Tiger Woods could have sent a very different message Thursday while announcing his captain’s picks for the Presidents Cup.
With Tony Finau, Gary Woodland and Woods himself all seemingly locks for the American team, Captain Woods could have rounded out the squad with the eminently likable Rickie Fowler. He could have opted for a match-play specialist like Kevin Kisner. He could have taken a flier on Kevin Na, gifted a pick to longtime rival Phil Mickelson or even thrown a lifeline to Jordan Spieth.
Instead, Woods made his first winning move as captain. He put aside past differences and did what was best for U.S. teams present and future.
He selected Patrick Reed.
There was ample reason to go that direction, of course. Having worked his way out of a prolonged slump, Reed won a playoff event and has played consistently well around the globe, racking up 12 top-25s in his past 13 worldwide starts. In announcing the pick, Woods focused more on Reed’s passion, raving that his charge is “as fiery as they come.” That he “bleeds red, white and blue.” And that he’s a “great team guy, because when he goes out on the golf course, he’s going to give you absolutely everything he has.”
But with all of that talent comes the baggage, and what would have seemed like a formality a few years ago was complicated by Reed’s controversial comments at the 2018 Ryder Cup that put him squarely in the doghouse.
Reed’s now-infamous interview with the New York Times may have immediately recalled Phil Mickelson’s awkward post-match news conference in 2014, but there were a few key differences. Mickelson’s disparaging remarks were aimed not at his teammates but rather a dysfunctional U.S. system, which started at the top levels of the PGA of America and trickled down to the captaincy. A respected, veteran presence like Mickelson could take the heat, knowing that he had the support of the team room. The ensuing blowback led to the formation of a task force, the Ryder Cup committee, and now a long-term plan built on cohesion and continuity.
Reed, meanwhile, simply went rogue, blaming Spieth for not wanting to play with him, criticizing 2018 captain Jim Furyk for benching him and even insinuating that Woods had apologized for playing so poorly in their two matches together. Reed said the Europeans played without egos better than the Americans ... and then, an hour after the matches, appeared selfish while deflecting blame for his 1-3 performance.
Predictably, those remarks didn’t sit well with U.S. team members, but a huge sports fan like Woods knows how important it is for teams to put aside their petty differences for a greater good. How teammates don’t necessarily have to like each other, but they can coexist while striving for a common goal. Great leaders recognize that, mend the relationships and then develop a plan for the future.
And so, with one pick, Woods squashed that him-against-them storyline. He brought Reed back into the fold with open arms. He signaled to the rest of the group that it's time to move on, that Reed may have made a mistake, yes, but he’s still an important part of Team USA for the next decade. That he still gives the Americans the best chance to win.
The entire U.S. roster, from the assistants to the other 10 players who grew up idolizing Woods, will undoubtedly follow the captain’s lead. Only a living legend like Woods can wield that power.
“The guys are really looking forward to embracing him and being a part of this,” he said.
And Woods made that possible by welcoming back the Americans’ most polarizing star.
That’s the mark of a great leader.