By John Strege
U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples dwells in a comfort zone, preferring the familiar, so it was at least moderately surprising that he joined a groundswell and made 20-year-old Jordan Spieth one of his two captain's picks for next month's competition at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.
"I feel like two years ago I left Keegan Bradley off my team and he was the PGA champ and the Byron Nelson champ," Couples said on Wednesday. "It wore on me a little bit, especially when I saw him play in the Ryder Cup last year. To pick Jordan was the right move. Jordan has had an incredible year with only one crack at it [earning points] this year."
Couples used his other captain's pick on Webb Simpson, who was bumped from earning an automatic berth by Zach Johnson at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Monday. "Webb Simpson was inside the top 10 in points for two full years," Couples said. "Then Zach Johnson [the last two holes] to push Webb to number 11. Webb Simpson is a class act and a great player."
International captain Nick Price, meanwhile, chose Australian Marc Leishman and Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge as his captain's picks.
Couples, the U.S. captain for a third consecutive time, said that he "dearly wanted" Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk on the team. Stricker played his way onto the team by virtue of finishing second at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
"Those are really my guys," Couples said. "But I just felt like...it was unfortunate for him not to be chosen. I wanted him on the team badly, but I just felt that Jordan Spieth had an unbelievable year."
Spieth, is a PGA Tour rookie who at 19 began the year with no status on any tours and since has put together one of the great rookie seasons in recent memory. He played his way onto the PGA Tour and won the John Deere Classic in July. He has had eight top 10s, tying for second on the PGA Tour, and in his last six starts, has the victory in the John Deere, lost the Wyndham Championship in a playoff, and tied for fourth in the Deutsche Bank Championship.
In the latter event, Spieth shot 62 in the final round, which included a birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle finish that seemed to cement popular opinion in his favor. ESPN's Dottie Pepper joined the chorus on Wednesday, via Twitter. "Come on, Fred Couples," she wrote in advance of his announcement. "How can you pass on Jordan Spieth? Hot hand right now and pay it forward for future Pres. Cups and @RyderCupTeamUSA!"
"He played with Phil Mickelson on Monday and Phil texted me in the car and his words were, exactly, 'Dude, you've got to pick this guy,'" Couples said.
Spieth's response is what one might expect from a 20-year-old rookie. "Can't even describe what it means to represent USA @PresidentsCup!!" he wrote on Twitter. "Thanks to Freddie, @Love3d and Jay for the opportunity of a lifetime!" Davis Love III and Jay Haas are Couples' assistant captains.
Furyk, meanwhile, went 5-0 for Couples and the U.S. in the last Presidents Cup. Yet in the Ryder Cup last year he was 1-3 and bogeyed the final two holes of his singles match with Sergio Garcia, turning a one-up lead to a one-down loss. Moreover, on four occasions in 2012 he took a 54-hole lead into the final round, one of them in the U.S. Open, and failed to convert them into a victory.
The decision was obviously painful for Couples, who rather than phoning Furyk, sent a text message to him on Tuesday night, informing him of his decision. "I couldn't handle it [phoning him], to be honest with you," he said, noting that he would speak with him later today.