Golf

Spieth for Cup team an ace by Couples

Phil Mickelson congratulates Jordan Spieth on shooting a 62 in the final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC of Boston.
'Dude, you've got to pick this guy,' Phil Mickelson (l) said of Jordan Spieth (r).
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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Jordan Spieth is a 20-year-old PGA Tour rookie.

And, now, a bold Presidents Cup captain’s pick, for which he is “super-stoked.”

Freddie Couples is being lauded as a visionary for deciding Wednesday to use one of his two choices for next month’s competition on a kid who not only says “super-stoked,” but who started the year with no status on any Tour.

But the truth is, Couples could’ve chosen his buddy Michael as the team’s Jordan and it wouldn’t have mattered.

The Presidents Cup will be a feel-good slaughter for the United States, the perfect antidote for a team still stinging from the ignomy of being buried on home soil by the Europeans in the Ryder Cup last year.

Nick Price’s Internationals — with three PGA Tour wins among them over the past two years, compared with 31 on the U.S. side — will be happy to avoid a record defeat in what is already a one-sided competition.

The PGA Tour is hoping to cash in on its version of the Ryder Cup. Since its inception, the U.S. has gone 7-1-1 and never lost on home soil.
If the lopsided world rankings are to be believed, that’s not changing.

So with the outcome not in doubt, why not throw Spieth — who’s as hot as anyone not named Henrik Stenson — into the mix at Muirfield Village?

Couples is a creature of habit. He and Tiger’s caddie, Joe LaCava, were together for more than 20 years. And, be sure, it killed Couples to leave his old friend, Jim Furyk (whose wife, Tabitha, is from Columbus) off the team.

Furyk’s been on every U.S. team in both Ryder and Presidents cups since 1997. He was the only player to go undefeated — 5-0-0 — at the last Presidents Cup, two years ago at Royal Melbourne.

But the veteran’s fate was sealed not just by his slipping reputation: the bogey-bogey finish last month at the PGA at Oak Hill, the late collapses last year at the U.S. Open, Bridgestone Invitational and at the Ryder Cup.

Furyk’s obituary may well have been written by Phil Mickelson, when he sent Couples a text after playing with Spieth on Monday in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.

“Dude, you’ve got to pick this guy,” Mickelson wrote.

Spieth had finished birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle at TPC Boston on his way to shooting 62 and a tie for fourth. The University of Texas product has a win among eight top-10 finishes, just too strong a debut to ignore.

Given that Couples was always going to pick the 11th man on the U.S. points list — in this case, 2011 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson — then the final spot came down to a choice between the past and the future.

PGA TOUR WIN LEADERS

Collecting trophies is a habit of Tiger Woods.

And Couples decided to look ahead.

“(This) is not a slight on Jim Furyk,” said Couples. “He just didn't make it. He's been on every team that I've ever been on, and I wanted him on the team badly.

“But in this instance I just felt like Jordan Spieth has had an unbelievable year and he's going to be the next Jim Furyk. He's going to be on Ryder Cup teams and Presidents Cups teams forever.”

And on that score, Couples has done a huge favor to Tom Watson, who will lead the Americans in next year’s Ryder Cup.

Spieth may have been undefeated two years ago in the Walker Cup, which pits American amateurs against those from Britain and Ireland, but it’s different at this level.

Players need to get accustomed not just to the format but to the dynamics of team play — of what it’s like not only to rub shoulders in the team room with boyhood idols like Tiger Woods or Mickelson but to be prepared to do battle alongside them without being like the proverbial deer in headlights.

Spieth unquestionably will feel more comfortable next year at Gleneagles where the U.S. will be Ryder Cup underdog and need to scratch for every point because of his Presidents Cup experience.

Furyk wasn’t the only big name passed over on Wednesday.

Couples also overlooked three players who a year or so ago were being touted as American mainstays for years to come.

For Dustin Johnson, this snub should serve as a wake-up call. He’s the most prodigiously talented athlete in golf, but he needs to understand that talent alone is not enough.

Johnson started the season with a win in Maui at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions but has blown hot and cold since. His indifference saw him fall to no. 12 on the U.S. team points list.

Interestingly, of the many photographs Paulina Gretzky posts on Instagram of her beau, none of them are of him practicing on the driving range. Perhaps there’s a lesson there somewhere.

Bubba Watson has also been left off the team and, as in Johnson’s case, for good reason. He’s had one top-10 finish in a stroke-play event since January.

His inclusion couldn’t be justified. Nor could Rickie Fowler’s, given that he’s fallen to 17th in the U.S. point standings.

And that, perhaps, is the other lesson of the coming of Jordan Spieth.

Reputations, friendships, Q-ratings, experience, age, past glories don't matter as much as the numbers on your scorecard.

Tagged: Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Tom Watson, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson

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