As Zach Johnson takes the reins of the Ryder Cup, questions arise over his successor
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Love lists? Check out this one, a list of golfers who have won the Masters, won the British Open and captained the Ryder Cup:
Next year in Rome, when Zach Johnson captains the US Ryder Cup, there will be a sixth name on that list. Johnson spoke with a clear sense of honor to join this group of five when he was officially announced as America’s next Ryder Cup captain at a press conference here on Monday morning.
If the world of golf were in its normal state, one would expect this list to grow from six to seven to eight over the next half-decade. You know, Phil Mickelson to follow Johnson, for the 2025 Ryder Cup, and then Tiger Woods after that.
Based on their accomplishments in the game, could you name two American golfers who would be more obvious choices as Ryder Cup captains than Phil and Tiger?
But right now, on this last Monday in February 2022, it’s almost impossible to say.
As we’ve seen with Woods over the years, his life takes unpredictable turns. His resilience, however, is almost immeasurable.
Mickelson’s future is even harder to predict. It’s almost obvious, if you’ve looked even occasionally at the PGA of America’s Ryder Cup playbook, that a Ryder Cup captain will serve as an alternate captain in the previous Ryder Cup. It’s an open secret on all your best PGA Tour practices that Mickelson was considered a lock for the 2025 Ryder Cup at Bethpage and that Woods, five years younger than Mickelson, would take the reins for 2027 in Ireland.
Yeah, that sounds like crazy talk, all that long-term planning. Your correspondent can’t tell, because he’s the type to make his Marriott reservation for that night when leaving the Hertz parking lot. But this long-term planning is a reality.
Woods wanted a road game. You know, more of a challenge. (The Americans haven’t won a Ryder Cup in Europe since 1995, when Tom Watson made his first attempt as captain. Well, this one went well.) Additionally, the 2027 site, Adare Manor, County Limerick, is owned by JP McManus, one of Woods’ former fishing and sipping buddies, from the time .
As for Mickelson, his public life is much more complicated now than it was just a few weeks ago. You can blame the lure of Saudi money and Phil’s mouth if you like, but there’s more to it. If not for the lure of Saudi money and Phil’s chatty ways, you might have gotten a very slim chance that Mickelson would have made the 2023 Ryder Cup squad somehow.
Johnson was asked Monday about Mickelson’s prospects as an alternate captain, if he doesn’t make the squad as a 53-year-old.
“Well, I will say, you know, given where we are right now, I have no idea what’s in store for us as far as my vice-captains and who’s on this team,” said Johnson. “I know 2020 was such, and 2023 will be very different. What it looks like, I don’t know yet.
I thought I saw this thought bubble floating over Johnson’s head:
Phil? Phil is a joker. With Phil, who knows anything?
I have no idea what awaits us as far as my vice-captains are concerned.
I should also point out that there was a certain level of grandeur to the morning event, even though The Associated Press’ Doug Ferguson broke the news that Johnson would be captain several days ago. It’s very important in golf to lead a Ryder Cup team. There were seats in the back reserved for Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, although neither attended. In the house were Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America, and Suzy Whaley, the first woman to serve as president of the PGA, one of the oldest and most important golf organizations in the country. The Ryder Cup trophy was also present, on a plinth. This has not been the case in the United States in recent decades. The losers steal and the winners keep the trophy.
On a wall to the right of the stage was a large mural with bloody black-and-white photographs of all the Ryder Cup captains over time. There was Tom Kite and Jerry Barber, wearing glasses. There was Ben Hogan and Nicklaus, wearing ties. There was Raymond Floyd with a visor and Dave Stockton with a rodeo hat. Johnson’s turn comes, to climb that wall.
What a career: 12 victories, including the Masters and the British Open 2015, at the Old Course. He won the Masters in 2007, on an Easter Sunday. He is a man of faith. He described his position as captain as a “role of service”. He said, “I’m going to be a servant to them.”
Being a public servant, or anything else, has never been easy and it’s harder now than it ever was. The light never goes out these days.
Johnson was delivered a major complication by Mickelson. Winning any Ryder Cup is tough. Choosing six players is as complicated as a captain chooses to do. The culture and language of Ryder Cup golf is very different from PGA Tour golf. When Johnson was looking for the common European phrase for what American golfers naturally call alternate firehe left for four balls first, before settling down quartetsafter an assist from the man sitting next to him, PGA President Jim Richerson of Riviera.
But Johnson joins a roster, a roster that’s better than most, to use a Florida Swing phrase, a roster with Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson already on it. Look where golf has taken Johnson in his 46 years. Look where golf has taken this son from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
He’s a dreamer. Anyone who goes to the PGA Tour has a dreamer in them. But there is the dream, and there is your life as you lead it.
Johnson’s life, he said Monday, has exceeded his dreams.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your feedback at [email protected]