Captain's log: Steve Stricker wants a crack at the Ryder Cup while Ernie Els is ready to lead the Internationals
Chris Condon/PGA Tour
In the pre-Ryder Cup Task Force days, we never would have seen a team captain without a major championship on his résumé. In this new Ryder Cup era, wiser thinking has prevailed and potentially opened the door for winning U.S. Presidents Cup captain Steve Stricker to lead the American 2020 Ryder Cup squad at Whistling Straits in his home state of Wisconsin. “Shoot yeah, I want to be captain,” Stricker said on Sunday at Liberty National, after the winning point was clinched for Team USA. “If I was given the opportunity, then sure. But I don’t know if they’re going to step out of the box, or not.” All indications are they would, “they” being the newly constructed U.S. Ryder Cup committee comprised of three PGA of America officials and three players. In this case, the three players are Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and the current captain, Jim Furyk. All of them are extremely close to Stricker, who says he would like to make Furyk’s team as a player in 2018. That goal aside, the resounding victory over the International team this past weekend, and the way the team bonded under Stricker’s leadership, would seemingly make the 50-year-old a lock for three years down the road. The only mandate in the new power structure is that a captain needs to have served time as an assistant captain, which Stricker did under Davis Love III in the six-point U.S. victory at Hazeltine National in 2016. “Strick’s going nowhere,” said another respected voice in this, original Task Force member Rickie Fowler. In other words, in this new system, the players are not only hitting the shots. They’re more involved in calling the shots, too. That’s a big reason for the turnaround.
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Branden Grace outside the International team room on Sunday morning, his side down 11 points going into the singles, with a big smile on his face as he told me the goal was to pull off the greatest golf upset of all time. The day before, Nick Price was feeling the frustration after spending six years of his life wanting to make the Presidents Cup competitive. “What more can I say to these guys,” Price said several times, before punctuating the moment by adding, “They’re trying.” That night in the news conference he admitted his team had its sense of humor back, and by Sunday morning Price had to break into a grin himself when hearing of Grace’s comment. “You never know,” he said. “I’m not going to stand here and say I’ve got a feeling about this like Ben Crenshaw. But you never know, stranger things have happened.” Price can take solace that his players showed their pride during the singles, going 5-4-3 in the session. Still, it’s going to be a little while before the sting of this eight-point blow out fades. “It’s not exactly a dream week for us,” he said.
Chris Condon/PGA Tour
Straight from Ernie Els that he would like to follow in Nick Price’s footsteps and become the next International team captain. “I’m up for it,” Els told me Sunday night outside his team room at Liberty National. “It would be a dream job.” Brought in by Nick Price as his protégé, Els brings all the right qualities to the role: Legendary Hall of Famer (like Price), just approaching his 48th birthday (he will be 50 at the time of the Cup), having played a role in perhaps the all-time greatest Presidents Cup moment (his duel with Tiger Woods at Fancourt in 2003), with a history at Royal Melbourne (he’s won there three times and has the course record, 60). “Like Pricey, he’s a players’ guy. He mixes with all of us,” said South African countryman Louis Oosthuizen. “I think he will be an amazing captain.” Els told me that remaining current is important, and to that end he will be playing more of an international schedule over the next two years as part of the education process with new players. As Els said, spending time “with the boys,” looking at the competition more as a captain than a competitor for the first time, “was quite an education.”
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