Cumberland Times-News

Local Sports

August 27, 2013

Captain's picks may be Presidential problem for Price

NEW YORK — The Americans have a 7-1-1 record in the Presidents Cup, and it looks even more lopsided on paper.

Consider the options of the two captains.

This is the final week for players to earn a spot on the teams before Fred Couples and Nick Price get two captain’s picks.

If nothing changes in the U.S. standings, Couples will have to choose from among Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, if he can persuade Stricker to take a break from his semi-retirement. And that list doesn’t even include 20-year-old Jordan Spieth. Whenever a guy starts a season with no status and is headed to the Tour Championship, odds are he’s playing pretty good golf.

For Couples, that’s a nice problem to have.

International captain Nick Price has a short list that doesn’t resemble a “Who’s Who” as much as a “Who’s That?”

Move past Tim Clark at No. 11 and his choices include Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. There are three Aussies, just not the names you’re used to seeing — Marc Leishman, Brett Rumford and Marcus Fraser. There’s George Coetzee and Brendon de Jonge, both from southern Africa. And don’t overlook Hiroyuki Fujita of Japan, who this year became the only player to miss the cut in all four majors.

What binds them is not the contrived International flag under which they hope to play. It’s that none has competed in the Presidents Cup.

“There’s a lot of rookies,” Price said Tuesday morning.

He wasn’t talking about potential picks, but players already on the team — Branden Grace and Richard Sterne, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan and Graham DeLaet of Canada, who is holding down the 10th spot going into the Deutsche Bank Championship.

The International team has not looked this outmatched since 1998 at Royal Melbourne, the year one of its players (Carlos Franco of Paraguay) tuned up for the matches by going through Q-school. Another (Joe Ozaki) only made the team because his big brother (Jumbo Ozaki) decided not to play.

What happened?

They gave the Yanks their biggest spanking in team competition. It was such a rout that when Price won the clinching point, the staff was still clearing breakfast off the tables in the clubhouse.

“If you look back at Melbourne in ‘98, and the draw in South Africa in ‘03, our guys played their (tails) off,” Price said. “That’s what we need.”

The Presidents Cup needs a new winner, even if that means new faces. It needs emotion, which has been missing since Chris DiMarco ran screaming into the arms of Jack Nicklaus after making a putt on the final hole in 2005.

It needs one of the most distinguished characters in golf breaking a club over his knee in despair.

“That really was embarrassing for me,” Price said.

Yes, that was him.

The Presidents Cup in South Africa was so tight in 2003 that Price knew every point — every half-point — could be the difference. Playing against Kenny Perry, he twice rallied from a three-hole deficit. On the final hole at Fancourt, Price missed a short birdie putt to halve the match and snapped the putter in two as he walked off the green.

No apologies were necessary, though he still offers them.

“A freak reaction,” Price said. “But I’ll tell you what it’s turned into. A guy phoned me from South Africa and said, ‘Tell us about the time you walked off the green and broke your putter in front of (captains) Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.’ It was totally unintentional. But it showed how much I cared.”

Price still cares enough to challenge PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem over the points structure.

Unlike the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup, there are five matches (instead of four) in the team sessions, and thus 32 points available for the week instead of 28. The idea is to have more players on the course. Nice thought, but is this supposed to be like Little League with the emphasis on participation?

Price realizes the Americans have greater depth. Playing for fewer points gives him a better chance for a close contest. Even when the Americans had better players in the Ryder Cup a few generations ago, it always was close because there were fewer points available and Europe could hide its weaker players.

Finchem rejected the proposal presented to him by Price and former captain Greg Norman.

“I understand his thinking,” Finchem said a month ago. “But I think we have a nice history that’s built up already in the Presidents Cup. I increasingly feel like unless it’s broke, don’t really mess with it. And the Presidents Cup has been very, very successful.”

Successful by what measure?

The fact the Americans have lost only once in two decades? That the last three cups haven’t even been close? One more blowout and this will be bordering on a biennial exhibition, if it’s not already.

“I was listening yesterday to the European coverage of their tour, and the guys are already talking about the Ryder Cup next year,” Price said. “Obviously, the Ryder Cup will be there (at Gleneagles). But I wish we could hear that about the Presidents Cup. The only way that’s going to happen is if it’s closely contested.”

Even if that means having players hardly anyone knows.

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