Thirty-four times across nine matches, Jim Furyk has represented America in golf’s biggest matchplay event. Twenty of those, he’s come away without so much as a half-point. But no matter. He’s Captain America now. And why not?
‘Hot take’ commentators will scoff at Furyk’s appointment to lead a team he hasn’t contributed many points to down the years, as though that somehow matters.
To be clear, it doesn’t.
In much the same way that great football players don’t necessarily make great managers, there’s nothing to suggest that the way a player performed in the Ryder Cup will have any bearing on their ability to captain – whether for better or for worse.
Sir Nick Faldo is a terrific example of that point. The record points-scorer in the history of the match, the Englishman was an abject failure as a captain, haphazardly presiding over the 2008 savaging at Valhalla.
History will recall him as the Stetson-wearing failure who oversaw a record-breaking defeat for the USA on home soil in 2004… but his record as a player in the match was far better than that.
More recently, Darren Clarke, a veteran of five Ryder Cups as a player, four of which yielded victories, was at the helm as Europe slumped to its heaviest defeat in 35 years at Hazeltine just months ago.
Remember Hal Sutton? History will recall him as the Stetson-wearing failure who oversaw a record-breaking defeat for the USA on home soil in 2004. His record in the match as a player, however, was far more impressive. He amassed seven wins and a total of nine points from 16 matches across four different editions of the contest. His winning percentage is better than that of Faldo, Lee Westwood, Tony Jacklin and Ian Woosnam to name but four. Using the same logic that will be lazily applied to Furyk’s appointment, his captaincy should have produced a far better outcome than it did.
Thing is, it’s just not that straightforward. Nobody can deny that Furyk’s playing record in the Ryder Cup is miserable. It’s impossible to put a positive spin on a record of 20 defeats from 34 matches. However, Sam Torrance’s record isn’t that much better. He lost 15 times in 28 appearances – yet nobody protested against his appointment for the 2002 match nor do they pause to consider his record in their rush to proclaim him a ‘Ryder Cup legend’. What qualifies him for such praise? In broad terms, the fact that he has been part of winning teams, holed the winning putt in the match, and been a winning captain.
There are only two kinds of Ryder Cup captains: those whose teams win and those whose teams lose.
By the same principle, Furyk is two-thirds of the way there. He’s won the trophy twice and holed the winning putt in 2008 – all that’s missing is a triumphant captaincy. And that would most likely change how history views his association with the match.
Fact is, there are only two kinds of Ryder Cup captains: those whose teams win and those whose teams lose. The former are revered and regaled, whilst the latter are either held up as examples of how not to do the job or, worse yet, largely forgotten. Be honest: how often in the last 12 years had you thought about Hal Sutton until a few paragraphs ago?
Meanwhile, Davis Love III’s ludicrous decision to rest the on-fire Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley on the Saturday afternoon at Medinah in 2012 – a decision which handed Europe a platform upon which to base their hitherto unlikely comeback – was all-but-erased from golf fans’ collective consciousness after what his side did at Hazeltine last year. Ryder Cup captaincy is something you are either sublime at or ridiculed for, which is in itself sublimely ridiculous.
Besides all else, Furyk won’t be able to directly influence the outcome of the match in so much as he won’t, of course, hit a shot. From that point of view, anything he has done before in the Ryder Cup means very little.
What is entirely more relevant is how popular he is with his fellow players. The ‘peer-elected’ process for choosing an American Ryder Cup captain is perhaps the single biggest success of the much vaunted, often ridiculed ‘Task Force’. It returned the immensely well-liked Davis Love III to the captain’s post for last year’s match and, galvanised in no small part by a desire to win for him, the US snapped a three-match losing streak.
Give the American team – hell, any team – somebody they admire, respect and want to perform for and there’s a higher chance of them delivering success. It’s not a guarantee. Golf is a game of far too many variables for such a promise. But it certainly improves their prospects.
Furyk, by common consent, is a very, very well liked guy. When he received the PGA Tour’s Payne Stewart Award at the Tour Championship last September – given annually to a player whose ‘values align with the character, charity and sportsmanship that Stewart showed’ – he was given a lengthy standing ovation by a room comprising many greats of the game past and present. Players who hadn’t even qualified for the season-ending event made the trip to Atlanta to celebrate him. That kind of popularity is a lucrative currency in a notoriously self-serving, individual sport.
Make absolutely no mistake: twenty defeats or not, Jim Furyk has all the makings of a great captain. Good luck to him.
What do you make of the decision to name Jim Furyk as the American captain for the 2018 Ryder Cup match? Good move? Bad move? Strange move? Leave your thoughts in our ‘Comments’ section below.