Fred Couples set to captain Team USA at inaugural Icons Cup in Dubai
Golf Culture

Fred Couples set to captain Team USA at inaugural Icons Cup in Dubai

Fred Couples might not have been selected to captain next year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, but he'll soon be leading a different team of golfers into competition.

Couples, who presided over victorious U.S Presidents Cup teams in 2009, 2011 and 2013 and was also a winner four times as a player, will captain Team USA in the Icons Cup, a new two-day, Ryder Cup-style team golf competition conceived by Worldwide Sports & Entertainment, Ltd. as a departure from typical celebrity golf events. The Icons Cup will take place April 22-24 at Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Earth Course in Dubai and feature low-handicap elite athletes from an array of sports, including Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, the NFL -- even surfing.

The 12-man Team USA roster includes: former Major League Baseball players Ken Griffey Jr., Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux; NBA champion Ray Allen; NHL legends Brett Hull and Mike Modano; all-time great NFL running backs Marcus Allen and Eric Dickerson; and 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater. The remaining three members of the team will be announced soon.

Gregg_Maddux_3 Kelly_Slater_16

Facing off with Team USA will be Team Rest of the World led by 2011 Open Championship winner and 2016 Team Europe Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke.

The international team roster has been set and includes: Gabriel Batistuta, Luis Figo, Robbie Fowler, Andriy Shevchenko and Dwight Yorke (football/soccer); Kapil Dev, Brian Lara and Shane Warne (cricket); George Gregan, Brian O’Driscoll and Mike Tindall, MBE (rugby); and Sir Steve Redgrave (Olympic rowing).

The Icons Cup will include morning foursomes (alternate shot) on Day 1, followed by 12 singles matches on Day 2 and another 12 singles matches on the final day.

Approached about the concept late last year by Icons Cup founder and producer Tom Brookes, Couples loved the idea and immediately jumped on board.

“Tom explained how he had this idea to bring together 24 of the world’s most famous athletes for a serious, Ryder Cup-style team event,” Couples said in an interview. “I am a huge sports fan and bought in immediately.”

But make no mistake, Couples – the 1992 Masters champion and two-time major winner on the Champions Tour – isn’t in this for the novelty; he’s in it to win.

“I’m going to treat the event like the serious competition it is,” Couples said. “We’re going to Dubai to win. I imagine I’ll call upon many of the same strategies I’ve used as Presidents Cup captain. That formula has worked really well with professional golfers, and I don’t see a reason why it won’t be successful with other elite athletes.”

Team USA is scheduled to make the trip to Dubai together a few days before the Cup to play some practice rounds and a pro-am -- maybe am-am is a more appropriate term.

“Many of the guys already know each other, but that journey from the States will give us the first opportunity to bond as a team,” Couples said. “I’ll be watching closely to see who’s playing well, maybe who is struggling a bit; all of it will be very valuable when the time comes to make pairings for the alternate-shot format and then set up the order of play for the two singles sessions.”

Couples feels these types of events not only provide great entertainment but also an opportunity to grow the game by exposing fans of other sports to a game they may not be familiar with.

“It has always amazed me how much guys who have played other sports at the highest levels – legends like Ken Griffey Jr. and Brett Hull and Greg Maddux – love golf," Couples said. "I’m really looking forward to seeing how they react to the pressure unique to team golf. I’m guessing they’ll handle it better than the ‘typical’ golfer, given that they all excelled in team sports during their pro careers. It will be fun to watch.”

Before the Icons Cup, however, Couples has his sights set on another little event: the Masters. He's showed modest form in 2015, finishing third at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai in January, missing the cut at the Northern Trust Open in February, and in March posted a T-59 finish at the Tucson Conquistadores Classic and a T-15 effort last week at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic.

Regardless of his game coming into the Masters, Couples typically finds a way to dazzle the fans at Augusta. What can we expect from him next week?

“Augusta National always seems to bring out the best in me,” he said. “I love playing the golf course; the shots it calls for suit my eye and I’m confident I can still contend there.”

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John Lahtinen

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