Captains Know Their Roles

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Charles Howell III has never played in a high-profile professional team event. Hes never competed in the World Cup or the Hyundai Team Matches or the Franklin Templeton Shootout.
 
And hes certainly never competed in the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.
 
But that will change come the third full week of November, when Howell will be one of 12 representatives for the United States in the fifth Presidents Cup matches.
 
My No. 1 goal this year was to make the Presidents Cup team, said Howell, who added that there was extra motivation to earn his way to South Africa after Jack Nicklaus was named U.S. captain.
 
I cant think of a better captain to play for than Jack Nicklaus, he said. Thats kind of too good to be true or too surreal, I guess.
 
Nicklaus, who won six Masters titles in Howells hometown of Augusta, Ga., is making his second appearance as Presidents Cup captain.
 
He first did so in Melbourne, Australia in 1998, when the U.S. notched its only defeat in the series. But it wasnt just a loss, it was an uninspired, embarrassing 20 -11 thumping.
 
I didn't know this until it was all over, but a few of the guys didn't want to be there. We had a meeting (at the Memorial Tournament this year) and I said, 'Guys, this will be a trip of a lifetime. But I want 12 guys who want to play golf.' The last time, too many of the guys weren't interested. As a result, we didn't play very well. If somebody doesn't want to go, please don't go. There is no obligation, Nicklaus said.
 
The 2000 edition was contested in mid-December, less than two weeks before Christmas. This years event will take place at The Links Course at Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate in George, South Africa Nov. 20-23.
 
There are many reasons to think the U.S., while not a lethargic as three years ago, will still be less enthusiastic than their International counterparts: they are playing the week before Thanksgiving; they are traveling to South Africa; and they, unlike their opponents, have to play an international team competition every year as opposed to every other year.
 
But it's a matter of pride,' said Nicklaus, who also captained two Ryder Cup teams, going 1-1. 'We should all be proud to be representing our country. I'm proud to be the USA's captain. I think everyone should aspire to make the team and want to play their best. That's all there is to it, really.'
 
And, for the record, only five of the 12 U.S. team members played in the 2002 Ryder Cup.
 
The International team is led by South African legend, and Nicklaus friend and foe, Gary Player.
 
The Presidents Cup is very important in promoting all the great things about South Africa. I think it is very important for our youth, particularly our black youngsters, to have the ability to see someone like Tiger Woods, to see what can be achieved through dedication and hard work, Player said.
 
So The Presidents Cup is definitely the kind of event that South Africa needs and something that South Africans can be proud of.
 
This is Players first time as a Presidents Cup captain; though, he did captain the Rest of The World team in the 2001 UBS Cup.
 
If you win you are a great captain, but if you lose, you're the worst, Player said. I think it's important to bring a sense of camaraderie to the team, make sure that their opinions are incorporated into the team's plans.
 
I've had several meetings with the players and try to keep in touch by whatever means. You know, the captain can do a lot of things for his team, but he never puts his hand on a club in competition. Once they start playing, it's up to them, not me. All I can do is cheer them on.
 
Nicklaus agrees.
 
The only thing I can affect is through morale. I can get guys excited, get them pumped up a little bit. Maybe helping them with the pairings, he said.
 
They are going to pretty much pick the pairings themselves. I will pick to some degree. I can make the trip easier for them. Make sure the wives are well adjusted to the whole deal and they are well organized so that the players are free to work on their games and be together. I can't help them physically. They have to play golf themselves.
 
Aside from their beliefs in the role a captain plays, as well as the mutual respect for one another, the two also share similar thoughts in how to prepare their teams.
 
I think it's very important to see how they are playing at the time. And it's very important to sit down and talk with them about who really likes to play together. You must have their input and not just make decisions on your own. When it comes down to the end, it's my decision but I will have all the players' input to make it, Player said.
 
The big issue isn't whether you are a good captain. It comes down to the team. If they play well, they win. If they don't, they lose. I can't do much about that.
 
Said Nicklaus: The guys will pretty much make the pairings themselves. They know who they like to play with. I don't like putting 'unlike' together. I find if you play a very long hitter with a short hitter, they don't do well together. That's particularly true for Foursomes, but if you are playing Four-ball I don't think it makes a lot of difference. When two guys are paired together, I'm not going to tell them how to play. They'll figure that out among themselves.
 
The Americans are the reigning champions. They won the 2000 edition, 21 -10 , at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County, Va.
 
The biennial event was pushed back a year after the Ryder Cup was moved from 2001 to 2002 following the Sept. 11 attacks.