- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

Memo to the European Ryder Cup team: Uncle Sam wants you.

The triumphant U.S. Presidents Cup squad left Robert Trent Jones Golf Club with far more than simply an 181/2-151/2 victory over a sturdy band of Internationals. After snapping a five-year victory drought in the sixth edition of the event, the Americans rolled out of Lake Manassas, Va., with confidence, chemistry and a game plan for next year’s 36th Ryder Cup at Kildare Club in Straffan, Ireland.

The happiest man Sunday night might have been Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman. Presidents Cup captain Jack Nicklaus not only sends him a rejuvenated, cup-carrying team but also a successful, player-friendly captaincy template and a proven pairings formula.

Thanks to Nicklaus’ gift of the Tiger Woods-Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson-Chris DiMarco combos that forged a 5-0-2 record at RTJ, Lehman no longer faces the dilemma of how to handle his top two talents. Not only is Lehman spared the potential matchup controversy that doomed predecessor Hal Sutton to Ryder Cup infamy, he has been absolved of all performance accountability an entire year before he takes his squad to Ireland (Sept. 22-24).

Barring injury, Lehman will have to send out the Woods-Furyk and DiMarco-Mickelson teams at least for a Day 1 double shot against the Europeans. Even if they don’t succeed, who would have the nerve to second-guess him given last week’s performances?

Second, Nicklaus’ success using a player-polling, input-centric style also virtually demands that Lehman act accordingly in Ireland. If he receives mutual partnership enthusiasm from another pair like Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank (2-1-1), he would be unwise to overrule such advice.

Nicklaus’ captaincy last week is likely to become the modern template for U.S. skippers: keep it light, grin rather than glare, make player preference top priority and stay out of the way. Frankly, the toughest decisions left for Lehman might be picking the uniforms.

A captain, it seems, is no longer needed for motivational purposes. Last week at RTJ, Woods exhibited a lust for the event unseen in seven previous Ryder/Presidents Cups. Why? Maybe it was his association with Furyk, with whom he asked to be paired.

Or perhaps he was simply sick of hearing about his pedestrian record in such events and his perceived superstar detachment from the team and decided to do something about it.

Possibly it was just a matter of maturity. Woods never looked comfortable before last week in a team leadership role. And why would he? Despite his status as the world’s unquestioned top player over the last six years, it must have been awkward for a twentysomething upstart to take the reins of a team populated by fortysomething veterans like Davis Love III. But now Woods is almost 30. He’s no longer just an ubertalented kid; he’s a veteran, a guy who has put in his time and has stood beside his teammates through good times and bad, scrutiny and success.

And what the U.S. team discovered last week in DiMarco and Furyk is likely to serve it well for the better part of the next decade. There definitely was some fire missing at the last two Ryder Cups. Since Payne Stewart’s tragic death in 1999, the team had lacked a true patriotic spark plug. It found two in the gutty Furyk, who played injured but still posted a 3-0-2 record, and DiMarco, the U.S. man-of-the-match after a 4-0-1 week and a fitting cup-clinching putt.

If the U.S. squad can replace aging veterans Fred Funk and Fred Couples with some spunky youngsters like Jason Gore, Sean O’Hair, Zach Johnson, Charles Howell or Ryan Moore, it figures to be difficult to beat in Ireland next year.

“Emotionally, I don’t know if it carries over to next year, because that’s so far away,” said Furyk. “But I think some positives will definitely come out of this week. We found some successful pairings, deepened friendships, enjoyed ourselves and won. It was a great week for American golf.”

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