By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Fred Couples knows what it's like to play on a losing team at the Presidents Cup. The only loss the United States has ever suffered, in fact.
"We got smoked," Couples recalled on Wednesday afternoon, remembering the 20 1/2-11 1/2 shellacking. "Jack (Nicklaus) was our captain. I'm sure he wasn't too thrilled with the way we played and the way we showed up. I don't think we were ready to play."
So when the Americans return to Royal Melbourne in Australia this November with Couples at the helm, he wants to make sure his team is prepared. Couples plans to strongly encourage the 12 members of his team to play the previous week -- just as he and International Captain Greg Norman are doing at the Australian Open, or Phil Mickelson will do in Singapore.
"They'll be playing the week before the The Presidents Cup," Couples said firmly. Even his two Captain's Picks, one of whom could be Tiger Woods, who currently ranks 20th in the U.S. standings. “If I pick two people and the other guy is there, he should be there (too).”
Woods is battling knee and Achilles problems in his left leg that forced him to withdraw from THE PLAYERS after nine holes and has put an appearance at the U.S. Open in question. Couples says he trusts Woods to let him know if he is ready to play.
"Well, there's one thing about Tiger, and I say this because I text him all the time ... if he's not ready to play, he'll be the one to tell me: don't waste your pick on me," Couples said. "... He will tell you he's struggled and now he's injured a little bit, so I don't even know how much he'll play, but he doesn't have to prove a lot to any captain, I don't think.
“You know, I'm no different than anybody; if I tell you today that if he just plays fairly well I'm going to pick him, I can't imagine that's the dumbest thing anyone has ever said. And if I sit here and say, if he continues to play like he is, in my mind he will be the guy to say, No reason to take me over there. He's not a difficult guy at all."
Couples, who played a practice round with Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Pat Perez on Wednesday, planned to meet with about two dozen prospective members of his team on Wednesday afternoon at Muirfield Village.
It's shaping up to be an interesting contingent, too, with five American players currently in the top 10 in the standings who have never played in a Presidents Cup. The top 10 after the BMW Championship automatically qualify.
"Webb Simpson is having a phenomenal year," Couples said. "Obviously Mark Wilson is hanging right in there. But then you've got the Strickers and the Furyks, Dustin Johnson, some guys that have been polished players, and I know Dustin Johnson never played a Presidents Cup, but they'll be fine.
“So the clash of the young and the old is definitely going to be there. Bubba Watson is leading the points list. For me personally there's a long way to go. Come maybe the end of July or the PGA, that's when stuff really starts to fluctuate pretty fast."
Couples didn't plan a pep talk for Wednesday evening's meeting. He knows the players are well aware of what's at stake come November in Australia.
"I'll go throw my face in front of the younger guys who have never played on the team or who have never been on a Presidents Cup team and just tell them I'm watching," Couples said. "I'm not going to be out here much, but I text them a lot and keep in touch and basically I'll get a few phone numbers, and when I leave here I probably won't see any of them for six or eight weeks maybe, and then I'll come out and play a tournament and say hi again.
"Once you get to this point, the team will change some, but barring crazy things, a couple guys will push off and then a couple guys will push on, and then it just works its way, even though we're only into early June, it'll work its way into itself,”