Even if rankings say otherwise
The job of U.S. Ryder Cup captain is a blessing and a curse, both coveted and thankless. It’s the culmination of a career filled with personal victories and selfless team play. It’s what any firstrate American male golfer wants to be when he grows up and grows old in his sport, even as he shudders to think how it might tarnish his sterling resume.
Jim Furyk, lucky guy, is on the spot this year. It’s his turn to captain the U.S. team in the 2018 Ryder Cup in France at the end of September and try to end an American road losing streak that dates back to 1997.
With three months to go and many decisions to make, Furyk finds himself standing in the intersection of Tiger Boulevard and Mickelson Lane. For all the great golfers in the country who will either qualify for the team or be in the running to be picked, we’re most interested in two guys with a combined age of 90.
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Phil Mickelson, 48, currently ranks 10th on the U.S. list of Ryder Cup points, just outside the top eight who are guaranteed spots on the team but well within the margin of a 12-man squad, for which Furyk gets to make four captain’s picks.
Tiger Woods, 42, isn’t doing so well, ranked 39th due to all his time away from the sport because of several back surgical procedures, yet he’s already going to France as one of Furyk’s vice captains.
So the question of the hour here in late June – which will be the question of the hour until the early days in September when Furyk makes his captain’s selections – is what does Furyk, who himself is 48, do with Tiger and Phil?
His options are numerous yet simple: bring them both as players, bring one but not the other as a player, or pick neither one (with Tiger already assured to be going as moral support). There’s only one acceptable, logical and all-but-certain answer: bring them both as captain’s picks if they don’t qualify on their own. They’re larger-than-life actors in a sport that desperately needs the drama, they’re the only two players who move the needle on the all-important television ratings and they’re both clutch performers on their own with checkered but interesting Ryder Cup backgrounds.
Phil, who has been in every Ryder Cup since 1995, clearly is playing well enough at the moment to justify a captain’s pick, plus he can use all the exposure he can get for his U.S. Open Apology Tour.
And Tiger? As long as he can walk and swing a club, he has to be on the team. Tiger is golf and golf is Tiger. This was
true in 1997 and it’s true today. This is a big problem for the future because Tiger isn’t going to last forever, but right now, if you’re making decisions for the game, you trot him out every chance you get.
Tiger would make things easier on Furyk by winning his tournament in the Washington, D.C., suburbs this weekend
over a weak field, or by getting into contention at the British Open or the PGA Championship rather than bombing out early and missing the cut as he did at the recent U.S. Open.
But even if he doesn’t do that, he’s on the team, and so is Phil. This is such a sure bet, barring injury, that the possibility of their being paired together – a disastrous losing proposition when attempted at the 2004 Ryder Cup – came up Monday on Golf Channel.
“I hope they’re both watching,” Furyk said of Tiger and Phil, “because they just fell off the couch laughing. I wouldn’t guess that would be a good idea as a captain, I’m just saying.” Got it. So that’s one decision down, a hundred more to come for the man who, for the next three months, has the toughest sports job in America.