THE PRESIDENTS CUP
Three U.S. Presidents Cup veterans start the fall on the outside looking in
September 10, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth might have to rely on captain's picks this year. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler have combined to make 36 appearances for the United States in either the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. That kind of experience pays dividends in a pressure-packed team competition – especially one on foreign soil, such as December’s Presidents Cup when the U.S. plays the International Team at Royal Melbourne in Australia.
If U.S. Captain Tiger Woods wants those veterans, he’ll need to make them captain’s picks, since none of the three qualified on merit. That means the fall portion of the new PGA TOUR season will be important in his assessment. But will Tiger see enough to know whether he wants them as part of his 12-man squad when the picks are announced after the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions?
Fowler ranked 11th in Presidents Cup points when the cutoff date arrived after the BMW Championship. That puts him in a good spot if Tiger uses the next-in-line approach that includes Tony Finau (9), Gary Woodland (10) and Patrick Reed (12). But it’s doubtful we’ll see Fowler playing much this fall, as he’s scheduled to marry his fiancée Allison Stokke in October.
“That’s been a plan that we’ve had for well over a year,” said Fowler, who first represented the U.S. in 2010 and has played in the last five team events. “Obviously, yes, I would love to be in Australia, and my plan was to make it on points so that I didn’t have to worry about a pick.
“There’s still plenty of time between now and then. I don’t think looking at how people are playing right now, the next month or even the month after is going to be a big indication of how guys will play in December.”
Spieth has played for the U.S. every year since 2013, but he hasn’t won in more than two years and finished 27th in Presidents Cup points. When he left the BMW Championship, his final start of last season, he vowed to use the next few weeks to lay the ground week for some changes and continued improvement in his swing. He plans to resume competitive play this fall during the TOUR’s Asian Swing.
But he also plans to speak with Woods – and if Tiger wants to see him in action more often, Spieth said he’s willing to adjust his schedule. For now, he believes his game will be in better shape by December.
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“At some point, I’ll touch base with him and see what he’s thinking,” Spieth said. “I believe by that time I will have gotten myself back to the level of play that I expect out of myself.
“But at the same time, being in my shoes, I don’t necessarily deserve it, but I also feel I can definitely help the team out a lot. But that’s how I’m supposed to think. We’ll see what happens.
“If there’s something he wants me to do in order to make the team, yes, that would definitely impact what I do. Making those team events is a significant goal every year for me.”
Mickelson, of course, has achieved that goal for more than two decades. He played in the first Presidents Cup in 1994 and hasn’t missed a team event since then. But after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February – his 44th win on TOUR – Mickelson managed only one top-20 finish in his next 16 starts, missing the cut seven times during a stretch he called the “worst” of his career. His eight missed cuts overall were his most in a single TOUR season since 1995, as he ended this season feeling “mentally fried and physically fried.”
He was 16th on the Presidents Cup points list, and he said he plans to play at least two events – the Safeway Open and THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES – before Tiger announces his picks. “If I play well, I might try to add a couple in Asia to try to warrant a pick,” Mickelson said. “If I'm not playing well, I probably won't.”
A few days ago, the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas announced that Mickelson will play the event for the first time in 14 years.
The last U.S. captain to not have Mickelson on his team was Tom Watson at the 1993 Ryder Cup. Mickelson was in his second year on TOUR and posted two wins that season but did not earn an automatic spot; Watson selected Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins as his captain’s picks – and it paid off, as those two produced 5-1/2 points in the Americans’ 15-13 victory.
Mickelson owns several Presidents Cup records – most points (32.5), most wins (26), most matches (55) – but Woods may not lean heavily on the history books when he makes his picks. When asked a question recently about the turnover among automatic qualifiers, Woods called it a “natural progression.”
“You're going to get guys that are going to get older and start falling off the teams, and you're going to get the new guys in their mid 20s, maybe late 20s being a part of the teams for the first time, and they're going to be a part of the teams for a very long time,” he explained.
If Woods does lean on history, it might focus on a player’s past performance in Australia. Spieth’s record at the Australian Open is impressive – two wins (2014, 2016), a T-2 (2015) and a top-10 (2017). Fowler can’t quite match that, but he did finish as the runner-up in the 2013 Australian PGA and tied for second (with American teammate Jimmy Walker) at the 2016 World Cup in Melbourne. Mickelson went 3-1-0 in 2011 when the U.S. won the Presidents Cup in its most recent trip to Australia.
“I think something I have going for myself, I've played really well in Australia,” Fowler said. “I play really well in links golf. That's my favorite style. Not that I'm going to wear Tiger out about why he should pick me. I think he knows where he wants to go, what he wants to do, and the guys on the team are going to make their decision based on who they want there and who they want to be partnered up with.
“So, yeah, I really hope that I'm there, but I'm not going to necessarily be bitter or anything if they don't pick me. That's the way it is. I should have made it on points. But I will be more than ready if I do get that pick and be there ready to go.”
But while Fowler watches his bride walk down the aisle this fall, others will be walking down the fairway, hoping to make an impression on Woods. At this week’s A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, five players who finished inside the top 30 in the U.S. standings will tee it up – Bubba Watson (20), Kevin Na (22), Keegan Bradley (23), Scott Piercy (24) and Jason Kokrak (26).
Find a hot hand this fall and perhaps one of them might find themselves in Melbourne this December.