Bunker Shots Hail to the Chiefs


With the Presidents Cup in strong focus, we set the week’s storylines with American presidents guiding the way.

Norman, Couples lead parade of stars

“We grow great by dreams. All men are dreamers.”  Woodrow Wilson

They were golf’s superstars when Tiger Woods came along.

Nick Faldo might have won more major championships in the pre-Tiger era, but Greg Norman and Fred Couples were more popular.

The Shark and Boom Boom were two of the game’s biggest draws in much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, big hitters with even bigger personas, charismatic presences with movie-star looks.

Norman and Couples step back onto golf’s center stage this week as captains of the International and American Presidents Cup teams.

The Presidents Cup may not have the Ryder Cup’s history or its passionate following, but it has stars galore. Michael Jordan will be more than a spectator at Harding Park this week. He’ll be an honorary assistant captain to Couples. Woods and Phil Mickelson will draw giant galleries.

Though Norman and Couples won’t hit a shot all week, their personalities promise to loom large in the storylines.

It’s a shame, though, that these captains won’t play Sunday singles. They can still summon magic. Norman, 54, nearly won the British Open last year. Couples, 50, tied for third at both the Northern Trust Open and Shell Houston Open this season and also tied for fifth at the Wyndham Championship.

A captains’ match might add some compelling competitive history to their relationship because it’s surprisingly lacking.

Norman and Couples were full-time players in 14 seasons together on the PGA Tour, but it’s as if they competed in parallel universes. In Norman’s 20 PGA Tour victories, Couples never finished second to him. In Couples’ 15 PGA Tour victories, Norman never finished second to him. In all of their years together, they shared a 54-hole lead just once. They were tied atop the leaderboard through three rounds of the 1991 Western Open, but neither won. Russ Cochran charged late to claim the title.

The closest they came to dueling in a PGA Tour event was the rain-shortened Memorial in 1990, when they reached the 54th and final hole tied and Couples handed Norman the title with a double bogey.

In the 67 major championships they played together, Norman and Couples never seriously contended together coming down the stretch. In all those majors, they finished in the top five the same year on two occasions. They each tied for fifth at the ’88 Masters won by Sandy Lyle. Couples tied for third at the '82 PGA Championship, four shots behind Raymond Floyd, with a Sunday 66. Norman tied for fifth five shots back.

Perhaps this Presidents Cup will mark the most serious collision of their parallel universes.

Norman’s bid for re-election

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Teddy Roosevelt

Norman never saw the Presidents Cup as a two-year investment of himself.

He saw it as a four-year commitment. The Shark’s always had his eye on also being the captain when the Presidents Cup is staged at Royal Melbourne in his native Australia in two years, but the PGA Tour has yet to announce those assignments.

“That was part of my discussions with Tim Finchem when he asked me initially to be captain at Harding Park,” Norman told Mark Wood, Tim Rosaforte and yours truly during a Golf World On-Air radio interview earlier this year. “I said, `Tim, quite honestly, if I was ever going to be captain, I was hoping to be captain in my home country of Australia in 2011. Let’s just face reality. If I had a choice, I would rather stand down for the Harding Park Presidents Cup and be available for the 2011 Presidents Cup. We talked about it, and we had very good conversations about it. There weren’t any guarantees, but at the same time 2009 has a good chance of leading into 2011.”

You get the feeling it will be an unpleasant shock for Norman if he isn’t designated to stay on as captain at Royal Melbourne.

A celebrated return to golf is at hand

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln

As far as all the stars on display this week, count Phil Mickelson’s wife among them.

Amy Mickelson’s arrival might be the most celebrated.

Amy is expected to make her first appearance at a PGA Tour event since it was announced five months ago that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Tour wives enjoy elevated status at the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. They’re allowed inside the ropes and are frequently shown on camera rooting or fretting. Amy’s sure to find the camera’s focus often if she does make an appearance.

Amy’s return is good timing. October is breast cancer awareness month.

The heart is a lonely hunter

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence . . . The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge

While Amy’s arrival promises to be uplifting, Norman’s arrival without his wife of 15 months, tennis great Chris Evert, comes with a sad undertow.

With the couple announcing their separation last week, Norman will be without the woman he credited with inspiring his run at winning the British Open last year. It’s only human nature that his players, PGA Tour officials, media and fans will be watching to see how the split affects the captain's spirits. If Norman were actually hitting shots this week, matters of the heart might really matter in the outcome, but he’s not.

Dancing with a Tiger

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”  Thomas Jefferson

Remember when captains couldn’t find a good match as partner to Woods in team events?

It wasn’t that long ago, tour pros appeared lost alongside Woods, consistently failing to deliver their best when paired with him in the Ryder or Presidents cups.

Now Americans are practically jostling in line for the chance to play with him.

Jim Furyk lobbied for the pairing when he played with Couples at the PGA Championship in August. Steve Stricker and Woods talked about how they wanted to pair up this week while they played the Deutsche Bank Championship in September. Sean O’Hair left the Tour Championship wanting to team with Woods, and then there’s Anthony Kim, who has made no secret of his desire to see what he and Woods can accomplish together.

It’s a nice problem for Couples, who was the very first partner to Woods in a Presidents Cup. Couples and Woods teamed to rout Ernie Els and Vijay Singh 5 and 4 in the ’98 matches. Woods, however, went 1-3 with teammates that year, the start of his inexplicably poor start in partners golf. Woods was cumulatively 10-17-2 with partners in his first three Presidents Cups and first four Ryder Cups, but he turned his fortunes around with Furyk at the ’05 Presidents Cup. The Woods-Furyk team combined to go 2-0-1 that year. They’re 5-3-1 as foursomes and four-ball partners in international team competition.

Will Tiger get a rematch?

“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”  Harry S. Truman

Y.E. Yang said he didn’t want a rematch after he defeated Woods to win the PGA Championship in August.

But he may have no choice this week.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup matchups aren’t blind luck. Captains can arrange matchups. Instead of a blind submission of their lineups, the captains get together with one submitting a team, or singles player’s name, and the other allowed to counter with whomever he sees as the best counter punch. The captains take turns doing that.

Fate brought Yang together in their Hazeltine duel in Augusta. Something more contrived appears in order this week.

Unwanted golf vacations ahead

“In the time of darkest defeat, victory may be the nearest.” William McKinley

Angela Stanford won’t get to defend her title at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Mobile, Ala., this week.

The Bell Micro was postponed this year and moved to next spring. The LPGA is off for the next three weeks with play scheduled to resume Oct. 30-Nov. 1 in South Korea (Hana Bank-Kolon Championship), move to Japan Nov. 6-8 (Mizuno Classic) and then hop to Mexico Nov. 12-15 (Lorena Ochoa Invitational) before returning to the United States for the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship in Houston Nov. 19-22.