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Everybody Loves Fred Couples for Ryder Captain, Except the PGA

Photo: Robert Beck/SI

Fred Couples is 3-0 as a President's Cup captain.

First, a nod to Tim Rosaforte of Golf Channel: In December 2012, he scooped everybody and had Tom Watson being named at the U.S. Ryder Cup captain for the ’14 team. This week he reported that Davis Love is coming back for a return engagement in ’16, when the Ryder Cup will be played at Hazeltine. There’s no reason to think Rosaforte doesn’t have it right.

He was on Golf Channel Wednesday night, analyzing why Fred Couples did not get the nod for next year. He mentioned a comment Couples made in an interview late last year: “I'm not a PGA of America guy." On TV, Rosaforte offered this commentary: “Whatever that means.”

It means everything.

The U.S. team is put together and run by the PGA of America, which recently assembled an 11-man task force to try to answer the question of why the American team has struggled so in Ryder Cup play. Four members of that committee—Love, Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods—were pushing hard for Couples to be named the next Ryder Cup captain. It was suggested that if Couples was not enough of glad-hander, and not organized enough, to handle some of the nuts-and-bolts that comes with the captaincy, he could select a vice captain—likely Love—to be his wingman.

The players appreciated Couples' laid-back style and that he was easy to talk to. At the Ryder Cup at Medinah, in 2012, when Love was the captain and Couples was one of his assistants, Scott Verplank, another assistant, was assigned to walk with Woods as the team representative and cheerleader. Woods was able to tell Couples that he didn’t want Verplank following him around and a last-minute change was made. There are few people that Woods is going to speak to with such candor.

But another member of the task force, and its most significant voice, was Pete Bevacqua, the PGA’s CEO. Bevacqua and Couples had conversations about Couples’ interest in the job. The two men could not be more different. Bevacqua is as earnest as Couples is relaxed.

When Couples said he is not “a PGA of America guy” he was actually being exceedingly honest. He grew up on a public course in Seattle. He didn’t have lessons. He figured out the game for himself. He has a second- and third-place finishes in the PGA Championship—and he loved being on the roster for five Ryder Cups—but he was hurt when Ben Crenshaw did not select him for the ’99 team.

Bevacqua, on the other hand, credits his interest in golf to two people, his dentist, golf-mad father, and Walt Ronan, the longtime pro at Bedford Golf and Tennis Club. In that way, Bevacqua and Love are cut from the same cloth. Love’s father, a noted teaching pro and an accomplished player, played both roles in Love’s boyhood. In 2010, when Love, the winner of the 1997 PGA Championship, was told by PGA officers that he had been selected as the Ryder Cup captain for the ’12 team, he put his head in his hands and wept, wishing that his father had been there to hear the news. The PGA of America lives and dies by that kind of earnestness.

On his Sirius XM radio show late last year, Couples, who has three wins and no defeats as the captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team and is scheduled to be an assistant captain this year, said, “There’s no two years in any of this.” It was his casual way of explaining that the whole business of becoming Ryder Cup captain has become way too intense, complicated and time-consuming.

The PGA Tour organizes the Presidents Cup, and the PGA Tour-PGA of America divide certainly did not help Couples' chances either.

Love, who still swings beautifully but finds his body betraying him as a 50-year-old golfer, welcomes the opportunity to become consumed by the responsibilities that come with being Ryder Cup captain.

Bevacqua, who attended Notre Dame, takes seriously the idea of redemption and second chances. In 2012, the U.S. team had a 10-6 lead going into the Sunday finals. Love has told PGA officials said that a mistake he made was not being available to his players in the team room until past 9 p.m. on Saturday night, because of commitments to PGA of America officials. Bevacqua liked the idea of a captain who has learned from past mistakes. He liked the idea of a second chance.

Not that, on that Saturday night, the U.S. players felt the matches were over with that four-point lead. In 1999, at the Country Club, the Europeans had a 10-6 lead going into the Sunday finals and lost. Mickelson told his wife, Amy, on that Saturday night in 2012, “People think it’s over but it’s not.”

Meanwhile, PGA of America officials were frustrated that Couples was not a visible presence on the course during Sunday’s play. He was unreachable on his walkie-talkie for long periods on Sunday, parts of which he spent hanging with Michael Jordan in the NBC hospitality tent near the 13th hole.

None of that is likely to prevent Love from asking Couples to be a vice-captain for next year’s team. Couples could say no, but that seems unlikely. Love was among the few contemporaries that Couples cited in his Hall-of-Fame acceptance speech as a good friend, along with Jay Haas, John Cook, Phil Mickelson and Mike Donald.

But not once did he mention a PGA of America pro.

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