ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — It’s time to take those stories about Tiger Woods not being fully invested in the Ryder Cup and put them in cold storage.
In a surprise announcement, American Ryder Cup captain Davis Love named Woods one of three new vice captains here Wednesday, along with Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.
The origins of the move can be traced to the recent Presidents Cup in South Korea, where Love said he got a phone call from Fred Couples at 5:30 in the morning. The message: Tiger wants you to call him.
“As soon as Tiger and I got off the phone, then Tiger called Stricker or Furyk, I think,” Love said. “He couldn’t play anywhere, he couldn’t even chip but he was excited. Tiger wanted to know, ‘Why in the world would you put this guy with that guy?’ I didn’t think I’d hear from him at all during the week but he was really excited.
“People say he’s not engaged. Well, the guy was calling us, wants to know who’s playing the next match and he wants us to win. He was giving us advice, too. I think the message he sent to us was, I want to be in the mix.”
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) November 18, 2015
Woods became a viable addition to the team after Love and European captain Darren Clarke agreed to expand the number of vice captains from four to five. That was done to clarify the sometimes-muddy situations at Ryder Cups where so many other people besides official assistant captains turn up with walkie-talkies or carts.
“We just said if you want five guys, let’s just agree to have five guys and move on,” Love said.
So, Woods is in and Love is holding his fifth vice captain’s pick in reserve for now. In February, Love used his first selection on Minnesota native Tom Lehman, an obvious choice since his home state will host the 2016 matches. Love’s final spot could eventually go to Phil Mickelson if Lefty doesn’t make the team, or to his good friend and former Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples. Or, he could choose someone else.
Love said he has talked to Woods several times in the past few weeks about how his surgically repaired back is progressing.
“Tiger wants to make the team, that’s his No. 1 goal,” Love said. “He wants to play, I think, and be a vice captain. He wants to be a leader but he doesn’t want to be a general sitting in the room, he wants to be in the battle.”
Love was also asked to explain the dynamics among his current four assistants.
“Tiger will be the general,” Love said. “Steve is a lot like me, he’ll be taking care of behind-the-scenes stuff. Steve will say, ‘We can go park the carts and plug them in,’ he likes doing that stuff. Jim is more of a rallying guy. He likes getting information from the players and giving speeches. I like turning the speeches over to him because he’s really good at it. Bubba Watson and I aren’t going to be very good at giving speeches, we’re both going to start crying. Tom is just so full of passion and energy. He’ll be our red-white-and-blue, Minnesota, let’s-go-get ’em guy to inspire the fans and our positive energy guy.”
The Americans have won only two of the last 10 Ryder Cups and after the mash-up at Gleneagles, when Phil Mickelson threw captain Tom Watson under the bus during a post-loss press conference, it was time for a new way of doing things. The Americans put together an 11-man task force of players as varied as Rickie Fowler and Raymond Floyd. They were the ones who decided to give Love a second captaincy after he led the U.S. to a stinging come-from-ahead loss at Medinah in 2012.
The Americans didn’t set out to copy the European system, but step one was the PGA of America recognizing that, hey, the Europeans have a system in place. Step two was figuring out how to implement some of their methods. Love said Paul McGinley, the winning European captain at Gleneagles last year, has been very open with much of his planning.
Love recalled a conversation he had with losing American captain Corey Pavin early in 2011.
“We had a great talk about the next two years and everything he said came true,” Love said. “But now we’re looking farther out than just two years. Learning from Team Europe has been beneficial for us, just like North Carolina looking at what Clemson is doing in football right now would be beneficial for them.”
The biggest thing the Americans have going for them is a renewed determination. Love is sweating the details. He asked Mickelson and Woods and other players how many times they needed to play a course to get comfortable with it.
“Everybody had a slightly different answer,” Love said. “Tiger goes at it one way, Jordan Spieth goes at it another. We’ll do whatever it takes to get our guys to Hazeltine. We will make it available. If one guy says, I want the whole course to myself, nobody talks to me, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Love also recalled U.S. captain Dave Stockton sending him to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island to play practice rounds in 1991.
“I didn’t get picked,” Love said, “but that fired me up and made me feel like I was part of the team. I’ll probably do that to someone next year, too. There’s 20 or 30 or 40 guys right now who think they’re going to make the team, right? Well, we will do whatever it takes.”
If Whatever It Takes isn’t already the U.S. team slogan for 2016, it probably should be. Love might want to have it engraved on a sweater somewhere.
Where is Mickelson in all this? Tiger is a vice captain, and he isn’t? That’s Phil’s choice right now, Love said.
“That’s what Phil wanted,” Love said. “In Korea, Jay’s line was, ‘Whatever Jordan Spieth wants, Jordan Spieth gets this week.’ Whatever Phil wants, Phil gets. If he wants his role to be a player next year, he’ll play. He told me, I’m on a roll, I’m going to play so good next year. You can almost hear him. He literally walked off the 18th green in Korea telling me, ‘I’m ready to go for Hazeltine.’ Phil said, ‘Look, I’m focused on making your team and playing on it. I can’t do both.’”
The 2016 Ryder Cup is 10 months away, and counting…