Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
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Considering that the heavily favored U.S. Presidents Cup team is stacked with highly ranked players, is 7-1-1 in the series and has won the last three Cups by at least four points, captain Fred Couples could have put five or more names in a hat and pulled two as his wild-card selections.
Being in the lovely position in which he couldn’t go wrong, Couples opted against the hat method and announced his picks Wednesday with U.S. themes in mind: 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth, who Couples said was recommended to him by people all over America as well as team members.
“I think this is Jordan Spieth’s time,” Couples said of the only teenager to win on the PGA Tour since 1931, adding, “He’s a kid who can shoot 65 on any given day.”
Personally I would have chosen bomber Dustin Johnson over Simpson, largely because Simpson said Monday that he would welcome time to heal an ailing neck. What’s more, Johnson is a dangerous four-ball player, particularly on a big ball field such as Muirfield Village, and went 3-0 in last year’s Ryder Cup.
But, hey, we’re splitting hairs here. All 12 players on the U.S. team are ranked in the top 28 in the world, favorably compared with five on the International side. The Americans have seven players in the world top 12, whereas the Internationals have but one (No. 2 Adam Scott) in the top 17 and three 50th or worse.
Given that landscape, there’s no need for controversy over the U.S. selections. Couples’ team is so rich that he was able to pass on world No. 15 Jim Furyk, 43, a member of eight Ryder and seven Presidents cups; No. 22 Bubba Watson and No. 23 Johnson.
Leaving off Furyk was tough for Couples, given Furyk’s stature, ranking, Muirfield Village record and PGA Championship runner-up finish. Yes, Furyk faltered at the last Ryder Cup but did go 5-0 at the last Presidents matches, in 2011 in Australia. Hence, Couples said he texted Furyk the news Tuesday night instead of calling because the captain had a hard time handling the situation. He said he would call him after the Wednesday afternoon announcement.
All this is not to say the USA will roll to victory again in the Oct. 3-6 matches because of perhaps the truest golf cliche: Anything can happen in 18-hole match play. At the same time, I feel for guys such as captain Nick Price and stars Adam Scott and Ernie Els because the Internationals have gotten whacked lately and must feel as if they are running uphill into the wind.
I also agree with the proposal that Price, along with Els, made to Tour commissioner Tim Finchem last November that the points be cut from 34 to 28, same as the Ryder Cup. The Presidents Cup needs close competition in order to grow, and fewer points would enhance that possibility. Yet Finchem denied the request, even though nobody wants to watch an event that has a foregone-conclusion feeling to it.
On Wednesday, Price did well with his picks of fellow Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge (70th in world) and Australian Marc Leishman (59th). Even though Leishman had good finishes at the Masters (T-4), Players (T-8) and PGA Championship (T-12), Price said de Jonge was his first choice, leaving a hard choice of either Leishman or veteran Tim Clark of South Africa.
Price said he decided against Clark, a medium-length driver, because Muirfield Village favors long hitters. “It’s the hardest call I’ve ever had to make,” Price said of his conversation with Clark.
De Jonge, at 33, has turned into a good player at all aspects of the game. He ranked 14th on Tour in the all-around statistic and ball-striking. He has parlayed that into top-20 finishes in the first two FedEx Cup playoff events and four top 10s for the year.
“We can debate this from here to eternity,” Price said. “I just felt Brendon and Marc would end up playing Muirfield Village better than Tim.”
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• Couples said Wednesday that all along he was going to take No. 11 in the PC points standings (it turned out to be Simpson). But no one knew that Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship when, in dramatic fashion, Zach Johnson edged playing competitor Simpson for the 10th and final automatic qualifier spot.
Yes, a head-to-head Presidents qualifier broke out in the midst of a FedEx Cup playoff. Here are the interesting details:
Johnson needed to make $29,437 more than Simpson at the Deutsche Bank, and ended up earning $35,152 more. It took every bit of a perfect-storm, four-shot swing on the final four holes. They were tied at 8 under in the tournament entering that stretch, but Simpson made two bogeys coming in and Johnson two birdies, including a closing 27-footer that clinched the final spot.
Interestingly, Simpson knew they were in a close battle, that “every shot counted,” and said it was “hard not to think about it” while playing. On the other hand, Johnson said he didn’t think about the scenario during the round and didn’t play as if he were in a Presidents Cup qualifier.