We talked to Jim Furyk about his Tony Finau pick, Tiger's role, and how he'll make his pairings
Having made his final captain's pick, naming Tony Finau to the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team, U.S. Captain Jim Furyk now can focus on the task at hand as he readies for the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National outside Paris in two weeks. The U.S. team arrives in France on Sept. 24 to try to win an "away" Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993. Earlier this week in Philadelphia, Furyk sat down with PGA.com contributor Jeff Babineau:
Q: Tell us about Tony Finau, your final captain's pick.
JF: He’s obviously a great guy, as nice a guy as there is on Tour. (Tony) has an unbelievable body of work this year. All those top-10 finishes (11), the play in big championships and the majors, and then his current form: a second, a fourth and an eighth in the playoffs. He checked a lot of boxes and made it impossible not to pick him. Being the front-runner going into this week and being the guy I had my eye on, and the vice-captains too, to see him respond in that way, in difficult conditions, with a guy like Xander (Schauffele) playing so well, Tony went out there and played a bogey-free round with five birdies to finish eighth.
All along, I’d talked about form and having a good season through the playoffs and being hot now. We’re looking for a good team player and a guy that fit the pairings and the golf course. As we always talk about, it’s going to be a tough crowd over there. They are loud, boisterous and everything the Europeans could ask for as a team. Tony just kind of played better than anyone and fits the bill.
Q: Tony talks about being a good team guy. Does that mean a lot to you as Captain?
A: It does. Having played team sports in the past, I think (Tony) understands what that means. To be a teammate or someone that is called a ‘good team guy,’ you want to have your game in shape and you’re always worried about how you play, but a true team guy is worried about the other 11 guys more. He can help others rise and get the most out of their games. I love that. Even being a rookie, for (Tony) to understand that so early on shows a lot of class and maturity.
Q: Finally, you have your 12. You've waited and waited. What do you think is the biggest strength of this team?
A: I think the options we have as captains for our pairings. We have a lot of guys that are in good form right now. The world rankings on both sides are really good, but we have a lot of guys in good form right now, guys who are having great seasons. We also have quite a bit of veteran leadership on this team, which is key on the road. It’s no secret that it’s been 25 years since we won in Europe and the conditions will be tough. I know we’ll have some American fans over there, but they’ll be outnumbered severely. I think to be able to weather that storm, that veteran experience will be key.
Q: What will the process be as you assess your players and begin to make pairings?
A: Looking at pairings had a lot to do with the picks. You want everything to kind of mix and match well. So we put a lot of that together. I was probably known as a player who tried to prepare for golf courses; when I stepped up to the first tee on Thursday, I felt like I’d worked hard and my preparation for the golf course was good. Well, as captain, I want to approach this event in that way as well. I want to make sure our players are very comfortable with their pairings, that we feel they mesh well together and will play well together. I want to give them a heads up. I don’t want to throw them any curveballs when the get to France. I want them to know what they can expect so that when they do have an opportunity to practice and play, they have the best chance to prepare.
Q: Does your philosophy with pairings fall on the side of matching ‘like’ games or ‘like’ personalities?
A: I think it’s a good mix of both. I think there are certain formats, certain golf courses, where like games are important. I think there are certain courses and formats where maybe having a different style of game could be important. You can take advantage of different holes and shots in a different way. You really have to take into account the personalities, as well. It’s really a big puzzle. We have about half the pieces out on a table right now, and we’re trying to mix and match them all together and give this team the best opportunity.
Q: You mentioned veteran leadership. To have Tiger Woods playing on this team, when you think of where he was a year ago at the Presidents Cup (not able to hit more than 60-yard shots), when did that really settle in?
I think it really settled in at the PGA (Championship) on the back nine, where I was going, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ Where he started this year, and where he was ranked, and he hadn’t played golf and coming off a back surgery, to now ... he’s really played so well here coming down the stretch the last couple of months. He’s in the Tour Championship. It’s a feather in my cap as a captain. Here’s a guy who’s done a lot of work for Davis Love and Steve Stricker the last couple of years as a vice-captain. He comes in with a lot of knowledge about our team, and the strategy, the pairings – he’s been a really great and useful tool for everyone in that way. He really has gotten to know these younger players really well, and I think they lean on him for advice. And so to have it flipped, I know it’s really special for him. I still get the benefit of his knowledge and wisdom, because whether he’s considered a player, a vice-captain … he’s a vice-captain in my eyes. Now I get the advantage of how he’s playing and having him on the golf course. I think it’s really special for him to have done all that work for the last three years and now actually get the opportunity to come back and play in this event. I know he cherishes that, and I know the players on this team think it’s pretty special, as well.
Q: And Phil Mickelson … you go all the way back to junior golf with him. Now he’s on another team at age 48 when the push of youth and young players is so strong. His 12th appearance is a Ryder Cup record. Is the achievement almost underrated in some ways?
A: I know how hard that is to stay that consistent for 25 years. That’s almost impossible. I’m happy for him. I know that starting out this year, he really felt confident about his game. He has his desire back, his will. He wanted to qualify for this team. Although he came up a little short, at No. 10, he had a great year, a great body of work. I think he played well in the first two (FedEx Cup) Playoffs events and finished top 15 in both of those events. (Phil tied for 15th at Northern Trust, and tied for 12th at Dell Technologies.) Again, good solid year, good form leading into the Playoffs. I know this week (BMW) wasn’t what he was looking for. I’m going to imagine the 48-year-old is a little tired at this point. So he has a week off to get rested and come back strong in the final two events.
Q: When European team Captain Thomas Bjorn finalized his team last week, he said he ended up with a very different team than he would have envisioned a year earlier, going into this. When you look at your 12, how does it stack up with what you might have been thinking coming out of the Presidents Cup last year?
A: I think we have a lot of the same core guys back, what you see in the U.S. team year-in and year-out. Definitely some new faces with Bryson (DeChambeau) and Tony. We have some guys who played in this event before but maybe weren’t there at the Presidents Cup last year. We have a good mix of guys. From ages, from styles. I guess I never tried to predict a year ago what was going to happen. I know this game, I know how fickle it is. And I know that we were looking for guys in really good form. It was interesting, when we qualified we had eight folks qualify after the PGA Championship, they were all in good form. After the Wyndham, I think our top eight guys were the top eight (U.S.) guys in the world ranking. We had guys with a good, solid body of work and I felt like they were in good form.
To get back to answering the question, I never really looked ahead to who I thought would make the team. I really had an open mind. I expected Brooks (Koepka) and DJ (Dustin Johnson) and JT (Justin Thomas) and Jordan (Spieth), some of the usuals. But you never know what’s going to happen. You look back to January-February-March, and Brooks is out, he can’t play the Masters in April and he’s sliding down the points list. And I’m nervous, because I think he’s a great team player and a guy you want to have on your team. And he comes back and wins two major championships. You can’t prepare for those things.
This game is like that. You just hope that, like a football team heading into the playoffs, you hope they’re healthy, that everyone is firing on all cylinders, and you can get through that way. It’s the same thing with the Ryder Cup. You’re hoping for guys who are playing well, hope injuries are held to a minimum, and you hope that they hit the ground running and can peak at the right time.