It probably all seemed a little strange on Tuesday, with Tiger Woods and Ernie Els being announced as 2019 Presidents Cup captains some 21 months before the competition begins at Royal Melbourne in Australia.
The timing seemed bizarre. Here’s Tiger Woods, coming off a T-2 finish at the Valspar Championship, an event he had never played on a course he hadn’t seen in 22 years in just his fourth start of 2018 after a spinal fusion the prior April. Ratings for the Innisbrook event were the highest of any non-Masters PGA Tour telecast since 2014. Anything even close for a regular PGA Tour event behind then was, you guessed it, a Woods victory. A 42-year-old man is taking golf on a journey Dr. Stephen Hawking (rest in peace) hypothesized was probably not possible, traveling through time at least five years, if not more, to a completely different era in the sport.
Why, then, announce this news as Woods in unfathomably the betting favorite to win a ninth Bay Hill title and collect an 80th PGA Tour win? Why take away from the physically palpable buzz around the PGA Tour to talk about something that could be shelved for a few more months?
It’s easy to forget. As recently as the 2017 Presidents Cup, Tiger Woods said he was uncertain whether his future included finishing his career inside the ropes. He was recovering from that fourth, and most serious, back surgery. He had come off a Memorial Day DUI arrest, an embarrassment which exposed his immediate need for substance-abuse treatment, which he sought and completed. His life was as much dangling from a string then as his golf career.
And it was at that near exact moment that the plan was hatched to make Woods captain for the 2019 US Presidents Cup team.
“It came about just through a group texted with Davis (Love III), Freddie (Couples), Jim (Furyk) and Steve (Stricker) and who we thought might be the next captain and they said that you would probably be on the short list,” Woods said Tuesday. “And I didn’t really think about it in that way. But then after a little bit of thought I said, you know what, are that’s, that sounds like something I really want to do. I called Jay up said, ‘Hey Jay, might you be interested in me possibly being the captain in 2019 Presidents Cup team?’
“Silence,” as the assembled media laughed. Woods continued, “And then he said, ‘Yeah, I think that might, we might be able to work that out.’ So here I am.”
Coming off the second-lowest point in his public life, Woods wanted something like this. He needed something like this, not knowing if he could depend on his body and his brain to get him back into a position he now enjoys as a player. So he asked for the job, and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wasn’t going to turn down that opportunity, particularly after Woods was vice-captain on an American team that nearly won the biennial competition on the third of four days and posted a blowout tally only softened by an International team with a collective stiff upper lip on Sunday at Liberty National.
The American team has won seven Presidents Cups in a row. They’ll likely win an eighth. What, then, would infuse some energy into a competition whose outcome has been predictable for a quarter-century? Enter Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.
The PGA Tour plans things way in advance. Years. They’re smart people, and they’re prepared. They had this news conference ready to go for months, likely before they even knew Woods would be healthy enough to compete, much less be the favorite, at Bay Hill. They hired the kangaroos well ahead of time for the photo opps. They had to get everything in place way ahead of time, and they weren’t about to pull back now that Woods the Player is again above the level of Woods the Icon or Woods the Vice Captain.
But don’t forget this came about because Woods wanted this. He wants this opportunity to be a leader and take up-and-coming players under his wing, just as Phil Mickelson has done for years. This is Woods stepping up to his responsibilities as an ambassador for the sport, and he was thinking about a way to pass the torch to the next generation.
Now, as it turns out, Woods may wind up playing for himself at Royal Melbourne. And that opening of the Book of Secrets for the next generation? That may have to wait a little while, too.