Ryder Cup task force gets 'players' captain' it wanted

By Rex HoggardFebruary 17, 2015, 1:15 am

Two days after the last U.S. Ryder Cup task force meeting in San Diego earlier this month, Fred Couples, who is not among the 11 task force members, summed up the mood of the meetings.

“I honestly think the next guy they choose will be someone the players want,” Couples said.

Couples revealed that he’d already had a conversation with PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua about the vacant Ryder Cup captaincy and he planned to talk to the association’s president, Derek Sprague, within a few days.

That meeting doesn’t seem likely to happen now. Or, if it does it will be short.

According to Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte, Davis Love III will return to captain the U.S. team in 2016 at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

There is no question Love is the quintessential “players’ captain.” Remember, this is the same man who received almost universal support from the rank-and-file after the team blew a four-point lead heading into Sunday singles in 2012.

When Love was criticized for sitting Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley on Saturday afternoon at Medinah, Lefty was the first to step to his captain’s defense.

“You cannot put that on him; if anything, it was me,” Mickelson said in 2012.

When Jim Furyk was asked on that Chicago night about his single’s loss to Sergio Garcia, he was just as adamant.

“I've got 11 guys, I've got a captain, I've got four assistants that I know will pat me on the back; that know how I feel, understand how I feel. You know, we came here as a team. We wanted to win the Ryder Cup as a team, and we didn't do it, but we are going to leave here in the same fashion,” Furyk said.

Without dredging through fresh wounds, it’s safe to say last year’s captain, Tom Watson, didn’t enjoy the same level of support, which goes a long way to explaining why the PGA seems bent on giving Love a match-play mulligan.

While Couples and Paul Azinger seemed to be the clubhouse leaders to captain the next U.S. team, given the intensity of the last few task force meetings, in retrospect it’s easy to make the leap to Love to lead the next American squad.

But what also can’t be ignored is Love’s own emotions regarding the biennial matches. This is, after all, the same man who didn’t want to be involved in the last matches because of the bitter Medinah memories he would represent.

“After Wales (2010 Ryder Cup), I said I’d be an all-time assistant captain,” Love said in September. “I’ll do whatever you guys want me to do. If they said come open boxes in the storage room I’d do it, because it’s fun. [But] sitting out in front and doing all that part, I enjoyed it but ...”

It’s also worth pointing out that Love is currently in the running for chairman of the PGA Tour’s Players Advisory Council, a position that will lead to a three-year term on the policy board if he’s elected.

Never mind that if elected to PAC chair Love will be 54 years old by the time he is finished serving or that it will be his fifth term on the policy board. When asked about his nomination at Torrey Pines earlier this month Love explained that he felt it was his duty to serve on the board to help ease the transition to a new Tour commissioner, which seems likely to occur next year.

It’s not a stretch to see this most recent news in a similar light. The PGA of America needs results and Love likely feels an obligation to provide .  . well, redemption.

Love was clearly the players’ choice, but for everyone else outside the circle of “11,” he will be a curious selection. Following months of meetings and media scrutiny, the PGA decided its best option was to circle back around and give Love a second act.

The task force was supposed to provide answers. The task force was intended to create a blueprint for future success. Instead, the “11” dusted off the status quo and created a succession plan.

Your scribe covered Love’s first captaincy extensively. It was an intense two years of detailed planning, which was perfect for Love’s Type A personality. His match mea cupla will be no different.

What changes this time will be the scrutiny. The golf world expected something dramatic, something revolutionary. Instead, they got something borrowed and bruised.

Love was a very good captain in 2012, but we just don’t know if he can do any better and, make no mistake, the scrutiny this time around will be much more intense.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”