While they have had struggles in the Ryder Cup, the same cannot be said for the United States team at the President’s Cup, where the Americans are 7-1-1.
The Americans lost in 1998 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia and the two sides tied five years later in South Africa, as it became too dark to play.
Now, the competition is headed to Dublin, Ohio, at Muirfield Village Golf Club, site of the PGA Tour’s Memorial tournament every year. Competition begins Thursday and ends Sunday. Here is some insight on the American team:
Captain Fred Couples
Fred Couples is in his third campaign as captain of the United States team. The last two campaigns, Couples defeated an International squad captained by Greg Norman. This year will be different as he takes on Nick Price.
Couples is excited to be back at Muirfield Village where he won the Memorial in 1998 by four strokes.
“It’s such a ball striker’s course,” Couples said. “It’s not one that you say, well, geez, I don’t play there because I don’t like it. It’s just a really fun course, perfect greens, always fast. I think weather permitting, if it doesn’t get real windy, it looks okay. There’s a couple things going to happen, but a lot of birdies I think will be made, I really do. There are some holes that are going to make you step up.”
Couples and Price made their Four-Ball match selections early Wednesday afternoon and the American captain noted that there were not many surprises, despite several delays, the longest of which came when pairing Matt Kuchar and Tiger Woods against Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman.
“We were on the ball on a lot of their pairings, which it’s not a rocket science,” Couples said. “They have great players, young players, guys who hit it a long way, and once these pairings came about, we took our time and tried to figure out what would be fun groups to play and as Nick said, his guys are excited. I love a lot of players on Nick’s team just by the way they play, so I like the way they set up against our guys, which means it should be very fun and entertaining.”
Keegan Bradley has won a big tournament in each of the previous two years. This year, the win was absent even though he finished 18th in this season’s FedEx Cup and finished solo second at the HP Byron Nelson Championship – a tournament he won two years ago.
Bradley is friends with Phil Mickelson, constantly being paired in practice rounds with him. That friendship will continue on the course for Four-Balls on Thursday.
“He’s one of my good friends out here, as well as some someone I’m very comfortable playing with,” Bradley. “I know that no matter where I hit it, he’s going to be able to get the ball up and down. We just seem to feed off each other very well.”
They will faced the South African tandem of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel a pair Bradley said was ‘one of their strongest teams’.
The pair of Bradley and Mickelson fared well at the Ryder Cup and the former always loves a good challenge. He will be put to the test again Thursday.
For a man who is known by many on the course to just go about his business, Dufner has a wicked sense of humor reflecting on his friendship with Keegan Bradley, the same man that defeated him at the 2011 PGA Championship.
“He did win the hole outs but I got $27,200 more than he did at East Lake so that’s all I care about,” Dufner said.
Dufner has shown plenty of humor this season as Dufnering his become a trend outside of the golfing world and also made a funny face while Matt Kuchar participated in a web chat for the PGA Tour. What matters most though is that Dufner has pulled through by winning the PGA Championship this year for his first major.
Dufner has not participated in The Memorial for the past few years, and is trying to learn the various nuances of the course.
Much like Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, many want to play with Dufner for a variety of reasons.
“I can keep the ball in the fairways, I can get the ball on the greens,” Dufner said. “It gives the guy who is aggressive more of a green light. I think my demeanor kind of plays into it a lot. I don’t get too emotional out there. I don’t get too high or too low. I think if you talk to a lot of the guys, they realize I’m a pretty good teammate. I support all the guys out here and I want us to do our best, whether that means me being other things to help the team be better, whatever needs to be done this week, it’s about the team here.”
Dufner will be paired with Zach Johnson Thursday for Four-Balls.
It had been since the 2012 Northern Trust Open that Bill Haas had been in the winner’s circle and at the AT&T National the breakthrough happened. Haas was relieved to get the monkey off of his back.
“I can’t even tell you how good it feels,” Haas said. “I was trying to keep my emotions in check out there. It’s so hard to do. You make a birdie, and you’re thinking, oh, I can win this thing, and you have to somehow reel yourself back.”
Haas will play Four-Balls Thursday with Webb Simpson after two years of waiting. Haas had wanted to play with Simpson two years ago in Melbourne, however the latter played with Bubba Watson and the duo flourished.
“The day that he got picked, Webb actually called me and said, ‘Hey, I want to play,” Haas said. “We’ve been talking about it for three weeks, four weeks now, and we kind of said, me and Webb, we went to the same school, we’ve been friends ever since he’s come out here. It’s been fun seeing him become such a good player, and another guy that I think has matured beyond his years. People still forget he’s only 27 years old and won a major and winning multiple times out here.”
The start to Johnson’s week was not ideal and almost got to the point where playing in The President’s Cup was not an option. Johnson was supposed to fly Monday morning with the families of Matt Kuchar and Assistant Captain Davis Love III but was under the weather. Now he is almost at full strength on his road to recovery.
“It’s just a 24-hour bug,” Johnson said. “My body’s not normal, but it’s really close. When I landed here, I was like, okay, I’m ready to go play. It’s amazing how quickly your body can recover from something like that.”
To ensure that he would be well enough to play, Johnson isolated himself from his wife and kids while he slept and rehydrated. Johnson was seen on the grounds later on Tuesday chipping, putting and playing a few holes.
Johnson has been given the green light to play and hopes he can come through for the team. By Wednesday, he felt much better despite a little bit of dizziness.
Johnson plays Four-Balls our Thursday with Jason Dufner and the two have relatively similar on course personalities.
“I like to keep it pretty stoic,” Johnson said. “I like to play what I call ‘amotional’ golf, which essentially has zero emotion, whether I’m playing good or bad, I try not to get too caught up in outcome. As we have witnessed, Jason is a guy that I mean, if I’ve got no emotion, he might be borderline dead. So I think we are a good pairing in that regard, just because we just don’t get caught up in a mistake or even a great shot. We just go out and play, and kind of, you know, the old simple, boring, one shot at a time.”
If this was a final exam, Matt Kuchar would be as prepared as anyone knowing that in May this was a place where he won the Memorial.
“This is a special place to me,” Kuchar said. “I’ve had a great track record here, had some really good results. It’s interesting playing these practice rounds where you feel like you know the course well, just kind of getting a feel. I’m not having to learn. A lot of these team events I’ve played fresh courses, I’ve not played. Most of the homework is done, trying to get a feel out here.”
Kuchar says that despite the change in seasons, the course has not changed as much as he had anticipated. He thought the course would be drier, however that is not the case.
Kuchar will play Four-Balls Thursday with Tiger Woods.
“Certainly I think if you could pick a partner, picking the No. 1 player in the world is a good partner to have,” Kuchar said. “So he’s got a great track record around this place as well. Having him there to count on and rely on, you have got the best player in the world on your back to play with. He’s a great partner to have.”
If this were a baseball contest, Hunter Mahan would be batting leadoff, a position he relishes.
“I always like being first off in these things,” Mahan said. “It’s nice to get the ball rolling and getting out there and enjoy the whole crowd and everything and kind of start hearing the roars and stuff. It’s such a fun event and it’s nice not to have to sit around and watch everyone else go play.
Mahan will play with Brandt Snedeker against Jason Day and Graham DaLaet.
“I played a couple times with Jason last time at the Presidents Cup, so it was a great challenge for us,” Mahan said.
“He’s a great competitor and a great player. Graham being a newcomer, he’s going to be motivated and excited to play. Brandt is going to be fun to play with. He’s a great player, and we had a lot of fun today. It’s going to be fun to be out with those guys and play with Brandt.”
Mahan did not win this year but was a runner up at the Accenture Match Play Championship, tied for fourth place at the U.S. Open, and tied for ninth at The Open Championship.
Phil Mickelson has the most experience of anyone on the team as noticed by the 10 President’s Cup trophies on the back of his golf bag.
“That’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” Bradley said. “That’s 20 straight years, and he’s played on every Ryder Cup Team. That just shows, he’s been one of the most consistent players ever in this game, and I know how much these tournaments mean to him, so for him to play on every one is pretty amazing accomplishment.
Mickelson will play Four-Balls on Thursday with Keegan Bradley and the duo hopes to continue their success.
“Keegan and I are playing well,” Mickelson said. “We’re ready for it and we seem to bring out the best in each other. We had some great momentum at The Ryder Cup last year. We want that to continue, and the only way to continue that is with good play and with good results, so we’ve got to put together our best game tomorrow, because we want to keep the momentum going. It’s not going to be easy.
Webb Simpson was an automatic pick for this year’s President’s Cup until the last week when he was passed by Zach Johnson. Fred Couples knew his first captain’s pick would be the person just outside of the top 10 in the standings and that was Simpson.
Now Simpson, who is nursing a small injury, but is ready to go with his friend and playing partner Bill Haas on Thursday.
“We played a lot of practice rounds together and obviously we went to Wake,” Simpson said. “I didn’t play with him but he was kind of my big brother when I got on tour, really wanted to help me out in whatever I needed so I’ve learned a lot from him, looked up to him a lot and I just thought it would be a great fit. You want to play with a guy that you kind of jive with and get along with for the most part.”
The match will not be easy as Adam Scott winner of the Masters and The Barclays in addition to Hideki Matsuyama.
“Adam has had a great year,” Simpson said. “He played great. Hideki won a few weeks ago, so we’ve got our work cut out for us but honestly I knew before I looked at the pairings that who we were going to be playing was tough.”
It was an interesting year to say the least for Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker started out with four top three finishes in his first four events including a victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Following the victory, Snedeker dealt with a rib injury that affected his timing and meant various inconsistencies. Then towards the end of the year, Snedeker won the RBC Canadian Open before tapering off again. Snedeker did have a great chance to repeat as the FedEx Cup champion but a bad FedEx Cup Playoffs run dropped him to 12th place.
“Graeme and Jason are playing some of the best golf on the PGA TOUR and have been the last two months of the year, and Jason being a hometown boy, it’s going to have an interesting feel out there tomorrow,” Snedeker said. “Hunter and I have our hands full. I feel really comfortable about our chances.”
Snedeker was asked about past history at the President’s Cup and how the Americans have dominated and said that the past needed to stay there.
“We see them a lot and realize how good they’re playing, and these guys are by no means the underdogs they’re trying to make themselves out to be,” Snedeker said. “It’s going to be a very, very close match, and these guys are playing phenomenal golf.
Think The President’s Cup stage is too big for Jordan Spieth? Based on his hole-in-one on the 12th hole during his Wednesday practice round, Spieth is excited and ready to go.
“We had a little match, Tiger and Kuch, me and Steve versus them two,” Spieth said. “It was a 12 hole match. We started on No. 7. We were going to play alternate shot the first six and best ball the last six, and so it was our sixth hole, and Tiger had already hit. I went ahead and hit kind of a smooth 7. I took a little off it, and thought it might be the right club, took a little while to trickle and thought it was going to be about a foot short. All of a sudden it dropped. Everybody’s hands went up, so our arms went up, and it was really cool; a cool environment that we had that many people around.”
Spieth will play Four-Balls on Thursday with Steve Stricker.
“He’s one of the nicest guys around,” Spieth said. “Personality wise, very easy to get along with, very positive. Whenever he hits a bad shot, you don’t really know it. He doesn’t really react, which I think is good for me, because I need to learn how to be a little more neutral like he is. At the same time, what you will be able to see tomorrow, we can both get pretty fired up.”
If anyone was hit the hardest by the Americans’ loss at the Ryder Cup last year, it was Stricker, so much so that he said that it would be his last time on a team. Yet here he is after playing in just 13 events with an average finish just a hair over 11th place.
Stricker who is in a semi-retirement, thought that not playing this many events would mean he would not be on the team. He told Captain Fred Couples that he did not want to be a captain’s pick since he didn’t play a full schedule and it would be unfair to those on the bubble who did. All of a sudden three runner up finishes, a tie for second and three top 10s in the FedEx Cup events he did play and here he is.
“I’m a little surprised to be here,” Stricker said. “Yeah, The Ryder Cup last year left a sour taste in all our mouths I think. Just the way that played out, the way it ended, none of us were very happy about it, or in a good spot. It was a big goal for me all of a sudden at the end of the year to try to make the team on points alone.”
Stricker will be paired Thursday with Jordan Spieth. In Stricker’s fifth President’s Cup, his leadership will be a key cog to the pairing.
“I think we both have the ability to stay in the hole,” Stricker said. “He’s got a good short game, he putts well, he always seems to be in the hole even if he hits it off the green, he’s got the ability to get it up and down and move on. I’m the same way. Our demeanors are pretty similar. He’s a pretty calm, collected guy, and I am, too, and so I think we hit it off in that respect. Who doesn’t want to play with him? He’s been playing great, is a good kid and has a good head on his shoulders. So I’m looking forward to it.”
After a rough end to the season at the FedEx Cup, Tiger Woods hopes to return to a course he has excelled at winning five times. Woods had his struggles at Muirfield this year as he was injured and finished in a tie for 65th. Couples notes that everyone on the team wants to play with Tiger and therefore he may play with different people.
One of those people may be the laid-back Jason Dufner. Dufner and Woods practiced together on Tuesday morning. They are very comfortable with each other and are friends to the point that Woods was seen on the first hole mimicking Dufner’s familiar waggles before swinging.
“You know, I’ve never paired with him, so it would be interesting to play with him,” Jason Dufner said. “We get along pretty well. We played a lot here in the last couple years. I think our temperaments are pretty similar. We’re pretty casual out on the golf course. I think it could be a good pairing and we’ll see if it checks out.”
Woods insists he does not have a preference who plays with him, although he joked that whoever could carry him would be great. Woods had previously been paired with Steve Stricker and the two were fairly successful.
In the short term, his playing partner will be Matt Kuchar. Woods thinks that Kuchar is the funniest player on the team so the match may calm down the world’s top-ranked player.
Echoing host Jack Nicklaus’s sentiments, Woods is a fan of President’s Cup format.
“I think it is fantastic how they do the pairings,” Woods said. “Having the captains do it, puts a little more emphasis on what happens, what the captains’ responsibilities are; it’s not like the Ryder Cup, putting four pairings out there and blindly seeing what happens. There’s a lot of thinking and shuffling going on.”
Kirk Thoma also contributed to this report