The final analysis is still four weeks away when the last putt drops and Nick Price learns whether his great gambit proves to be the difference between another soulless loss or something much more compelling.
On Tuesday, however, both Presidents Cup captains made a statement about their teams and the way they plan to lead them that says much about what we can expect next month in South Korea.
Both captains toed the line with their first picks, going chalk with the players’ ranked just outside of the automatic qualifiers at No. 11 on their respective point lists in Bill Haas and Steven Bowditch for the International side.
Some may consider Jay Haas’ decision to pick his son, Bill, somehow unseemly, but the truth is no one deserved a pick more than Bill.
Forget his last name and simply examine his last eight months. Haas won the Humana Challenge in January and posted four other top-10 finishes (including a tie for fourth place at The Players). He also has enough experience in these biennial affairs (he’s played the Presidents Cup twice and has a 2-1-1 record in four-ball play) to make him a bona fide “layup” as a pick.
“I’ll be honest, I would have probably picked the 11th person regardless of what his name was,” Jay Haas said.
The same could be said for Bowditch, a late bloomer by any measure who won the AT&T Byron Nelson in May and made a late charge with two top-15 finishes in his last four starts.
Where both front men colored outside the lines was with their second picks. Haas went with Phil Mickelson, a team staple since the beginning of time . . . or something like that, and Price, taking his second turn as the International captain, picked Sangmoon Bae, a solid player with a surreal cloud hanging over his future.
Bae is scheduled to report for mandatory military service in South Korea “after this season.” According to his manager, that means sometime in mid- to late-October and his status on the International team should not be impacted.
“As far as I understand they will speak to the government and I am pretty sure he will be cleared to play,” Price said when asked about Bae’s status.
Although Bae’s selection would appear to be a political gamble of sorts for Price, who did concede he has a contingency plan in place if the two-time Tour winner is unable to play at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea, it seems unlikely the powers that be in Seoul would make such a high-profile statement and not let Bae play.
“It’s important to have someone on the team that the Korean fans and the media could pull for,” Price said.
Haas’ selection of Mickelson, however, doesn’t enjoy the same Teflon firewall. As the American captain pointed out, Lefty has been a member of every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team for the last 20 years and that his leadership will be invaluable.
What Haas didn’t mention is that Mickelson is also the only pick for either team without a victory in the two-year selection cycle and that at 30th on the U.S. point list, the American skipper had to bypass a litany of players who have enjoyed much better seasons.
Haas talked about the importance of experience and backed that sentiment up with his selection of Mickelson, who has never been a captain’s pick in his Hall of Fame career. But the American captain already fields a team that includes Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar who have a combined 31 Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup starts.
“If anyone deserves a pick, it's Phil Mickelson,” Haas said. “He is without question the leader of our team in the team room, on the golf course. The guys on the team were adamant that Phil is the guy.”
Perhaps, but it’s hard to fight the sense that Mickelson’s selection is more of the status quo, and while there is nothing in the history of the Presidents Cup that suggests the U.S. needs to change after having won eight of the 10 matches that have been played, there is a bigger picture.
When the PGA of America uprooted its selection system earlier this year, it was aimed at creating a legacy of winning, a blueprint for future teams and captains. Part of that legacy, by design, is focused on future players and captains.
Haas had an opportunity to build on that legacy and select a young player with an eye toward next year’s Ryder Cup matches and beyond. He could have tabbed Mickelson, a consensus future captain for both teams, to assist this year, alongside Davis Love III.
Instead, Haas went with something comfortable, something familiar in Mickelson. Lefty’s selection likely won’t have an impact on the outcome of this year’s Presidents Cup, that possibility seems destined to hinge on Price’s push to overhaul the event’s format, but it certainly seems like a lost opportunity.