My plan to captain the U.S. to victory


When I was in college, I declared myself eligible for the NBA Draft. Seemed like a great idea at the time. I’d get invited to all the pre-draft camps, hang out with the next big superstars and probably eat a bunch of free lunches.

There was just one problem: Apparently nobody cared that a 5-8 – OK, 5-7 ½ –power forward from a Division III school who hadn’t played competitive hoops since the seventh grade had declared himself eligible. I received no invitations, didn’t meet any future NBAers and – worst of all – had to keep paying for my own food.

Well, it’s years later, but I’m throwing my hat into the ring once again. No, not for the NBA – although if any team needs an aging sportswriter who still hasn’t played since the seventh grade, call me – but for the role of United States Presidents Cup captain.

I’ll let Fred Couples have this edition of the event, seeing as he’s already in Australia and long ago picked out those fancy team uniforms.

I want the next one, though, and I’ve already got a platform on which to lobby for the position.

First things first: I’m appointing Paul Azinger as one of my assistant captains – whether he likes it or not. You may remember Azinger as the victorious U.S. captain from the 2008 Ryder Cup, who in my opinion revolutionized the way a captaincy should be handled.

Prior to that year, I always believed that the role of captain was akin to that of first-base coach. Slap your guys on the butt, tell ‘em they did a good job and hold their gloves when they take ‘em off.

Azinger changed the game, implementing a pod system borrowed from the Navy Seals that grouped players with similar personality traits as potential partnerships. Sorry, Hal Sutton. That means no more Tiger-Phil pairings.

While I can understand each biennial competition captain wanting to put his own stamp on the proceedings, it’s a travesty that Azinger’s successful strategy has yet to be even partially administered in the three years since that victory.

Next comes the actual pairings. Too often people make the common misnomer that a formidable tandem on one day should again serve as a formidable tandem the next day.

I’ve always been of the belief, though, that foursomes pairings should contain likeminded players who have a certain amount of chemistry and camaraderie, since they are competing together, in the truest sense of the word. Jim Furyk and David Toms, two longtime veterans who get along and have similar talents and abilities, would be a terrific example of a proficient alternate-shot duo.

Meanwhile, fourballs rely less on chemistry and more on strategy. Instead of pairing players like Furyk and Toms, one of them should essentially serve as the steady guy while joined by a grip-it-and-rip-it sort like Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson – each of whom could either make eagle or double-bogey on any given hole.

This year’s team is comprised of six so-called bombers – Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson, Bill Haas, Tiger Woods, Johnson and Watson – and six other ball-strikers – Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Toms and Furyk – though guys such as Haas, Simpson and Mahan can be considered hybrids and therefore eligible to play either role.

Using the pod system implemented by Azinger, each group should include two bombers and two ball-strikers, giving each player one potential partner for foursomes and two for fourballs.

Of course, there’s one caveat to this entire plan, too: If a previously successful team such as Woods and Stricker asks to continually be paired and keeps winning, well, let’s not over think this thing.

Which segues perfectly to the last prong of my pitch: When it comes to singles matches, let the players decide.

One of the few ways the Presidents Cup beats the Ryder Cup is how the matches are conceived. Instead of a blind draw, the format is a snake-style process, not unlike your annual fantasy football draft. This allows captains the opportunity to pose specific positive matchups for their team or try to stay away from negative ones. By using this system, if there’s a player who requests a match against a certain opponent, his captain can ensure it will happen.

Don’t believe that doesn’t occur, either. Six years ago, Couples told then-captain Jack Nicklaus that he wanted to play good friend Vijay Singh. He got not only got him, he beat him, earning a decisive point for the U.S. side.

I’d poll my players on their thoughts about whom they believe they match up well against and where in the lineup they’d like to play. Some guys would prefer to kick things off; others would prefer the role of anchorman. It’s a winning formula – or would be, if I was given the chance to exercise my strategy.

And after it’s all over? We celebrate. The players carry me, their triumphant leader, off the 18th green on their shoulders and we commemorate the occasion well into the wee hours of the morning.

It's even better than being a locked-out NBA player. And if for some unknown reason, the powers that be choose to pick someone else for the role, I’ll just have to go in another direction. Hey, there’s always the Ryder Cup.

Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Thursday 7:30PM-2AM, Friday 4PM-midnight and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)