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Captain’s picks: Those that worked, those that didn’t, and those that defined careers

14 Min Read


UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24:  Scott Verplank, captain Jack Nicklaus and Justin Leonard of the U.S. team during the four-ball matches in the third round of The Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County, Virginia on September 24, 2005.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Scott Verplank, captain Jack Nicklaus and Justin Leonard of the U.S. team during the four-ball matches in the third round of The Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County, Virginia on September 24, 2005. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

    Two legends of the game are keeping a very close eye over this fall portion of the new PGA TOUR season. Tiger Woods and Ernie Els are trying to figure out just who should join their respective teams in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne on Dec. 12-15. And this time – more than ever before – the importance of those picks could be paramount. For the first time in tournament history, the captains will have four captain’s picks, up from the previous years where just two were added to the squads.

    Previous captains have used the selections a myriad of ways. To add experience – such as Phil Mickelson on the last two U.S. teams. To add a young star of the future – such as Jordan Spieth in 2013 or Ryo Ishikawa in 2009. Or to add a course specialist from the host country. Plenty of times the picks have worked. Others have failed. And on some occasions they’ve been part of a bigger picture in the player’s career.

    As we head towards Woods and Els making their picks in early November, let’s look back at some of the picks that have turned to gold, the ones that were more like stone, and the ones that helped define careers.


    David Duval (U.S. Team) in 1996

    Before Duval became a major winner and world no. 1, he was a young star on the rise who couldn’t quite close the deal for a win. In his first full season on TOUR in 1995, Duval had eight top 10s, including three runner-up finishes. In 1996 he had five top-three finishes.

    With one of his close calls coming the week before the second Presidents Cup at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Duval certainly entered the event in great form and seemed an inspired pick from U.S. Captain Arnold Palmer. The 24-year-old Duval certainly lived up to the hype – going 4-0-0 during a close-fought Cup. Paired with Mark O’Meara twice in Four-ball and once in Foursomes, Duval helped dispatch players such as Steve Elkington, Frank Nobilo, Craig Parry, Ernie Els and Mark McNulty. In Sunday singles, with the U.S. starting with a one-point advantage, Duval dispatched Peter Senior in the second match of the morning to maintain his unbeaten record. The U.S. would eventually win 16.5-15.5 -- making his contribution to the week imperative.

    Said Duval: “I just told myself I wasn't going to get beat, I just wasn't. I was going to do everything I could not to get beat. I was going to try to win every match and I was going to try to win them very quick.”

    Frank Nobilo and Greg Turner (International Team) in 1998

    The Kiwi duo of Nobilo and Turner played a big part of the lone International Team win in the Presidents Cup. Captain Peter Thomson already had four Australians on his team at Royal Melbourne, so he looked to the smaller nation of New Zealand, just across the Pacific Ocean, for his picks. He knew both players had experience in Australian conditions. The pair won both of their Foursomes sessions, beating the super team of Mark O’Meara-David Duval from the previous Cup and then Justin Leonard-Davis Love III. In the match against O’Meara (a two-time major winner) and Duval (the No.3 golfer in the world), the Kiwis were given no chance. But Nobilo’s 40-foot putt on the last hole clinched a famous upset. Overall Turner played his part by going 2-1-1 and Nobilo picked up two points with a 2-2-0 record as part of a 20.5-11.5 rout.

    Said Nobilo: “It did have the elements of a perfect storm. We were desperate for a win and we nearly had won in 1996 (a one-point U.S. win) when we really came together. So, we felt confident in 1998. Maybe they helped us, certainly the course helped us, but we truly had a great team chemistry that year. Such a cool experience.”

    Said Turner: “Fair to say we weren’t raging favorites. In some ways, it unburdened us.”

    Justin Leonard (U.S. Team) in 2005

    Picking Leonard – the next man on the points list -- was an easy decision for U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus. Not to mention Leonard had won twice in 2005, and was a past champion of THE PLAYERS Championship (1998) and The Open (1997); he’d also played on three Presidents Cup teams prior and had been a hero in the 1999 Ryder Cup. At the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Leonard proved his worth, partnering with Scott Verplank four times and going 2-1-1. With the score tied entering Sunday Singles, Leonard was charged with starting off the U.S. cause. He smashed Tim Clark 4 and 3, setting the tone for the American win.

    Said Leonard: “We've all played some match play and team events, and I think we all learn to enjoy that, enjoy that pressure, and if we didn't enjoy it and thrive under it, we probably wouldn't be on this team.”

    Mike Weir (International Team) in 2007

    With the 2007 Presidents Cup played in Canada for the first time at Royal Montreal, International Team captain Gary Player dove down to 20th on the points list to select local Mike Weir. Picking a hometown hero has not always worked for the Internationals in the Presidents Cup (International captains picks selected to play in their home country have a 8-12-3 record overall), but this time it did. While Weir’s efforts -- he earned 3.5 points with a 3-1-1 record -- could not help the Internationals win the Cup, it did come with a giant-killing singles win over Tiger Woods. And it invigorated the home fans who did all they could to help the International cause. The problem was the Internationals trailed 14.5-7.5 heading to Singles.

    Said Weir: “For me being from Canada, to have this kind of support, it's overwhelming, really, and I'm having a tough time putting it into words what it really means to me because it's so shortly after. But when I look back on my career, this may be something, maybe even more special than the Masters, the support I've gotten here.”

    Phil Mickelson (U.S. Team) in 2015 and 2017

    Mickelson has never missed a Presidents Cup, but he’s needed a captains pick the last two iterations (and will need another one this season to continue his streak). In both 2015 in South Korea and 2017 in New Jersey, Mickelson showed his worth with unbeaten 3-0-1 records. In 2015, the U.S. won by a single point, making Mickelson’s contribution incredibly important. In 2017, the team was dominant but Mickelson played the role of mentor, bringing rookie Kevin Kisner into the fold and providing him with extra confidence.

    Said Mickelson (2015): “That meant more to me than anything, having the players be involved and having me on this team. I've had so much fun being around them.”

    Said Mickelson (2017): “I had a great partner in Kevin Kisner, who was able to keep me relaxed, get the best out of me. We played very well together. We are a good pairing.”


    John Huston (U.S. Team) in 1998

    The first Presidents Cup played on foreign soil for the Americans was one they’d rather forget – especially for Huston. Jack Nicklaus made the diplomatic decision and picked the next two players up on the points list when finalizing his team – Fred Couples and Huston. But in a week where the Internationals destroyed most of the U.S. Team, it was especially tough for Huston, the only player not to register any points. He had three different partners in team play but lost with Jim Furyk, Mark Calcavecchia and a young Tiger Woods. He was then pummeled 3 and 2 by Shigeki Maruyama in Singles.

    Nick O’Hern (International Team) in 2007

    Picking the left-handed Australian was seen as an astute move from International captain Gary Player. O’Hern was next up on the points list and was flashing half-decent form, having won in his native Australia late in 2006. Most importantly, he was the Tiger tamer. O’Hern had beaten Tiger Woods at the 2005 and 2007 World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Sadly for the Aussie, he could not replicate his heroics in Montreal. O’Hern would go 1-4-0 for the week – two of those losses to Woods and his partner -- as the U.S. cruised to a 19.5-14.5 victory.

    Lucas Glover (U.S. Team) in 2009

    Glover getting a pick from Fred Couples at TPC Harding Park in 2009 for the U.S. Team was a no-brainer -- he was next up on the points list and had won the U.S. Open that season. Unfortunately for Glover, he contributed just a half-point to the U.S. cause. In three team sessions he was paired with Stewart Cink and lost them all. He then scratched out a half in the Sunday singles against Vijay Singh. The good news? The U.S. Team still won handily.

    Robert Allenby (International Team) in 2011

    With the Presidents Cup returning to Royal Melbourne for the first time since the Internationals’ famous 1998 victory, there was plenty of confidence among captain Greg Norman and his team. Norman used his two picks that year to take two Melbourne locals – Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby. The latter had spent countless hours of his life on the course and was seen as a potential secret weapon. But it turned into a nightmare for Allenby. He was the only player on either team not to register a point. His 0-4-0 record helped the U.S. power to a 19-15 win.

    Emiliano Grillo (International Team) in 2017

    To be fair to the Argentinean star, there were no success stories in the 2017 International Team, who were just a half-point away from being beaten prior to Sunday Singles. But Grillo, one of Nick Price’s picks, was the only player in the competition to fail to trouble the scorers. His 0-3-0 record was finished off with a 6 and 4 loss to Rickie Fowler.


    Adam Scott (International Team) in 2009

    When Greg Norman picked a slumping Scott in 2009, it raised plenty of eyebrows. After winning the AT&T Byron Nelson 18 months earlier, Scott had just one other top-10 finish the rest of the season -- and that was in the next tournament. In 2009, things really went south. After a tie for second in Hawaii in January, Scott finished no higher than a tie for 33rd and missed 10 cuts in 19 starts, including a run of six consecutive missed cuts. By October, he had bottomed out at No. 76 in the world and was wondering if it was all worth it.

    When Scott managed just a 1-4-0 record in another loss to the U.S., critics had a field day. But hindsight now shows just how important Norman’s pick was. His show of confidence set the ball rolling, allowing Scott to once again believe in his ability to beat the best. In December he won the Australian Open and began his climb back, eventually winning the 2013 Masters and getting to world No.1 in 2014.

    Said Scott: “It was big of Greg to pick me. He really stuck his neck on the line for me. It thrust me on to a stage where I couldn’t hide and where my game was exposed. It gave me a clear indication of what I needed to work on to turn it all around.”

    Jordan Spieth (U.S. Team) in 2013

    There is little doubt Spieth would have become a star even without Fred Couples bypassing 10 others higher on the points list in 2013, but the show of faith certainly helped the 20-year-old’s confidence. So too did making a hole-in-one in a practice match with Tiger Woods. His 2-2 record wasn’t the best on a U.S. Team that won 18.5-15.5 but it certainly didn’t hurt their cause. The youngster showed he belonged among the game’s elite … and two years later Spieth would win five times in the 2015 season, including two majors.

    Said Spieth: “It's an honor. Just to hear from the best players in the world, some of the things that they have said, and they have come to me and said it. It's inspirational for me, it really is. I've played a few rounds with Phil, now Tiger today. I know you guys have questioned them about it and they have been very, very nice about what they have said, and it means a lot to me.”

    Sangmoon Bae (International Team) and Bill Haas (U.S. Team) in 2015

    The 2015 Presidents Cup in Korea came down to the final singles match, which turned out to be between two captain’s picks. On the U.S. side was Haas, picked by his father Jay. For the Internationals, it was local hero Bae. Bae came into the singles unbeaten at 2-0-1. On the other side, Haas hadn’t set the world on fire with a 0-1-1 record. But the form guide would ultimately turn in this critical match.

    With the Cup on the line, Bae faced a tough uphill chip around the 18th green knowing he needed to win the hole to give his team a share of the Cup. With Haas in a greenside bunker, anything was still possible. Sadly for Bae, he chunked the chip and it rolled back to his feet allowing the winning shot to be played by Haas.

    For Haas, who had won the FedExCup four years later, it was a career highlight to deliver the Presidents Cup for his dad; their emotional hug on the 18th green is one of the defining images of the Presidents Cup. For Bae, it was also an emotional ending to a wild week – and a temporary end to his pro career as he soon embarked on his mandatory two-year military service.

    Said Bae: “I wanted to make the winning point for the team, but at the end of the day, our team lost, so I was very sad and disappointed about it.”

    Said Haas: “It feels really amazing now the way it all worked out. … to be in this position and the way it all worked out was a very great moment for me and my dad, and certainly the whole team.”


    Fulton Allem, South Africa (1.5 points, 1-3-1)
    Tsukasa Watanabe, Japan (1 point, 1-2-0)

    United States
    Jay Haas (3 points, 3-2-0)
    Phil Mickelson (3 points, 2-1-2)

    Robert Allenby, Australia (2 points, 2-3-0)
    Peter Senior, Australia (1 point, 1-2-0)

    United States
    David Duval (4 points, 4-0-0)
    Kenny Perry (2 points, 2-2-0)

    Frank Nobilo, New Zealand (2 points, 2-2-0)
    Greg Turner, New Zealand (2.5 points, 2-1-1)

    United States
    Fred Couples (2.5 points, 2-2-1)
    John Huston (0 points, 0-4-0)

    Robert Allenby, Australia (1 point, 1-3-0)
    Steve Elkington, Australia (2 points, 2-2-0)

    United States
    Paul Azinger (1 point, 1-2-0)
    Loren Roberts (2 points, 2-1-0)

    K.J. Choi, Korea (2 points, 2-3-0)
    Tim Clark, South Africa (2 points, 2-3-0)

    United States
    Fred Funk (1.5 points, 1-2-1)
    Jay Haas (2.5 points, 2-1-1)

    Trevor Immelman, South Africa (1 point, 1-3-0)
    Peter Lonard, Australia (2 points, 2-2-0)

    United States
    Fred Couples (1.5 points, 1-2-1)
    Justin Leonard (3.5 points, 3-1-1)

    Nick O’Hern, Australia (1 point, 1-4-0)
    Mike Weir, Canada (3.5 points, 3-1-1)

    United States
    Lucas Glover (2 points, 2-3-0)
    Hunter Mahan (2 points, 2-3-0)

    Ryo Ishikawa, Japan (3 points, 3-2-0)
    Adam Scott, Australia (1 point, 1-4-0)

    United States
    Lucas Glover (0.5 points, 0-3-1)
    Hunter Mahan (2.5 points, 2-1-1)

    Robert Allenby, Australia (0 points, 0-4-0)
    Aaron Baddeley, Australia (1.5 points, 1-3-1)

    United States
    Bill Haas (1.5 points, 1-3-1)
    Tiger Woods (2 points, 2-3-0)

    Marc Leishman, Australia (2 points, 2-2-0)
    Brendon de Jonge, Zimbabwe (2 points, 2-3-0)

    United States
    Webb Simpson (3 points, 2-1-2)
    Jordan Spieth (2 points, 2-2-0)

    Sangmoon Bae, Korea (2.5 points, 2-1-1)
    Steven Bowditch, Australia (1 point, 1-2-0)

    United States
    Bill Haas (1.5 points, 1-1-1)
    Phil Mickelson (3.5 points, 3-0-1)

    Emiliano Grillo, Argentina (0 points, 0-3-0)
    Anirban Lahiri, India (1.5 points, 1-1-1)

    United States
    Charley Hoffman (1 point, 1-2-0)
    Phil Mickelson (3.5 points, 3-0-1)

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