Pondering Tiger and Phil as future Ryder Cup captains

It was sometime during Phil Mickelson's undefeated Presidents Cup week that Tiger Woods, according to a Golf Digest report, called Fred Couples. Couples in turn passed the phone over to Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who listened as Woods reportedly said that he'd been thinking about strategy for next year's proceedings at Valhalla and wants to be included as part of the team in some way
Those two actions -- Woods' call and Mickelson's performance -- were independent of one another. Yet because this is golf and because they just happen to be the two biggest lightning rods in the game over the past two decades, they converged into a rapidly percolating hot-button issue: Should Tiger and Phil be Ryder Cup captains someday?

This is the type of question that fuels the talk-show circuit for hours on end, every interested observer offering a viewpoint that can't be immediately affirmed or expunged. In fact, even if each of them ends up serving in the role, we might still argue whether they were right for the job or were simply handed the position because of their elevated status as players.

Too bad there's an easy answer: of course they should.

Say what you will about ousted PGA of America president Ted Bishop, but he changed the game. The role of Ryder Cup captain had previously served as a way of honoring the greatest players. Everybody step up, take your turn at bat, then let another guy have a chance. (Except for you, Larry Nelson. Never you.) That didn't mean the powers-that-be didn't want to win, only that they wanted to keep the position as a revolving door for the next legend who fit the criteria of being 50-55 years old and having played on multiple teams.

The appointment of Tom Watson could be filed under "unmitigated disaster," but it did prompt a change in the evolution of the captaincy. Since the U.S. has won just a single Ryder Cup this century, there is now a blueprint to install the best person available, revolving door be damned.
All of which gets us back to Tiger and Phil.

Some contend that because each owns a subpar Ryder Cup record and has suffered through a losing culture during the latest era, both should be bypassed for the captaincy. Which makes no sense. That would be analogous to an NFL team hiring only a coach who had won the Super Bowl as a player, rather than the best man for the job.

Now, I've long advocated for the PGA of America to name a permanent captain, much like other national teams -- perhaps in conjunction with the PGA Tour, and including the Presidents Cup, too. It would retain a semblance of consistency that teams have lacked from one competition to the next each year.

If that doesn't happen, though, then of course the two winningest and most respected American players of the past two decades should be offered opportunities to lead the team. Just as players of past generations might have felt a little extra motivation to win -- or, at least, not lose -- for men such as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Woods and Mickelson would instill similar attitudes in team members.

If there's a line of demarcation separating U.S. players from their European counterparts, it's that the former value individual accomplishments, especially major championships, more than these team events, while the latter have often prioritized winning as a team. That shouldn't be viewed as a major criticism of the Americans, though -- and it shouldn't keep the two biggest names from future captaincies.

The role is no longer an honor for legendary players, but that's not what Woods or Mickelson would want anyway. Just because they might not have wanted to win Ryder Cups more than, say, green jackets, that doesn't mean they didn't want to win. It also doesn't mean they aren't the right men for the job -- someday.

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