Darren Clarke will lead the European Ryder Cup team against a U.S. squad led by Davis Love III. Well, Love hasn’t officially been trotted out as the 2016 captain. That will occur next week in what will amount to the most anti-climactic news conference since Tom Brady distanced himself from Deflategate.
Essentially, the only mystery that remains is why Fred Couples didn’t get his turn at the American helm? Or, in more esoteric terms, what is a “PGA of America guy?”
The notion took root last November when Couples was asked about his chances to captain the next U.S. team, “You know, I’m not a PGA of America guy.”
On Tuesday, in the wake of Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte’s report that Love will be named the ’16 captain next week, Paul Azinger – who along with Couples appeared to be the front-runners for the next Ryder Cup gig – told GolfChannel.com, “If true, Davis is an excellent choice for many reasons. He’s still connected to the players. He was very prepared and thorough in 2012. He’s a PGA guy as well.”
Needless to say, there is no formal definition of a “PGA guy.” One longtime PGA insider pointed out that Love’s father was a well-respected member of the association for years and that Couples perhaps wasn’t as detailed-oriented as the PGA would like.
Historically, being a “PGA guy” was generally described as a player in his early 50s with numerous appearances in the Ryder Cup who had won a PGA Championship, although there are numerous exceptions to that including, most recently, Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin.
Azinger, the last American captain to win the Ryder Cup in 2008, fit that description. Ditto for Love.
But that rough outline has just as many glaring exceptions. Most notably Larry Nelson, who won the PGA Championship twice, compiled a 9-3-1 record in three Ryder Cup appearances and was arguably the most-qualified potential captain to lead the U.S. side considering his status as a U.S. war veteran.
According to Nelson, he was in line to captain the 1995 American team but Lanny Wadkins suggested that he should lead the squad at Oak Hill in New York and Nelson would take his turn in 1997 in Spain.
“That to me was a done deal,” Nelson said in December 2012. “I assumed everyone would be good to their word and I would captain in ’97.”
Nelson never got the call for ’97 – Tom Kite did – or any other year.
Conventional wisdom suggests Mark O’Meara isn’t a “PGA guy” either, likely because of his involvement in the 1999 pay-for-play coup regarding the Ryder Cup which led to the PGA giving $200,000 to players to donate to a charity of their choosing.
O’Meara, who has won two majors and has 16 PGA Tour victories, has been bypassed by the likes of Lehman (one major and five Tour titles) and Pavin (one major and 15 titles). O’Meara also has more starts in the biennial matches than Lehman or Pavin, but none of that seemed to matter under the old system or, seemingly, the new structure.
Previous captains were chosen by a group of PGA executives with input from past captains. The new system, born from the 11-member Ryder Cup task force, was supposed to be different.
The task force – which included past captains (Lehman and Love), PGA executives and current players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler – was billed as a chance to create a new legacy for the U.S. side.
There has been much talk about creating a succession plan for future captains and getting the current players invested in a winning formula, much like the format used for years by the European side.
“A decisive game plan is what we need to have,” Love said in early December after the task force’s initial meeting.
But that plan also seems to have remnants of a status quo of sorts.
Azinger, who was championed by Mickelson to return as captain following last year’s Ryder Cup loss in Scotland, told PGA officials he wasn’t interested in being captain again because of various “personal and business” reasons. Azinger also suggested Love, who was clearly a popular choice among the active players on the task force, but that still doesn’t completely explain why Couples didn’t get the nod.
According to one source close to the meetings, at least three players on the task force said that Couples “needed to be the guy” and in November the three-time Presidents Cup captain – a resume boost which some have suggested actually hurts a potential Ryder Cup captain’s bid – said he received numerous texts and phone calls from players saying “We need you to do this.”
Instead, the task force came up with Love, who was without a doubt a wildly popular captain with a Type A personality perfectly suited for the job.
He’s also a “PGA guy.” It seems some things never change.