Oh Captain My Captain

By Rex HoggardOctober 6, 2009, 12:52 am

Presidents CupATLANTA – Kenny Perry wrinkled a sweaty brow and pondered the question for a pregnant moment. The three-time Presidents Cup and two-time Ryder Cup player has seen it all by way of captains, from the controlled chaos Paul Azinger delivered last fall to the relaxed swansong of Arnold Palmer at the 1996 Presidents Cup, yet there was no way to put a Twitter (140 characters or less) bookend on a Fred Couples’ captaincy.

“I haven’t got a feel for this,” Perry said during last week’s Tour Championship. “I don’t know how he’s going to do it. I think it’s going to be a very loose atmosphere in the clubhouse. I don’t think it’s going to be too much stress.”

Stress-free seems to be the consensus among American players bound for Harding Park and this week’s international grudge match. But then a life choice is no way to continue the American dominance of the biennial matches (the U.S. leads the series 5-1-1), not even with the Tour’s quintessential iconoclast at the switch.

Fred Couples
Fred Couples has a 9-5-2 career record as a player in the Presidents Cup. (Getty Images)

In many ways, Couples has played by the traditional captain’s playbook. His picks (Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan) were safe and all but dovetailed with the current points structure (Glover was 11th while Mahan was 14th), particularly when compared with International captain Greg Norman’s selection of an off-form Adam Scott and a Japanese teen sensation (Ryo Ishikawa) with a limited American resume.

Couples did rock the boat with his selection of NBA great Michael Jordan as an assistant captain, but even that was not groundbreaking considering MJ’s regular appearance in team rooms from The K Club in Ireland to last year at Valhalla.

“As relaxed as (Couples) looks he wants to win that thing. That’s why he has Jordan, someone that great,” Hunter Mahan said.

Most players agree Couples’ captaining style will likely fall somewhere between that of master tactician Azinger, whose psychological profiles and “pods” system produced a spirited victory at last year’s Ryder Cup, and Jack Nicklaus’ laissez-faire style at the 2007 Presidents Cup.

“In between (Azinger and Nicklaus), but probably a little closer to Jack,” said Mahan, who was also a captain’s pick for Nicklaus in 2007 and went 2-3-0. “I don’t know if he will use the ‘pods’ system or not, but I think (Couples) is going to learn from Paul.”

In many ways Couples – an individual enigma much of his career dogged by health issues and a melancholy wrapper that has been confused for decades for indifference or worse, professional detachment – has spent the last 20 years preparing for his current role.

In nine Presidents (four) and Ryder (five) cups, Couples has played for virtually every genre of captain – from the oligarchy of Lanny Wadkins at the 1995 Ryder Cup to Hale Irwin, the taskmaster of the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994. But it may be his two terms playing for Nicklaus that will define Couples’ captaincy.

In 2005 Nicklaus picked a slumping Couples and he delivered a crucial Sunday single’s victory over Vijay Singh to help lift the United States to victory. Seven years earlier in Australia, Couples found himself partnered with Tiger Woods. The duo went 1-1-0, but the United States still suffered its only loss in the matches despite Nicklaus’ best efforts.

“The best thing for me is all the captains (I’ve played for),” Couples said. “I've taken a lot from Ray Floyd and been on Arnold Palmer's team in the Presidents Cup and Jack Nicklaus. I get eight guys where I take a little bit, a little there. Paul Azinger, he did a phenomenal job.”

Unlike Nicklaus in 1998, Couples will enjoy something of an embarrassment of riches in the experience department. At Royal Melbourne, the U.S. side had four rookies, including Woods, while next week there will be only two rookies, and neither Anthony Kim (2-1-1 at last year’s Ryder Cup) nor Sean O’Hair (who finished T-8, fourth and third in his last three starts) can be considered liabilities.

Perhaps the biggest decision a U.S. captain must make is who gets paired with Woods, but at East Lake there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers. O’Hair and Jim Furyk were both mentioned by the world No. 1 as a potential partner and Kim has made it clear he covets the high-profile pairing.

But then, not even the annual pairings prognostication can compare to the unknown that has defined the early stages of a Couples’ captaincy.

“Well, it’s going to be fun,” Woods said. “I can’t wait to listen to him, his speeches and see where they’re going to go. When they start off one way, they never end up there.”

In many ways, the early part of Couples’ captaincy has mirrored that of his career, which spans nearly three decades and includes 15 Tour titles and a Masters green jacket.

What his players do know about their captain is that a “Cliffs Notes” once over of Couples’ career misses the most important points. Lost amid the syrupy swing and cool exterior is the heart of a competitor who, like Azinger before him, has been forced to overcome a series of injuries and delivered on the game’s biggest stages. The difference between the two is that Couples doesn’t wear his passion or articulate that drive as well as Azinger did.

“Freddie to me is kind of aloof, kind of out there,” Perry said. “He’s just a loose cannon. You never know what’s coming out of him.”

The only certainty with this captain curiosity is a desire to win, and that may be all that matters.

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USC's Gaston leaves to become head coach at A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.

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Just like last year, Spieth in desperate need of a spark

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Jordan Spieth has arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a turnaround. Again.

Spieth’s playoff victory last year over Daniel Berger, complete with a bunker hole-out and raucous celebration, went down as one of the most electrifying moments of 2017. It also propelled Spieth to some more major glory, as he won The Open in his very next start.

So it’s easy to forget the state of Spieth’s game when he first stepped foot on the grounds of TPC River Highlands a year ago. Things were, quite plainly, not going well.

He was struggling on the greens, even going so far as to switch putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He then failed to contend at Erin Hills, only netting a T-35 finish thanks to a final-round 69 that came hours before the leaders teed off.

So here we are again, with Spieth in search of a spark after a series of underwhelming performances that included last week’s effort at Shinnecock Hills, where he bogeyed the last two holes of his second round to miss the cut by a shot. Except this time, the climb back to the top may be even steeper than it was a year ago.

“I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now,” Spieth said. “If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming. But the last couple weeks I’ve played Muirfield and then the (U.S.) Open, and I hit the ball really poorly and didn’t give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work.”

While many big names play sporadically in the time between the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth remained as busy as ever thanks to the Tour’s swing through Texas. So even after failing to contend much in the spring outside of a memorable finale in Augusta, and even after struggling for much of his week at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth looked out at his schedule and saw a myriad of possible turning points.

There was the AT&T Byron Nelson, played in his hometown and at a venue on which he was one of only a handful with any experience (T-21). Then a trip across town to Colonial, where he had beaten all but two players in a three-year stretch (T-32).

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Throw in the missed cuts at Muirfield Village and Shinnecock Hills, and Spieth has made it to the last leg of a six-event stretch that has included only one off week and, to date, zero chances to contend come Sunday.

“I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and try not to do too much,” Spieth said. “I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournaments the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I’ve had too much to do from here on.”

That was certainly the case last week on Long Island, where Spieth’s hopes for a fourth major title evaporated well before course conditions became a focal point over the weekend. He was 4 over through his first two holes and spent much of the next 34 stuck in a fit of frustration. He gave himself a glimmer of hope with four late birdies Friday followed by a pair of bogeys that snuffed it out with equal speed.

Spieth has continued to preach patience throughout the year, but there’s no getting around some eye-popping stats; he's 188th on Tour this year in strokes gained: putting and 93rd in fairways hit. It can foster a pressure to find a cure-all in any given week, especially given how quickly he got a middling summer back on track last year.

“It’s something that you fight, sure,” Spieth said. “It’s been that way just about every tournament except Muirfield, because then you go to the U.S. Open and think you don’t even have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament. So as much as that kind of comes into your head, it’s not bothering me this time. I’m going to try and have fun, and make progress.”

After this week, Spieth will have some down time with family before making the trip overseas to Carnoustie. He plans to have a few private dinners accompanied by the claret jug, one last toast to last year’s success before turning the trophy back over to the R&A.

But even Spieth admitted that as it pertains to his chances to follow in Brooks Koepka’s footsteps by successfully defending a major title, he’ll be greatly aided by working his way into the mix this weekend. It represents the last chance in this early-summer swing to get his name back on the leaderboard, an opportunity to light fire to a pedestrian campaign like he did a year ago.

No pressure.

“It’s your basic stuff that sometimes gets off, that the harder you try to get them back on sometimes, the worse it gets,” Spieth said. “It can be frustrating, or you can just kind of wait for it to come to you. I think I’m OK with where things are, whether it’s the rest of this year or next year. I feel like there are good scores coming.”