U.S. players not picky when it comes to pairings

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INCHEON, South Korea – For once, Jay Haas could use some old-fashioned self-absorbed narcissism, the kind of selfishness professional athletes are known for, and the American dozen want no part of it.

For weeks now Haas, the captain of this week’s U.S. Presidents Cup team, has tried to pick the collective’s thoughts on potential pairings for this week’s matches and more times than not the answer has been less than helpful.

“I’m glad he’s asking and I have a bit of a voice, but I would be happy with anyone,” said Jordan Spieth, the highest-ranked player on the team.

Bill Haas, Jay’s son and one of three captain’s picks (including J.B. Holmes who was a last-minute replacement for Jim Furyk), echoed those sentiments. “You’d embrace that pairing, whatever it may be. I don’t think I’d ever look at a pairing and think, you know this doesn’t suit my eye. I don’t think I’d ever say that,” he said.

While that’s exactly the kind of team attitude one would expect from a group that spends 51 weeks a year playing for the proverbial team of one, Captain Haas was looking for a little more insolence when he began polling players for potential pairings.

“To be honest, I look at it as it’s the top players in the world and I’d love to play with any of them,” Bill Haas said. “I don’t really have a preference and that’s not really what my dad wants to hear. He wants everyone to give exactly who they want to play with. He wants to hear what people think.”

Much of that unfiltered feedback is likely coming from Fred Couples, who captained the last three U.S. Presidents Cup teams, and Davis Love III, the 2014 Ryder Cup captain, who are both serving as Haas’ assistants this week.

Previous team history, either at the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup, will also be a guide for Jay Haas, but there are limitations to using past pairings.

Bill Haas, for example, has played in two Presidents Cups (2011 and ’13), but of his five partners in those matches just one, Matt Kuchar, is on this year’s team at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.

Similarly, Spieth went 2-1 at the 2013 Presidents Cup paired with Steve Stricker, who is an assistant on this year’s team, and Jay Haas will likely look to the 22-year-old’s Ryder Cup record to find him a teammate.

“I thought Patrick [Reed] and I had some success in best ball [the duo went 2-0 in that format at last year’s Ryder Cup],” Spieth said. “There’s a chance of [Zach Johnson] or [Dustin Johnson], I’d like to play with any of them.”

Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker also played well together last year at Gleneagles, halving all four team matches and setting the stage for a sequel this week in South Korea.

But the most insight into what Captain Haas may do this week with his pairings could be gleaned from Monday’s tee sheet. Recent captains for both the Presidents and Ryder Cups have used a modified version of Paul Azinger’s “pods” system when crafting pairings and that seems to be the plan this week.

“We’re going to be paired up in kind of like pods in the practice rounds,” Bill Haas said. “If you see practice round groupings you can safely say a lot of those guys will be paired together.”

Monday’s groups in Korea included an early-morning five-some of Reed, Fowler, Walker, Dustin Johnson and Chris Kirk, which given each player’s game and team history was replete with possible pairings.

Holmes, Bubba Watson and Bill Haas were in the day’s second group, a move that could suggest a possible power four-ball pairing of the American bombers in fourball play; and Spieth, Zach Johnson and Phil Mickelson – who joined the duo at the turn – headed out last.

Johnson has a similar demeanor and game as Stricker and would be a potential foursomes partner for Spieth; while Mickelson has been teamed with younger players in recent years and is a regular practice-round partner with Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Walker, who all share the same swing coach (Butch Harmon).

Tuesday and Wednesday’s groupings will likely offer more insight into what Jay Haas has in mind for this week’s matches, but Captain America probably shouldn’t count on much selfish input from his players – at least not this week.