Couples, Price change status quo with captain's picks


Nick Price’s coloring outside the proverbial Presidents Cup lines we get. At 1-7-1 in the biennial title bout, the International captain was under no status quo restrictions in his quest to wrest the rest of the world off the schnied.

In his defense, anyone can have a bad decade or so.

Given Fred Couples’ two perfect turns at the Presidents Cup tiller, however, Captain American’s break from the norm is not so self-explanatory.

For Price, his best hand came in the form of Brendon De Jonge and Marc Leishman, who will be Presidents Cup rookies and have a combined one PGA Tour victory between them.

Although both are solid players, that’s not exactly the U.S. Marines charging to the rescue. But then Price likely figures you can only have bad association with memories when it comes to these matches.

The International side needs something new and maybe Leishman, de Jonge and Price’s five other rookies are the answer. Truth is the hardest part of Price’s decision was calling Tim Clark, a three-time Presidents Cup player and 13th on the points list, to tell him he wouldn’t be making the trip to Ohio this October.

“I really thought he was going to make the team, until Monday I thought he was going to make the team. It was probably the hardest phone call I’ve ever had to make in my life,” said Price, noting Clark’s lack of distance and his less-than-stellar record at Muirfield Village, site of this year’s matches.

For the International side, playing under a single flag has proven to be a challenge and adding Leishman to a lineup that already has two Australians can only build esprit de corps; while de Jonge is something of a protégée of Price’s and as consistent as any in that team room.

“This was the primary goal starting out last year to play for Nick. Nick was everything to us as junior golfers growing up in South Africa. It’s a dream come true,” de Jonge said.

No, what made Wednesday’s announcement newsworthy was Couples’ decision to use his picks on Webb Simpson and Jordan Spieth.

With only a slight amount of hyperbole, Spieth is widely considered the new face of American golf. At 20 years old, super Spieth became the first player since a guy named Tiger Woods in 1996 to play his way from unemployed to the Tour Championship in a single calendar.

On Monday, the young phenom picked apart TPC Boston to the tune of 62 strokes in a round that was punctuated by a birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle finish. He already has a victory this season (John Deere Classic), two near-misses (Puerto Rico Open and Wyndham Championship) and if the Presidents Cup selection process was a one-year cycle he would have easily qualified for Freddie’s squad.

The surprise is that Couples hasn’t proven himself to be a forward thinker when it comes to his picks, but then he hasn’t had the need.

In 2009, he selected No. 11 Lucas Glover and No. 13 Hunter Mahan, skipping Brian Gay in the 12th spot; and in 2011 he picked Bill Haas at No. 12 and No. 29 Woods, although the latter selection was always in the cards.

Despite his stellar season, Spieth finished his run at 22nd on the U.S. points list, which means Couples bypassed the likes of Dustin Johnson (12th), Jim Furyk (13th), Bubba Watston (14th), Billy Horschel (15th) and Rickie Fowler (17th) to get to his September call-up. By any measure, it was a bold, if not utterly justifiable, pick.

“I just felt like Jordan Spieth has had an unbelievable year and he's going to be the next Jim Furyk, he's going to be on Ryder Cup teams and Presidents Cups teams forever,” Couples said.

This is not a question of whether Spieth deserves to be on the team – he does. Nor is Simpson, who was a lock to make the U.S. team on points for nearly two years until an 11th hour miscue on his closing holes at the Deutsche Bank Championship, a surprise.

The surprise, however nuanced, is that Couples felt compelled to break from the norm and give Spieth a “flyer” pick when the safe selection – Johnson or Furyk – would have been beyond reproach. Couples is, after all, playing with house money as a captain.

Maybe in Couples’ subtle way this is his attempt to steady an American team that is as dogged in the Ryder Cup as they are dominant in the Presidents Cup, a home game for Spieth to ease him into a role that will be much more intense in two years in Scotland.

Or maybe Couples simply recognizes Spieth’s ability even at the tender age of 20 to add to the American side. Either way, both captains eschewed the path of least resistance with their selections.

For Price, this was his best move to change the status quo. As for Couples’ decisions, it feels more like a changing of the guard.