The U.S. Presidents Cup Team: All For One & One For All
Posted by: mike October 2nd, 2017
By Jeff Shain
Golf Insiders contributor
Perhaps it didn’t require a task force to get at the center of what ailed the U.S. Ryder Cup team for so many years. It comes down to caring.
Not about winning. No one gets to the top of his profession without caring about success. And in some cases, there’s such a thing as caring too much.
It deals with caring about each other.
If the 19-11 Presidents Cup romp applied by the United States had the appearance of a buddies’ golf trip – well, to a certain extent it was. And leave it to Mr. Task Force himself to explain it best.
“They have a quality that has taken me decades to acquire,” Phil Mickelson acknowledged, “and that is they are genuinely happy for each other’s success.
“That type of support amongst each other – even though they are competing against each other – brings about a really special energy and dynamic to this team.”
Not to suggest the task force was a waste – there’s a continuity to the Ryder Cup process now that no longer feels like it’s reinventing the wheel every cycle. But you can’t manufacture camaraderie.
You could see it in the ease by which Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and the rest carried themselves all week. On a team with five newcomers to Cup play – Ryder or Presidents – you have the potential for a lot of just-trying-to-fit-in.
But Daniel Berger and Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell found a comfort zone. We learned Kevin Kisner’s needle is just as sharp as that of Mickelson or Matt Kuchar. No one was untouchable.
Johnson made that clear when he interrupted Sunday’s quotefest to point out that Spieth is now 0-5 in Sunday singles.
“I've won four of five of these team events,” Spieth countered. “So it is what it is, bud.”
“Golden Child needs a jab every once in awhile,” Johnson quipped.
Pause right there for a second. Twenty years ago, would anyone have referred to Tiger Woods as “Golden Child”? In public, anyway? With him sitting on the same dais?
Of course, it’s easy to joke around when you’re winning big. But the seeds of this were noticeable long before everyone arrived at Liberty National.
We can chuckle at the SB2K17 escapades of Spieth, Thomas and Rickie Fowler in the Bahamas, but you can’t deny they know how to let loose around each other.
More significantly, consider how Thomas and Fowler were among the first to greet Spieth coming off Royal Birkdale’s 18th green after he captured the Claret Jug. Or how Spieth, Fowler and Berger were among those waiting at Quail Hollow to celebrate Thomas’ first major victory.
“These guys are famous for traveling together and having fun together,” said Davis Love III, last year’s winning Ryder Cup captain and one of Steve Stricker’s assistants at Liberty National. “But the thing is they support each other so much.”
That’s what you saw with the nucleus of those dynamic European Ryder Cup teams. Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam were united not only by the Ryder Cup, but an ongoing tussle with the PGA Tour over minimum starts. Different personalities, but they became invested in each other.
Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke provided the bridge from that generation to one featuring Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.
Today, that’s what the new American generation has brought to the table.
“They get along so well,” Stricker said. “They came in here riding a ton of momentum and a ton of confidence. It was just about getting out of their way, really. Put some good pairings together and get out of their way.”
By contrast, it’s an ingredient where the Internationals are sorely lacking – and, considering the team’s composition, might be the toughest to find.
“Players from eight countries were represented on their side,” noted Golf Channel analyst David Duval, “and it’s that much more difficult to form a cohesive team.”
Take out the clusters of Australians and South Africans, and there’s little to bind that roster together. Nick Price came close to engineering the magic as captain two years ago, but his efforts fell flat this time.
“This is a juggernaut of a U.S. team,” Price said. “Every time we had any momentum early on in the rounds, they would shut our momentum down.”
Said Mickelson: “There’s not only a lot of great (U.S.) talent here, but they’re getting the best out of each other. It’s exciting to see and it’s exciting to be a part of.”
A decade ago, Mickelson’s Ryder Cup preparation found him on a different course than Oakland Hills, working in seclusion ahead of a pairing with Woods. Their chemistry was zilch. Elin Woods and Amy Mickelson might have conversed more as they walked alongside the opening match.
And it’s no coincidence that Woods’ best Cup performances came when he was paired with someone around whom he could let down the shields – Mark O’Meara early on, Stricker and Jim Furyk in later years.
No such challenge looms with this American core. Spieth/Reed has become a force, losing just once in 12 Cup pairings (give Tom Watson proper credit for this, BTW). But Spieth also has had success with Johnson, and would feel no less comfortable with Thomas.
Of course, that’s only if Thomas and Fowler were to falter. The Jupiter-area buds went 2-0-1 in their first Cup collaboration, and Ryder Cup captain Furyk would be wise to write in that duo now.
Johnson went unbeaten with two partners – Kuchar in foursomes, Brooks Koepka in bombs-away four-balls. The combinations are enticing.
“We just have so much fun when we come here and do this,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a young team. I think we’re going to be really good for a long time.”
Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.