NORTON, Mass. – Sweat dripping from his temples and mud caked up the side of his pants, Brendon De Jonge sighed as the metaphorical weight lifted from his shoulders late Monday afternoon at TPC Boston.
“There’s nothing more I could do ...,” he allowed when asked about his Presidents Cup plight.
The same epiphany, and sweat, radiated from Jordan Spieth just moments before. Widely regarded as America’s top prospect, Spieth had just signed for a 62 at the Deutsche Bank Championship, a furious finish punctuated by an eagle at the last, and was asked to weigh his own Presidents Cup fortunes.
“The only way to make a statement was play great golf the last few weeks, and I feel really solid about today’s round,” the 20-something mused.
In the ultimate show of competitive pass the buck, Spieth and de Jonge will now leave the heavy lifting to Presidents Cup captains Fred Couples and Nick Price, who officially went on the clock late Monday in the run up to Wednesday’s unveiling of each team’s captain’s picks.
Both captains danced the annual dance, telling reporters they will review all available data on the potential picks and get back to us.
“To be honest, I'm going to be looking at the guys who are in form harder than the other guys,” Price said.
Translation: Clark, a three-time Presidents Cup participant, would be an asset on a team that may be a tad too young for Price’s liking; Leishman, who closed with a 70 and tied for 16th in Boston; and de Jonge, one of the International side’s most consistent players the last two years and something of a protégée of Price’s, would appear to be the leaders in the clubhouse.
Price plans to poll his current team to help him determine his two picks, which would lean toward the South African (Clark) and Australian (Leishman) since his current team includes two players from Oz and five from South Africa.
Couples, however, was not so coy about his potential picks.
“Just go right off the list, and it would be, you know, Webb (Simpson), Dustin Johnson and the next guy would be Jim Furyk,” Captain America said. “And then Jordan Spieth, I don't know if I'm going on a limb, probably has had as good or better a year than those guys.”
It is worth noting that 24 hours earlier Couples would likely have had a much different take on his potential picks, what with part-timer Steve Stricker lingering just on the outside the bubble (No. 11 on the points list) and Spieth reeling from a 1-over 72 in Round 2 in Boston.
But Stricker closed with 67 to finish alone in second place at the DBC and crack the top 10 on the points list, bumping Simpson off the team, and Spieth put on his Monday show.
And then Simpson bogeyed two of his last four holes to lose his head-to-head duel with Zach Johnson, who finished 10th in points, for the final spot on the team and told Golf Channel he was going to go home and nurse a “jacked-up neck.”
To be clear, last week’s second playoff stop was not a Presidents Cup qualifier, to suggest otherwise would be a disservice to the process. It’s also worth noting that Couples’ track record as a captain is relatively clear – he tends to lean toward the established and the status quo when making his picks.
In 2011, he selected Bill Haas at No. 12 on the points list and No. 29 Tiger Woods, an outlier in that “Boom Boom” had told anyone who would listen that he would be picking Woods if he didn’t qualify.
Before Sunday, conventional wisdom suggested the only Jordan in the U.S. team room in October at Muirfield was going to be Michael. But Monday’s coming and goings may have tipped the scales for Spieth, who became the first player since Woods in 1996 to play his way from no status to the Tour Championship in a single calendar.
“Knowing what he had to do, (he) really played very solid, birdieing the last three holes on Saturday to turn a bad round into an OK round and going out (on Monday) and shooting the low score by three or four strokes was a remarkable score,” said Couples of Spieth, who moved to 22nd on the U.S. points list. “So, you know, he’s got a 50/50 chance.”
But then from Couples’ point of view there is something to be said for not fixing what isn’t broken. He is 2-0 as a Presidents Cup captain with the likes of Furyk, Dustin Johnson and Simpson on his team.
“How do you not pick a guy (Simpson) who has been in the top 10 for two straight years here and up until the very last second, he gets pushed out?” said Couples, thinking aloud more so than answering a specific question. “So none of this is easy, but we all have great players to choose from, and it will be a tough decision.”
Now it’s Price and Couples’ turn to sweat and Spieth and de Jonge’s time to sit and wait. Eighteen muddy and muggy holes on Monday seem easy by comparison.
Note: Tune into Golf Channel at 2PM ET, Wednesday Sept. 4 as the captains officially reveal their picks