The only other time that the Presidents Cup featured a playing captain was the inaugural event in 1994, when Hale Irwin qualified for the United States squad on points and was asked to lead the Americans. Three International team rookies — Im Sung-Jae, Joaquín Niemann and Li Haotong — were not yet born when Irwin deftly carried out his dual roles, compiling a 2-1 record in the United States team’s 20-12 victory.
“Frankly, playing was a piece of cake compared to the captaincy and all the myriad things you have to go through,” said Irwin, who cited the selection of team outfits as one of the many time-intensive tasks he took on.
Speaking by telephone from his Arizona home, Irwin, 74, added: “As a player, it was just tee the ball up and knock it down the middle and win the hole. That was pretty straightforward stuff.”
This year’s participants are obligated to appear in only one of the four sessions before Sunday’s singles matches, where everyone plays. The newly instituted change would seem to work to Woods’s advantage because it affords him the option of contributing as a player without worrying about overtaxing his surgically fused back and surgically repaired knees.
For help off the course, Woods has three assistant captains — Fred Couples, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker — who can stand in for him at daily news conferences or tend to administrative details, the better to free Woods to sharpen his athletic edge.
At the previous Presidents Cup, two years ago at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, no one, including Woods, foresaw his returning in 2019 in an outsize role. Woods was experiencing back pain that made sitting in a cart unpleasant, and he was relegated to an assistant captain’s role under Stricker.
After spending a record 683 weeks as the world No. 1, Woods had fallen to No. 1,142. He had been sidelined from competitive golf for seven months, and he had spoken candidly about his uncertain future.
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