The unlikeliest Presidents Cupper
Long before becoming Brendon Todd’s swing coach, Australian Bradley Hughes was the longshot addition to play the inaugural Presidents Cup
November 05, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Bradley Hughes was in Tokyo when he got the call.
Just a few hours earlier, the Australian and his caddie were watching the finish of the RBC Canadian Open – on a Monday morning because of the time difference -- and saw Nick Price consolidate his position as world No. 1 with his sixth PGA TOUR win of the 1994 season.
Within 24 hours, Hughes unexpectedly was breaking bread with Price – who had already won The Open Championship and PGA Championship as well that year – as a longshot on the International Team in the very first Presidents Cup.
Hughes was acutely aware of the new competition between the U.S. team and Internationals from outside of Europe. He had even managed to attend some of the wider team meetings in the months leading up to the showdown at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia, even though he spent the majority of his time on the Japan Tour or the Australasian circuit.
Yet with his world ranking at 117, Hughes wasn’t surprised to see David Graham’s captain’s picks go to others, as Tsukasa Watanabe and Fulton Allem filled out the 12-man team.
The International team was already below strength. With the tournament announced in mid-April, there were several International stars with conflicts in their schedule come September, including Ernie Els and Jumbo Ozaki. Even so, there were 26 International eligible players ahead of Hughes on the rankings. Surely, if another player was needed, it would go to someone higher on the list.
Yet when fellow Aussie Greg Norman – then world’s No. 2-ranked player -- was felled by illness and contemplated withdrawing, it was Hughes’ phone that rang during the search for the next available player.
“My caddie was going to work for someone else that week, so I had just dropped him off at the airport and when I got back, my phone was ringing in my apartment,” Hughes says of a time before cell phones were in every pocket.
“It was Mike Bodney, who was in charge of it all, and David Graham. They were saying to me, would you be interested in coming over? It was more of a we-may-need-you sort of thing, not you are in.”
Hughes accepted what he thought would be a shadow player position. Two tickets on the 1 p.m. 11-hour flight to Washington, D.C., were set up for Hughes and his caddie Simon Clarke.
Ah, yes, the caddie? The same one who was already at the airport about to head elsewhere and caddie for someone else? Once again, this is a time before cell phones, so it wasn’t easy to track down Clarke. But a few frantic calls and an airport page later and a crisis was averted.
“Somehow I got hold of him and he waited for me and few hours later we are on a first class flight to Washington D.C., with champagne and caviar,” Hughes chuckled.
“At that stage I thought I was just going to watch the tournament. Once I got there, Norman had pulled out and I was in.”
It was the Presidents Cup after all, so dinner with President Clinton was just one of the perks on offer. By the time Hughes had arrived, organizers had his name on a bag, his playing uniform, and just needed a few measurements to finalize a few suits for the big nightly occasions.
Maybe it was adrenaline. Maybe it was the lack of expectation. Maybe it was an underdog spirit of wanting to prove his place. Whatever it was, Hughes hit the ground running in Virginia. So good was his practice round play that come the opening session of the tournament, he was thrown into Four-ball partnership with none other than Price.
“I was absolutely flushing it,” Hughes recalled. “I was killing it in practice.”
Their match was against the top American duo of Fred Couples and Davis Love III, who had claimed the World Cup as a team over the past two seasons and would do so again for two more. Meanwhile, Hughes had just nine PGA TOUR starts to his name and at 27, was young in that era’s terms.
“They had already assumed Nick and Greg would likely play together and play against Freddy and Davis, so I guess I played the best in the practice rounds,” Hughes said, “and David Graham said to me, ‘You are playing great and making a boatload of birdies. Would you be interested in me pairing you with Nick Price? You have the world No. 1 to hold you up if you go wrong but I think you’ll make a lot of birdies anyway and keep us in it.’
“So of course I said yes.”
But the morning of the match was where the nerves started to kick in. The reality of playing with Price … his opponents … a standing President on the first tee … golf royalty Byron Nelson tossing the coin to determine honors … and fog delaying the start – it was a lot for Hughes to wrap his head around.
He stepped up to hit his opening tee shot and …
“I sort of blacked out,” he recalls.
“I put the ball down and when I looked down, all those stars came in my eyes and it went black. I couldn’t see anything. I had a 2-iron in my hand and didn’t know where my ball was. I knew I had put the club behind the ball, so I didn’t waggle on the first tee. I just kept my club there so I knew where the hell it was.
“I managed to make contact, hit it up the fairway and then hit an 8-iron to like a foot for birdie and away we went.”
Despite this opening salvo, Hughes and Price were 5-down though eight holes in a session being dominated by the U.S. The International duo needed to dig deep.
“Bradley was such a bulldog. He had a great disposition and was just so dogged when it came to competition,” Price says when asked recently for his memories of that week.
“With a lot of guys committed elsewhere, we had to go down the list and we eventually got to Bradley, but he was pretty solid all week and actually pretty impressive considering the late call.
Hughes helped cut the lead to three holes through 11 and then Price played his part to square it through 15. Only a lengthy Couples birdie on the 17th preserved victory for the U.S. in the only opening session to reach the 18th hole. A best-ball score of 63 was not enough for the International duo.
“At the end of the session, we were 5-0 down and getting flogged, but the comeback made me feel like I belonged a little bit because I played pretty well,” Hughes says.
After sitting out Foursomes, Hughes returned for the next Four-ball session with fellow Australian Craig Parry to beat Loren Roberts and Tom Lehman 4 and 3. Hughes was due to miss Foursomes again until Price sat out, so Hughes partnered with Mark McNulty against a young Phil Mickelson and Lehman.
“We played well and should have won. We were 1-up thru nine and I hit it close on 10 and 11, but Mark missed those putts, which was really unusual for him as a great putter,” Hughes remembers.
“Then we had a few missed greens where we didn’t get up and down and ended up losing that match.”
Hughes would then face Jeff Maggert in Sunday singles, but not before a near mishap. Despite each player having a courtesy car, players generally had been taking a team bus everywhere, including the course. But come Sunday, with differing travel arrangements for after the event, players were set to drive themselves.
“I couldn’t even find my car without beeping the alarm over and over,” Hughes says. “Then when I found it, I realized I don’t even know where the course is.
“It rattled me, but I had to figure out a way to the course and this was before phones with maps and GPS in cars. I was worried I was going to miss my tee time but I finally found a map book in the glovebox and figured my way there.”
Hughes brought his game to Sunday and was 3 under but lost to an impressive Maggert, 2 and 1.
“He had the best score for the day of anyone,” Hughes sighs.
Ultimately, the U.S. would win by a comfortable 20-12 margin. But the foundation had been set for a biennial competition that continues next month at Royal Melbourne
“For most of us, it had been a really long time since we had played any kind of team match play golf,” recalls Price, who would go on to play on five International teams and then captain the team three times.
“Although we had this hodgepodge team from all over the place, it really laid a nice platform for the great competition we have today. It was a fun week for everyone, even though we were all a little bit blind to the format and what was going on.
“I was pretty tired -- I remember that. All of the evening activities we had in the lead-up and after we played 36 holes in a day was demanding on the players, especially if you throw in jetlag. But it was great to figure things out going forward.”
As for Hughes? He settled for a personal 1-3 record.
“I got a nice hug and talk from captain David Graham on the green after the last match where he told me how well I played during the week and that I deserved to be on the team and to keep going on from here. It was really nice to hear that from him,” Hughes says.
“Not many people can say they have played in the Presidents Cup – especially the first one – so I am really proud of that. People still are taken aback when they hear. It’s a good feather in the cap.”
While Hughes never returned to the International Team, he did win twice more on the Australasian Tour in the late 1990s to take his career total to five victories on that circuit. From 1997 to 2002, he played full-time on the PGA TOUR with two runner-up finishes as his best results. In 2004, he won on the Korn Ferry Tour to earn another go on the PGA TOUR in 2005.
His last TOUR start came in 2006 and left him with 90 cuts made from 213 starts.
Hughes has been in the mainstream news again of late as he continues to make strides in his new role as a swing coach. He has been spreading his gospel out of Holly Tree Country Club in Simpsonville, South Carolina, as well as online to people all over the globe. The now 52-year-old is partly responsible for the Brendon Todd resurgence that garnered two consecutive PGA TOUR wins this fall, and in position for a third last weekend at The RSM Classic before his string of 68-or-lower rounds finally ended with a Sunday 74 that left him solo fourth.
Hughes picked up Todd in the middle of an almighty slump fueled by swing yips and turned him around, preaching his own version of golf instruction that focuses on pressure and forces in the golf swing. Todd’s success had some outside observers wondering if he should’ve been a late call-up to replace the injured Brooks Koepka, although U.S Captain Tiger Woods opted for Rickie Fowler.
Plenty of others are taking notice of Hughes’ impact with Todd, who just a few weeks ago was ranked outside the world’s top 500 players. Consider it another feather in the cap for Hughes, who remains the only player to enter a Presidents Cup history ranked outside the world’s top 100 players.
Twenty-five years later, the longshot from Australia is still making headlines.