US President-elect Donald Trump may have been unconvincing in his press conference a couple of hours earlier, but Jim Furyk certainly gave the impression that he is the right man to “Make America Great Again” in a Ryder Cup on European soil.
As had been widely predicted, the 46-year-old has been given the nod ahead of Fred Couples for the 2018 match in France, and he wasted no time sending out signals confirming the Americans have indeed been reinvigorated for the biennial match.
Having stopped the rot with a deserved 17-11 victory under Davis Love at Hazeltine last October, the target now is a first away win since 1993 at The Belfry. Furyk’s first move in the bid to achieve that at Le Golf National outside Paris was to appoint Love as a vice-captain.
At long last, the Americans have finally worked out that consistency has been the key to much of Europe’s success over the past 20 years. You get the feeling, in fact, that the next five or six captains have already been mapped out by the committee set up in the wake of an ill-fated return to that role by Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014.
In Furyk, that committee, which includes both Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, has certainly gone for the obvious choice, and not just because Couples, who had been touted on the back of a successful record in the Presidents Cup, wasn’t part of Love’s backroom team in that win in Minneapolis. With 10 wins from 34 matches in his nine playing appearances, Furyk may not have enjoyed the success he’d have liked in the Ryder Cup. Helped by a US Open success and a total of 17 PGA Tour triumphs, though, he certainly has the respect of his fellow players and, during the press conference in Palm Beach Gardens in Florida to announce his appointment, there was no hiding a genuine passion for golf’s showpiece transatlantic team tussle.
“I’m actually a little overwhelmed,” said the man who will lock horns with Dane Thomas Bjorn in the event’s 42nd staging next September. “It’s no secret, it’s been my favourite event my entire career. In my opinion, the Ryder Cup embodies everything that is special about golf. It has the team work, the camaraderie, the competition, the passion, it brings fans together from worldwide. I just get chills thinking about all the events I’ve been able to participate in and now to sit here as the captain for 2018 is such an honour.”
Tom Kite was Furyk’s first Ryder Cup captain at Valderrama in 1997, since when the Pennsylvania native has also played under Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Hal Sutton, Tom Lehman, Paul Azinger, Love and Watson. Only Crenshaw, at Brookline in 1999, and Azinger, nine years later at Valhalla, were winning captains, but Furyk insists the losing ones can be just as helpful to him in preparation for Paris.
“We each have our own style, our own flair, our own personality, and that can’t change,” he added. I think for me, I’m a little bit more of a quiet leader. I lead by example. For me to get into the room and get rah-rah and start yelling and chanting isn’t going to work.”
“I will use my experiences - both good and bad. I have had a few mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned a lot. I’ve got two years now to form the best way to run this team and I am looking forward to it.”
While the odd eyebrow may be raised about the new captain’s decision to hand his predecessor a role, it’s certainly not an unprecedented role. Jose Maria Olazabal, for example, assisted Paul McGinley at Gleneagles after leading Europe to the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012. Like McGinley, Furyk clearly feels comfortable to have Love involved.
“I remember sitting in the room and knowing in my heart Davis was the best person to lead this team in 2016,” he said. “Davis is going to be a very tough act to follow. He put a system in place and got the players behind it. It won’t make my task easy, but it is comforting knowing there is a system in place.”
It’s no surprise, of course, that this Ryder Cup is already being tagged the “Battle of the Baldies”. No doubt, though, it will still prove a hair-raising encounter for others.