“How do you not pick that guy?”
But he might as well have been talking about Jordan Spieth. There was no way the popular 20-year-old phenom was going to sit this one out.
Couples announced Wednesday that Simpson (No. 11 in points) and Spieth (No. 22) have been added to the 12-man U.S. team that will look to win next month’s Presidents Cup for the eighth time in 10 tries. The four-day event begins Oct. 3 at Muirfield Village in Ohio.
When finalizing his team, and specifically the Spieth pick, Couples said he received “great help from my team (assistants Jay Haas and Davis Love III), and probably all of the United States and every golfer out there.”
Two years ago, Couples didn’t use one of his captain’s picks on Keegan Bradley, who earlier that year had won both the Byron Nelson and PGA. Bradley turned out to be one of the revelations of the 2012 Ryder Cup, fist-pumping his way to a 3-1 record.
Couples said that decision to leave Bradley off the ’11 team “wore on me a little bit,” and when he spoke to Bradley recently, he told him, “‘Unlike what I did to you not picking you, I’m going with the young guy.’”
So continues the meteoric rise of Spieth, who a year ago was beginning his sophomore year at the University of Texas. He started 2013 with no status on any major tour, but since then he has won the John Deere Classic to become the youngest Tour winner in 82 years, finished second twice, recorded five other top 10s and amassed more than $3 million in earnings.
“I’m super stoked,” Spieth said, “and happy that when I woke up it wasn’t a dream.”
Simpson went 3-2 at the 2011 Presidents Cup but will have to find a new partner now that Bubba Watson didn’t make the team. Enter Bill Haas, another Wake Forest alum and one of Simpson’s frequent practice-round partners.
To Couples, Furyk proved the most difficult omission.
The 43-year-old will miss his first team competition since 1997. He had a 20-10-3 record in the Presidents Cup and was a perfect 5-0 two years ago at Royal Melbourne, but he also hasn’t won since fall 2010. Couples said that he informed Furyk of his decision in a text message Tuesday night, not in a phone call, because, “I just couldn’t handle it, to be honest with you.”
“It was unfortunate for him not to be chosen,” Couples said. “I wanted him on the team badly, but I just felt that Jordan Spieth had an unbelievable year.”
As for the Internationals, captain Nick Price opted for a pair of rookies, Marc Leishman and Brendon De Jonge, to fill out his squad. They were Nos. 12 and 14, respectively, on the points list. Leishman, 29, finished fourth at the Masters and has remained consistent all season, while the 33-year-old de Jonge grew up idolizing Price in Zimbabwe.
“I’ve watched (his career) with close interest over the past four to five years,” Price said of de Jonge, “and he brings consistency. He’s just a wonderful guy.”
Price said that Tim Clark, who was 11th in points, did not get the call in part because of his lack of length off the tee. The diminutive South African, who has played Muirfield Village just once in the past seven years (T-68 in 2010), has missed his last two cuts and doesn’t have a top 10 since May.
“It was probably the hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make,” Price said.
On paper, at least, the Americans would appear to be a heavy favorite. All 12 players on the U.S. side are ranked inside the top 30 in the world rankings; the Internationals boast only five players in the top 30.
Following a 17-all tie in 2003, the U.S. team has won each of the last four competitions by at least three points, including a 19-15 victory two years ago at Royal Melbourne.