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Captains Discuss Pairings & Teams' Chances in Presidents Cup
On the eve of the ninth Presidents Cup, the captains of the two teams sat down with reporters for one final session before the matches begin Thursday at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia.
During the press conference Fred Couples for the American team and Greg Norman of Internationals announced their pairings for the morning foursome matches. Also in attendance were the two captain's assistants for each team - Frank Nobilo and Tim Clark for the International team and Jay Haas and John Cook for the U.S.
Here's the full transcript of that media session.
MODERATOR: We have our captains and assistant captains from the United States and International teams to make our pairings. We also have tournament director, Steve Carman, to oversee the process. I would like to ask all members of the audience to withhold any comments or questions until after the process has been completed. With that, Steve, if you would like to go ahead and get started, we'll get underway.
STEVE CARMAN: Good morning, good afternoon. U.S. Team is the defending team, so Captain Couples has the choice of selecting either the first pairing or deferring to Captain Norman.
FRED COUPLES: We'll let the home team go first.
GREG NORMAN: That was an original one.
FRED COUPLES: Last time it was you were the guest, so you went first -- that's what I mean. You deferred because you're the guest, and now you're the host.
GREG NORMAN: You want me to go first again?
FRED COUPLES: Yes.
GREG NORMAN: I put in Nobilo and Clark. (Laughter).
FRED COUPLES: I was going to say, what year is this, '88?
JAY HAAS: We don't want any part of that.
FRED COUPLES: We will put in Nicklaus and Palmer. (Laughter).
GREG NORMAN: Our first choice will be Els and Ryo Ishikawa.
FRED COUPLES: Wow. Love it. We'll put Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. We'll put Billy Haas and Nick Watney.
GREG NORMAN: Okay. We'll go Ogilvy and Charl Schwartzel. We'll go Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day.
FRED COUPLES: Give us a second here, Sharky.
GREG NORMAN: That's okay, man. That's all right. Daylight savings time.
FRED COUPLES: There are fish lurking somewhere around the boat. We'll go with Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. We'll go Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Furyk.
GREG NORMAN: We'll go Retief Goosen and Robert Allenby. We'll go Kyung-tae Kim and Y.E. Yang. Come on, Freddie.
FRED COUPLES: What, do we only have two teams left; is that correct? We'll go Phil Mickelson -- no. Sorry. (Chuckling). Hunter Mahan and David Toms.
JAY HAAS: Who is left? (Laughter).
FRED COUPLES: We'll go Tiger and Stricker.
GREG NORMAN: And obviously Adam Scott and K.J. Choi.
FRED COUPLES: Nice work.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you. Captain Norman, if you would start with making some comments about the teams you've put together and how the pairings unfolded.
GREG NORMAN: From my perspective and talking to my players about it and with Frank and Tim, my guys are very, very well balanced. I'm very, very fortunate with the team that I've got because of the way the guys strike the golf ball. They are very, very consistent, very, very even across the board. There's very little variation with the way they play their game. They all hit the ball long, and they are all great putters. So from my perspective, you could have thrown 12 names in the hat and pulled out whichever ones pulled out as a pair and we would have had a great pairing.
I'm going to make a comment about the last pairing. I think it's great for the tournament, No. 1. It needed to be done. It played out the way it played out. There wasn't any premeditation by it. I think at the end of the day, the guys in that last group will be the consummate professionals and go out and play the game of golf representing their International Team and the U.S. Team the way they should do. I think the spirit of the competition, it is what it is; it's extremely high. There's a lot of good intensity going on between all of the players on both teams. I'm looking forward to it. The alternate-shot is the real true test of your moxie when you go out there with your playing partner, and we are going to have some fun watching the game of golf tomorrow.
FRED COUPLES: Yes, I think Greg hit it right on the button. We did not plan anything. But I think it worked out awesome for everybody involved to have Adam and Tiger play. As we said all along, they are still very good friends, and I think it's an exciting match. Now, as far as the other five, as Greg said, alternate shot is very difficult. We have done our best to pair our guys up for this golf course, and they are out there playing right now and they will be very excited about these pairings.
I think this will go down as the best Presidents Cup ever. They are too good of players, and I think this match-up right here indicates just how exciting this is going to be. I mean, we feel comfortable with our guys, and you could tell that Timmy, Greg and Frank did the same. It's fun to make these pairings, and our guys like it when we go back and tell them who they are playing. This is not a cutthroat event. They are all excited to play Goosen and Els and Ishikawa and all of those guys. I'm thrilled to death. Q. A cou
ple of questions, one for Greg. You indicated that "it had to be done." Can you elaborate on what you meant by "it had to be done?" And you both said it wasn't premeditated, the last pairing, but yet most of us would say that would almost be impossible. Did you talk to your players ahead of time with the possibility that Adam would play against Tiger and Freddie, that Tiger would play against Adam?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I didn't talk to my players. I talked to Adam. Obviously as a captain, because you don't know how the pairings will play out. I will say that it is not premeditated. I have never had a coverings with Freddie or with John or with Jay about it. I just think that in the situation and in the best spirit of the competition for the tournament, there's obviously a lot of speculation and intensity from the people in this room here that it could take place. We talked about it as the three of us to say, okay, if we had to diffuse anything and just get this thing over and done with, wouldn't you rather have it sooner than later. Because I personally wouldn't have wanted to be sitting down at the singles and everybody is playing a really tight match and it comes down to the last group or the second to last group, and all of this pressure is coming on because it's the first time the two met.
I am in complete agreement with Freddie. Adam and Tiger are good friends. It's got nothing to do with Adam and Tiger, and at the end of the day, the atmosphere that will exist walking to the first tee will be exactly the same it would be if none of this took place in the past week. So, you know, from the Presidents Cup standpoint, I think it's the best move that it played out this way.
Q. Freddie, you had the chance to throw out Woods and Stricker when he threw out the Korean pairing, and you obviously thought about it a little bit at the time. Did you at some point think, let's not do this tomorrow, and you could have thrown out Woods and Stricker in 5 or were you always going to make them 6?
FRED COUPLES: I think we are looking into this a little bit more, as you can tell, I got a little excited. I had Phil in the 5 slot and I said his name twice. I just wasn't paying any attention. So our guys kind of tell us when they wanted to play. We are very excited. We wanted Bubba and Webb out there first and we put their names out there and they are going against a great pair. You know, there's more to this thing than where you slot the players. Like Greg said, and we were right here, we were writing down cards and it's just the way it felt, and I think it would be worse if we hid this deal.
So I'll end it with that, because I could easily never pair Tiger and Adam together. But we have Jay's son out there playing against Ogilvy and Schwartzel. They feel very comfortable. They like those guy, they have played a little bit. So the six pairings, they are all incredible pairings. Again, I've said this since I got here. Jason Day is the guy that we love the way he plays. All of our guys love to play him. And so when they say they are going to get a point, you know, that's what they are supposed to say. So I think people construe things, when you put up a match and they say: 'Captain, give me that guy, I'm going to get a point,' and everyone says, well, you must hate that guy. They like all these guys. So it's not just Adam Scott and Tiger Woods. There's 22 other players here. Phil Mickelson has been on every Presidents Cup team. Ernie Els has been on every Presidents Cup team. I think it's a heck of a setup for day one.
Q. Why K.J.?
GREG NORMAN: Why K.J.?
Q. With Adam.
GREG NORMAN: Why not?
Q. You're the captain.
GREG NORMAN: Like I said, why not? We could have put all 12 names in a hat, and however those 12 names came out in the six pairing, we would have been happy with. It wasn't hard for us. We talked to the guys yesterday collectively. We suggested what the three of us up here decided on the pairings and there wasn't one push back. So from our perspective, we got a lot of -- a good sense of calm going in our room here, because all of the guys are looking forward to playing with anybody. And they know that. That's the responsibility of being a team member. At the end of the day, I'm extremely happy with they with my guys have folded out here, and like Freddie said, the first day's action will probably be really, really, really good.
Given the weather conditions for tomorrow, kind of soft and benign. It's alternate-shot. I would hate to have Friday's conditions for tomorrow when it's blowing 35 out of the north, northwest. That would have been brutal for the guys. But we are going to move into the event into the weekend in a very seamless transition with the way these pairings have played out. You know, my team is no different. Adam is no -- he didn't care who he played. "If it played out that way," he said, "Greg, it plays out that way." So there's no issues. And I'm sure Freddie and I, everybody, we want to put this behind us. It's a dead issue as far as we are concerned. There's no animosity between any of the players or any of the issues have taken place. I know it's good fodder. People like to talk about it in the media. But from our perspective, it's dead and gone, and we would like to keep it that way going forward.
Q. You've got plenty of Aussies on your team. Was there a temptation to send some of them out in the first group and get the crowd involved early? Did that come into the thinking?
GREG NORMAN: Yes and no. There's a lot of logical pairings you would put out there but the end of the day, it's the comfort level of all of the guys willing to play with anybody and that's the simplest way I can put it. Nobody really came in and said, I need to play with such and such. They said, I'm happy to play with anybody you put me with.
Q. Getting some Aussies out there early, the cheers -
GREG NORMAN: You put an Aussie in one group, they are going to be going, "Oi, Oi, Oi," so I don't have a problem with that.
Q. Can you talk about the pairing with Ernie and Ryo, given how little Ryo has seen of the course, a bit of extra pressure on Ernie going out in the first pair, and also trying to guide Ryo through his first look at Royal Melbourne?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I think that had a lot to do with it. We knew Ryo got in late and only had one practice round. They are out there playing now. Ernie shot 60 around this golf course so he knows how to play Royal Melbourne. He has a lot of experience here. The two of them are communicating extremely well about how to play the golf course. Ryo has no fatigue issues. He's comfortable with the golf course. He loves the greens super quick. He just came from the Taiheiyo Masters where the greens roll at 14, anyway, so he has the feel for very speedy greens. A bit of experience for a guy who has come in as a rookie on Royal Melbourne, which is going to help him more, especially on alternate-shot. So Ernie telling him to where to position the ball on the fairway for where Ernie wants to play his second shot in; so it was a natural pairing as far as we could see it.
Q. To follow up on a hot topic, Greg, did you get a sense that Steve Williams wanted that pairing? And Freddie, did you get a sense that Tiger wanted that pairing?
GREG NORMAN: I have not even had a conversation with Steve Williams. His job is to carry Adam Scott's bag and doesn't matter whether they are playing Tiger Woods or not. That's why I said in the beginning I think these guys are consummate professionals. I think Steve Williams is a consummate professional as a caddie. They will get to the first tee, they will probably shake hands, have a great day, let's go play, and that's it, like you do with any other player you walk to the tee or caddie you walk to the tee. And after that, the next 5½ or four hours or three hours or whatever it is, the guys are going to play their game and stay focused on their compartment of what they do on a day-to-day basis and year-to-year basis. I truly don't see any issues coming out of this thing at all.
FRED COUPLES: I will make a three-second comment. You've got Steve Stricker and K.J. Choi playing against each other, also. Those are two of the finest -- I guess maybe if I say it this way, Adam and Tiger aren't. Those are two of the finest guys on the PGA Tour.
As Greg has said over and over and over, we could forget the other five pairings and do this until we pass away. But if there was no rift, that would be an unbelievable pairing. It would not be the greatest pairing in the world; it happens to be because something happens and in our opinion, not really a whole lot happened. We have all commented on it, but I think the matches between Tiger and Strick, Scott and Choi, somebody going to win that match and it will be I great match. I'm hoping our other guys are up to it and play very, very well. I like the pairings, and I think the whole day is going to be fabulous.
Q. From the outside, Stricker and Woods seemed like an obvious pairing. How obvious would this pairing be for the rest of the week or will the outcome of tomorrow's session really play a significant role?
FRED COUPLES: Well, you know, they are probably the best pairing when they are playing. They will come and tell us. You know, the best-ball is a little different. I think the way Steve's playing, he'll be solid in the alternate-shot. Maybe he's a little rusty. He has not played a tournament in six or seven weeks. So they will tell us, just like Greg's guys will come in and say, you know, even though they have played together and won every match in Harding Park and done well in the Ryder Cup, but we have got Jay and John who will figure it out. To be honest, we are not going to mix too many pairings. That's not a secret. If somebody didn't play well together, we might change it up in best-ball. But as Greg said, alternate-shot is a very, very difficult format and you want to be really comfortable. And our guys are -- that's how we have it set up right now.
Q. Just wanted to see if you could comment on taking your boys who know Royal Melbourne well and dispersing them through the lineup with guys who don't.
GREG NORMAN: I think all of my guys are very, very comfortable now. Obviously with Ryo, he would be the only guy and I only watched him play four or five holes and I didn't have any issues or concerns, because Ernie, like I said before, in the practice round just the two of them, Ernie was telling him where to hit it. And he was hitting to exactly to the spots in the fairways. Then I spoke to his caddie, Ryo's caddie, reiterated to him like I have to all of the other caddies that you've got to play this golf course backwards. You've got to understand where the pin positions are to go at your tee shot.
So they are completely in sync. Everybody else just loves the golf course. I'm not saying Ryo doesn't, but he has not seen the whole golf course. All of the other 11 players just think it's just heaven here to play golf, and from my perspective, I'm actually the first time disappointed I'm not playing. Because the greens are so beautiful, the golf course looks so beautiful as a player, you just want to get out there and play. So that just tells you, all of my team members, and I'm sure it's the same with the U.S. Team, are just enjoying walking onto this first tee and playing Royal Melbourne in the condition and shape and speed of what it is for today and the next four days.
Q. Foursomes is difficult in pairing matches. What about the golf ball? Did much consideration come into choosing the players you've chosen with similar golf balls in the foursomes tomorrow?
FRED COUPLES: Great question, maybe on two of our teams. We went with more of a feeling from the guys. We have been here a couple days. The team has been set for eight weeks now. So some of the pairings were Bubba and Webb; I talked to them six weeks ago and they both said they wanted to play together. Sure enough, they are playing together. So the ball, for us, I'm sure Greg, too, is not a main concern. They all fly it so good now. They are a little bit different but for us not a huge concern.
GREG NORMAN: None for us either. We obviously talked about it. I think we spent a little bit too much time on it back in San Francisco worried about marrying up the ball, and at the end of the day, the guys can make the adjustment or adapt to that golf ball very, very quickly. So it was not an issue with any one of our players.
Q. You gave Greg the first crack at the pairings and you seemed genuinely shocked at Els and Ishikawa what were you expecting first up?
FRED COUPLES: Ernie is one of my all-time favorite players, and I like that pairing. Not like, oh my God what a bad pairing, but I have a lot of respect for Ryo who is a young kid. And I have been on a lot of these teams and I remember playing with Ray Floyd a long time ago. I was played with Jay Haas who is not that much older than I am, but a little bit. It was just, wow. No one in our room had said, okay, well, when Ernie Els name goes up there -- that's why it took us a little while. But Bubba and Webb wanted to go first so we put them in there first.
MODERATOR: Captains, thank you for taking the time today and good luck tomorrow.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.