Golf

Couples proves worthy Ryder Cup captain

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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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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

In three years, the United States will play Europe in Scotland.

By then, it will have been 21 years since an American team has lifted the Ryder Cup on European soil.

If the PGA of America is serious about breaking that drought, Fred Couples will lead them into Gleneagles.

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History says that captaining a Presidents Cup team automatically eliminates him from the running, such is the enmity between the PGA, which runs the Ryder Cup, and the PGA Tour, which created the Presidents Cup to rival it in 1994.

The politics need to change.

Couples has proven his worth, first winning in San Francisco two years ago and now bringing an underdog to Royal Melbourne and avenging the Americans’ only loss in the Presidents Cup, here in 1998.

“The best thing I feel great about is our team won in Australia on away soil, which is a demanding task,” Couples said after his team's 19-15 triumph on Sunday.

He may be an unconventional leader, but his relaxed demeanor, willingness to listen to his players and distaste for over-analyzing isn’t just not a liability, it has proven to be the secret to his success.

“I’m the captain, but we are a team — all day long, all week long,” Couples said.

"I didn't want to lose."

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He may be, as he freely admits “not serious” and “loosey-goosey,” but he showed he can make difficult decisions, too, like controversially choosing Tiger Woods with one of his captain’s picks after the former world No. 1 didn’t qualify for the team.

It was a masterstroke.

Woods went 2-3 at Royal Melbourne but played much better that record indicated.

He completely vindicated Couples’ faith by delivering the winning US point Sunday in singles with a virtuoso performance against local favorite Aaron Baddeley, 5 and 4.

“I’m thankful that Freddie believed in me to be a part of this team,” Woods said. “I’ve been on a variety of different teams over the years, and this has been just a great atmosphere to be around. And it starts from the captain.

“Would Freddie make a great Ryder Cup captain? Absolutely. He’s just a great captain, period. He’s fun to play for.”

To a man, the American players used that word “fun” to describe their tours of duty with Captain Couples.

The same can’t be said about some of their previous Ryder Cup captains.

“When I first played (in international competitions), we were very tight,” Phil Mickelson said. “Guys would get the directive that we need this point, this is critical, and we would play tight. We wouldn’t have as much fun, and we wouldn’t be playing our best.

“We have had a lot more success, I have found, when we end up playing loose. When we end up having fun off the golf course, we end up having fun on the golf course. We end up playing better and have had better results.”

Jay Haas, Couples’ assistant captain and himself a veteran of many international teams, called this “the best team chemistry I’ve seen in all of the teams I’ve been on.”

Jim Furyk, the unlikely MVP of the American conquest at Royal Melbourne, going 5-0, paid tribute to the way Couples kept everyone loose.

“Freddie’s Freddie,” he said, “He’s one of those people, blessed in a way because all the girls love him and all the guys think he’s cool.”

“You look at him, and he has this vibe of, ‘It’s all going to be OK,’ and because that’s the way he looks, you believe everything’s going to be OK.”

Hunter Mahan, a veteran of five US teams, also endorses Couples as a future Ryder Cup captain.

“There’s more tension, more stress for that week (of the Ryder Cup) compared with the Presidents Cup because of all that history, the fans over there and everything else, but for us to play our best, we need to be relaxed and not stressed and I don’t know who’s better than Freddie to keep it all relaxed,” he said.

“I think he’d be great. He doesn’t over-think it. He talks to the veterans, he talks to the players, and gets feedback and he kind of goes with the flow.

“It’s not like he’s smarter than everyone else, it’s just that he realizes that it’s just golf and lets us go out and just play.

“It’s not complicated.”

And neither is Couples, which is why he would be the perfect man for the job.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Fred Couples

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