Captain America Takes a Stand?
He hasn’t, but he could if he follows our scribe’s lead
By Michael Bamberger
Zach Johnson, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, has been circulating draft comments he has written in anticipation of his appearance next Tuesday at the PGA of America headquarters in Frisco, Texas, where he will announce his six captain’s picks for this year’s Ryder Cup team. The draft has been circulating among officials at the PGA of America, which co-owns and oversees American interest in the Ryder Cup.
The draft was handwritten by Johnson on stationery from the Grandover Resort, a Wyndham property in Greensboro, N.C., during the Wyndham Championship earlier this month. Johnson, with scores of 67 and 72, missed the cut by a shot and earned no money. He is 47 and is a Masters and British Open champion.
The Fire Pit Collective acquired* a copy of the one-page document by posing as a poolside towel attendant at the resort and taking a photo of it as Johnson was making inquiries to a resort employee about the availability of herbal body wraps and other spa treatments.
[In the interest of full disclosure, we note that a resort guest pointed at Johnson and said, “Man, what’s Joaquin Phoenix doing here and why’s he dressed like some PGA Tour dude?” The 48-year-old actor is noted for his elaborate practical jokes. In the vernacular of yesteryear, we may have been punk’d.—Ed.]
The draft begins with a note.
J.—Is this too much? Not enough? Lemme know. Gonna run it by T, too.—Z.
(J is, presumably, Julius Mason, the top spokesperson for the PGA of America. Or, it could be Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour. If you don’t know who T is, we can’t help you.)
The letter begins: Now some of you will note that Brooks Koepka was not among my six captain’s picks, even though he just missed making the team on points, finishing seventh. And of course his play this year has been outstanding, with his second-place finish at Augusta and his win at the PGA Championship. I like Brooks. Maybe I should say, I like his swagger, his athleticism, his whole big-game hunter approach to golf. He is unquestionably one of the best golfers in the world.
But the Ryder Cup is not about collecting the best golfers in the world in a single place. What I’m going to tell you all here is pretty much what I told Brooks by phone the other day.
First off, just a quick little history thing. Golf was developed in Holland and Scotland and over the centuries took root across the British Isles and Europe. It was originally an upper-class game. Golf in America is relatively new, but American golf has been responsible for huge innovations in the game, including public golf, resort golf and vacation golf, the creation of driving ranges, mass-produced club manufacturing. When you get right down to it, golf became democratic, a game for everybody, in America.
Europe had Henry Cotton. The very proper Sir Henry. We had Walter Hagen. The Haig, living large and loving it.
For decades, the Ryder Cup was a friendly rivalry: Europe versus America, guys who grew up watching the European tour versus guys who grew up watching the PGA Tour. Now, most top Europeans live in the U.S. and play the PGA Tour, but the old tribal feelings remain.
The PGA Tour. Yes, it broke off from the PGA of America, but the links are still strong. Thousands of Tour golfers, long before I arrived on the scene, made our lives possible by turning professional golf in America into a viable thing. I’ll cite just a few names, all of them my predecessors as Ryder Cup captains: Curtis Strange, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan.
When Phil Mickelson decided to join LIV Golf and recruit other players to do the same, he was putting a dagger in an American institution that made his life possible. That is, the PGA Tour, sister organization to the PGA of America. Phil can do what he wants, of course, and has, but there’s a reason why he is not an assistant captain on this year’s team, as he was so memorably at Whistling Straits two years ago.
Whether Phil will ever become a Ryder Cup captain is another subject for another time. At one point, he was a lock for it. Now? Even though he, like Brooks, is a two-time PGA Championship winner? You never want to say never, but as a non-betting man I would say there’s no chance. Phil took the money and turned his back on us, this band of American golfers playing the PGA Tour. That’s his prerogative. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
So when I looked at Brooks and considered a place for him on this team, the same thoughts washed over me. He turned his back on American golf and the leading American golf institution, the PGA Tour. He turned his back on Hogan and Arnold and Big Jack. The Ryder Cup is all about American golf, the PGA of America, the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf isn’t a sports institution. It’s an ATM for a small group of coddled golfers. It doesn’t stand for anything, except entertainment. I don’t think of golf as entertainment. I don’t think of the Ryder Cup as entertainment. We’re not wearing costumes. We’re wearing team uniforms. This is golf’s ultimate team competition.
I see this as a chance for me to make a statement about my own values. I don’t believe in blind loyalty. I do believe in loyalty to the institutions that have helped make you and have earned your loyalty. I believe playing on a Ryder Cup team is a reward. I believe that every member of the team has to be able to say that he is putting the team’s needs ahead of his own. That’s not easy for any professional golfer to do, but the starting point of our U.S. team is that we represent American golf. We represent the PGA Tour. We represent the PGA of America. That is our core value. Brooks ran for the money. That is not a value I can relate to.
Also, and I’m addressing Brooks directly here: that thing at Augusta. Second shot, 15, first round. Your caddie shared club information with Gary Woodland’s caddie. Anybody who saw the tape can see that. He mouths, Five. Five! Maybe you didn’t know anything about it, but that’s not how the rule works. Just take the shots, dude. Put the game ahead of yourself.
That’s what the Ryder Cup is about, too: putting the game ahead of yourself.
Sorry, dude. You’re out.
NBC Sports may not like my decision, the PGA Tour may not like it, the PGA of America may not like it. No Brooks will cost the event some viewers. No Brooks complicates the Tour’s efforts to get a deal done with LIV and Yasir. No Brooks means the PGA of America loses a chance to showcase the winner of its premier event, the PGA Championship. No Brooks means the team loses all that BK see-ball, hit-ball swagger. Given all that, you might think this was a hard decision to make.
It was easy.
*By acquired we mean Bamberger made it all up. Michael welcomes your comments at [email protected]
Michael Bamberger was briefly a caddie on the PGA and European Tours, invented a golf club (the E-Club) that Lee Trevino used in his final British Open, spent 22 years as a writer at Sports Illustrated and joined the Firepit Collective in May 2022.
email: [email protected]