It hasn’t been the best of days for Jim Furyk.
In a wide-ranging interview with Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte on Sunday, the American Ryder Cup captain described how difficult the past week has been, although he did concede that criticism was always going to be a part of the gig.
“In many ways it’s been tough. I love those guys,” he said. “To hear and read the comments otherwise has been difficult for me as a captain, but also I’ve talked to a lot of the captains and players and received messages that are very positive. That’s helped, but overall it’s been difficult.”
The most noteworthy criticism has been centered on his decision to split up Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, who had been such a formidable pairing in previous Ryder Cups.
Much of that second-guessing has been fueled by Reed, who told the New York Times that he was surprised by Furyk’s decision to pair him with Tiger Woods and not Spieth. Reed also described a “buddy system” when it came to decision making.
Reed, who went 0-2 paired with Woods in fourball play, also criticized Furyk for only playing him twice in the team sessions. “For somebody as successful in the Ryder Cup as I am, I don’t think it’s smart to sit me twice,” he said.
Furyk, however, described a much different exchange that led him put Spieth with Justin Thomas, a team that went 3-1, and Reed with Woods, which he thought would be a “great” pairing.
“That was more of a decision that was made when Tiger Woods went from being a vice captain to a player, to a captain’s pick,” Furyk said. “All the while, kind of keeping an eye on Tiger, he played so well at the British Open, had a chance to win there, he kind of willed himself to a second-place finish at the PGA. It became very apparent that the guys on that team who had qualified wanted Tiger Woods on that team as a player.”
Woods’ ascension to captain’s pick created what Furyk described as an opportunity, with Spieth and Thomas being an obvious pairing and Woods and Reed emerging as a compelling option.
“When I started looking at who [Woods] would pair well with, I kept coming back to Patrick Reed. They had such a great relationship with Tiger as a vice captain and Patrick as a player [on previous teams],” Furyk said. “Tiger has been something of a mentor to him in so many ways. They get along very well, so I thought it would be good for Patrick to have Tiger as a partner, but I also thought Patrick would provide a lot for Tiger as well.”
Furyk said the conversation that ultimately led to the Spieth-Reed split had nothing to do with Spieth, and everything to do with finding a partner that fit well with Woods, who has struggled to find a viable partner throughout his career in the Ryder Cup.
Furyk also dismissed the idea that Reed was "blindsided" by the pairing.
“All four players knew who they were going to be playing with weeks in advance,” Furyk said.
Dealing with divergent personalities is a crucial element of leadership, and it’s clear now that Reed created a particularly unique challenge for Furyk; but the U.S. captain explained a consensus-driven process with no shortage of accountability, for player or captain.
Furyk outlined, for example, why he sent Reed out in the day’s 10th match on Sunday.
“I told Patrick, going out on Sunday, he was in that 10 spot because, statistically speaking, when teams have gotten off on a good roll coming from behind on Sunday, it really seems to fall on that 9-10 spot, statistically,” Furyk said. “Putting Patrick in that position was done for a reason, because I felt like he was the guy we wanted handling that pressure.”
But if his comments to the New York Times are any indication, Reed was only interested in what was best for him.
Reed suggested that the decision to break up what had been a prolific pairing was Spieth’s decision. “The issue’s obviously with Jordan not wanting to play with me. I don’t have any issue with Jordan. When it comes right down to it, I don’t care if I like the person I’m paired with or if the person likes me as long as it works and it sets up the team for success,” Reed said.
Perhaps, but then when you’re a part of a team, there’s also something to be said for doing what’s best for the group. Given Spieth and Thomas’ record, it’s hard to find fault with that pairing.
The next few months will undoubtedly be difficult for Furyk. Still, he doesn't have any interest in sidestepping blame. It is what’s expected from a leader.
Furyk's is a lesson in leadership and how to behave within a team atmosphere. With any luck, that will be Furyk’s final message to Reed, who appears poised to be a mainstay in future U.S. team rooms. What role he assumes, either as victor or villain, is up to him.