.

“As relaxed as (Couples) looks he wants to win that thing. That’s why he has Jordan, someone that great,” Hunter Mahan said.

Most players agree Couples’ captaining style will likely fall somewhere between that of master tactician Azinger, whose psychological profiles and “pods” system produced a spirited victory at last year’s Ryder Cup, and Jack Nicklaus’ laissez-faire style at the 2007 Presidents Cup.

“In between (Azinger and Nicklaus), but probably a little closer to Jack,” said Mahan, who was also a captain’s pick for Nicklaus in 2007 and went 2-3-0. “I don’t know if he will use the ‘pods’ system or not, but I think (Couples) is going to learn from Paul.”

In many ways Couples – an individual enigma much of his career dogged by health issues and a melancholy wrapper that has been confused for decades for indifference or worse, professional detachment – has spent the last 20 years preparing for his current role.

In nine Presidents (four) and Ryder (five) cups, Couples has played for virtually every genre of captain – from the oligarchy of Lanny Wadkins at the 1995 Ryder Cup to Hale Irwin, the taskmaster of the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994. But it may be his two terms playing for Nicklaus that will define Couples’ captaincy.

In 2005 Nicklaus picked a slumping Couples and he delivered a crucial Sunday single’s victory over Vijay Singh to help lift the United States to victory. Seven years earlier in Australia, Couples found himself partnered with Tiger Woods. The duo went 1-1-0, but the United States still suffered its only loss in the matches despite Nicklaus’ best efforts.

“The best thing for me is all the captains (I’ve played for),” Couples said. “I've taken a lot from Ray Floyd and been on Arnold Palmer's team in the Presidents Cup and Jack Nicklaus. I get eight guys where I take a little bit, a little there. Paul Azinger, he did a phenomenal job.”

Unlike Nicklaus in 1998, Couples will enjoy something of an embarrassment of riches in the experience department. At Royal Melbourne, the U.S. side had four rookies, including Woods, while next week there will be only two rookies, and neither Anthony Kim (2-1-1 at last year’s Ryder Cup) nor Sean O’Hair (who finished T-8, fourth and third in his last three starts) can be considered liabilities.

Perhaps the biggest decision a U.S. captain must make is who gets paired with Woods, but at East Lake there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers. O’Hair and Jim Furyk were both mentioned by the world No. 1 as a potential partner and Kim has made it clear he covets the high-profile pairing.

But then, not even the annual pairings prognostication can compare to the unknown that has defined the early stages of a Couples’ captaincy.

“Well, it’s going to be fun,” Woods said. “I can’t wait to listen to him, his speeches and see where they’re going to go. When they start off one way, they never end up there.”

In many ways, the early part of Couples’ captaincy has mirrored that of his career, which spans nearly three decades and includes 15 Tour titles and a Masters green jacket.

What his players do know about their captain is that a “Cliffs Notes” once over of Couples’ career misses the most important points. Lost amid the syrupy swing and cool exterior is the heart of a competitor who, like Azinger before him, has been forced to overcome a series of injuries and delivered on the game’s biggest stages. The difference between the two is that Couples doesn’t wear his passion or articulate that drive as well as Azinger did.

“Freddie to me is kind of aloof, kind of out there,” Perry said. “He’s just a loose cannon. You never know what’s coming out of him.”

The only certainty with this captain curiosity is a desire to win, and that may be all that matters.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm