Notes: Clark relishes spot as Prez Cup assistant
MELBOURNE, Australia – This is not the vantage point he expected for this Presidents Cup, not with a stirring victory at the 2010 Players Championship fresh on his resume and so many solid PGA Tour seasons in the bank.
But it’s the hand he’s been dealt, and Tim Clark is OK with that.
“I offered my services . . . and I’m very excited to be down here,” said Clark, 35, who in a perfect world would be playing for the International Team for a fourth time. Unfortunately, he’s still recovering from a serious elbow injury that has kept him sidelined since he withdrew while defending his Players Championship title in May.
It was around that time when Clark called International Team captain Greg Norman and said, “ 'I’m out,' just so he knew and could be looking at others.” A short time later, Norman called Clark and offered him a spot to be a captain’s assistant. It makes perfect sense, given that the diminutive South African is hugely popular with International players and widely respected for the way in which he competes.
Surprisingly, Clark isn’t itching to play, but that’s because the reality of the situation is something he’s come to accept.
“I’m pain-free,” Clark said when asked the good news.
But the bad? He shrugged. He rolled a few putts at Royal Melbourne on Tuesday, but he hasn’t been able to hit balls at all. Doctors told him to give it four months and because he’s now at 15 weeks, he figures he’ll start doing that next week when he’s in South Africa to visit his parents.
If all goes well, he hopes to get into practice mode in late December and return to competition sometime in February on the West Coast. But it’s all so tentative now “because I’ve got to get muscle back” in the right elbow.
On the bright side, one positive note to all of this is the time Clark has been able to spend at home with wife Candy and their first child, Jack, who was born April 1. Clark’s parents will be seeing Jack for the first time next week.
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HE’S HAD HIS PHIL: Players are trained well to keep quiet in the days leading up to these team competitions. No one wants to spoil the surprise and fun of seeing who plays with whom, but Dustin Johnson wasn’t afraid to make one thing clear: “Me and Phil (Mickelson) will not be playing together this week.”
Johnson made that pronouncement Tuesday, a full day before captain Fred Couples revealed his lineup for the opening foursomes matches. (True enough, Johnson will not be with Mickelson; his partner in Thursday’s foursomes will be Matt Kuchar.)
Twice at last year’s Ryder Cup loss in Wales, the heralded pairing of Mickelson and Johnson went down to defeat: 3 and 2 in fourballs to Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, 3 and 2 in foursomes to Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher. Stunning results for the powerful Americans who had spent months playing together in practice rounds at PGA Tour tournaments.
Then again, most of those practice rounds involved money games against each other, and Johnson concedes, “We do better playing against each other than with each other.”
It’s a big week for Johnson’s psyche, because he was 1-3-0 in the Ryder Cup last fall.
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FINALLY, THEY’RE HOME: They are well aware of their futile record in this biennial competition (1-6-1), but the Internationals are finding comfort in the fact that it’s a true home game. Ernie Els pointed out that five of the previous matches have been held in the U.S. and another was in Canada, so “this really feels like a home match because it’s quite a way out of North America.”
The only bright notes for Els’ side were victories here at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and a tie in South Africa in 2003.
“We feel like we’re on a home base here, and we want to take advantage of that,” Els said.
That thinking might have played into captain Greg Norman’s first-day pairings for six foursomes. Perhaps in anticipation of the rabid Australian fans getting behind their countrymen, it’s interesting to note that Norman has spread out his six Aussies in four matches. Australia's Geoff Ogilvy will go No. 2 alongside South Africa's Charl Schwartzel; the third pairing has Aussies Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day together; Australian Robert Allenby goes with South African Retief Goosen in the fourth match; and in the anchor spot, Aussie Adam Scott will be with South Korean K.J. Choi.
“You put an Aussie in one group, they are going to be going, ‘Oi, Oi, Oi,’ so I don’t have a problem with that,” Norman said.
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HE’S ‘COACH,’ NOT ‘DAD’: Jay Haas is on his second go-round as Fred Couples’ vice captain, but when he looks down the American team’s lineup, he has to pause a bit when he comes to Bill Haas, the youngest of his two sons.
“Usually when I’m at a tournament, I’m just watching him play, but I’m not spending time with him at night,” Jay Haas said. “So this is different. I’m riding the bus with him, having dinner with him. But it’s been easy to treat him like one of the players, because I’ve always tried to just let him be his own man.”
Though he played on two Presidents Cup teams, Jay Haas tells a story about his second time on the Ryder Cup team to which his son can relate. It was 1995 at Oak Hill, and Jay Haas hadn’t been involved in the Ryder Cup since 1983. Though he was 41 at the time, “I felt like a rookie.”
When he walked out to the first tee for his first match that Friday, Haas was blown away at the size of the crowd, the roars that shook the ground and the overall scope of things.
“I hadn’t seen the grandness of the (Ryder Cup),” Jay Haas said, explaining that at his first appearance, in 1983, things were so much smaller.
“It’s good for Bill because he’s heard me tell that story. I think it has helped him get ready for what he’ll face this week.”
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BAD BLOOD GETS PUT ASIDE: Els has long since come to grips with the fact that a natural rivalry must be tabled for the sake of this Presidents Cup.
“It’s not too often when Australians and South Africans actually play together,” Els said. Then he smiled and added: “It’s kind of nice.”
Bitter rivals in sports that tie their nations – rugby and cricket – there’s been a mixed bag of results of late.
“I’m still a little pissed off about the rugby,” Els said, referring to Australia’s 11-9 quarterfinal victory in the recent World Cup of Rugby, “(but) cricket made up a little bit.”
Indeed, Australia’s abysmal performance in a cricket Test Match in South Africa has had the local press in a lather, all of which proves that Els isn’t the only one passionate about these other sports. But he said it all gets put aside for the sake of golf team unity.
“We give each other quite a hard time away from the course, which is great,” Els said. “Everybody’s got a pretty good sense of humor. It’s just fun.”
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A LEGEND WRITES: It was 13 years ago when the U.S. traveled to Royal Melbourne for the third edition of the Presidents Cup and suffered a humiliating 20 1/2 - 11 1/2 defeat. The man who captained that American team, Jack Nicklaus, used that as a point of reference in a letter that he penned to this year’s members.
“He reflected (on 1998) and was excited for our chances,” Kuchar said. “That was nice. Any time you hear any sort of comment from Jack Nicklaus, you’re pretty excited.”
As for what Nicklaus said, Kuchar indicated the icon went right to the point.
“He wrote, ‘We weren’t very prepared last (time) and got it handed to us, but if you do a good job of preparing, I’m sure it will be a great competition.’ ”
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LESS GOLF, MORE FUN: Though disappointed to have missed the cut at last week’s Australian Open, Kuchar put the extra time to good use. He and his wife, Sybi, their two children and other family members got to see more of Australia.
“We sometimes come to these events and don’t get a chance to really see where we are,” Kuchar said. “It was kind of nice to have a Saturday (to ourselves). We took a ferry over to Manly (Beach) and had a good day.”
The Kuchars got to Melbourne early, walked around to see the city and even took advantage of the chance to play tennis at the Kooyong Lawn Club, the “spiritual home” of Australian tennis.
Kuchar has good memories of Australia. He made his professional debut at the 2000 Australian Open at Kingston Heath, birdied his first hole and went on to finish joint 31st.