Jim Furyk, 2018 Ryder Cup USA Captain, hosted a dinner for team hopefuls at his Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., home Wednesday evening on the eve of the Players Championship.
Vice captains Davis Love III, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods — who is very much trying to play his way onto the team at Le Golf National Paris later this year — were on hand along with 20 players.
Those players were: Dustin Johnson, Gary Woodland, Bryson Dechambeau, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Brian Harman, Charley Hoffman, Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner, Patton Kizzire, Matt Kuchar, Andrew Landry, Phil Mickelson, Scott Piercy, Chez Reavie, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson.
Masters champion Patrick Reed, currently No. 1 in the standings, and reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka (No. 8) were the only players in the current top 10 not in attendance.
“Not everyone could make it tonight, but we had a huge turn out,” Furyk said. “I respect everyone is preparing and not everyone can make it and that’s totally fine. But I was happy to see the guys I did.”
The point of the evening was to get everyone together for some bonding together, as well as with Furyk, and also to get some direction from the captain on what’s been going on behind the scene for Ryder Cup preparations.
“We had three unbelievable chefs at the house,” Furyk said. “It was an evening full of protein and healthy side dishes. It was wonderful. We had chefs Mike Ramsey, Eric Butcher and Marvin McClelland. They’re friends from different outlets that came together tonight and made a wonderful meal for us. The idea was to have a great meal, but make it healthy with the Players Championship starting tomorrow.
“We had everyone here to touch all our bases and get the guys excited and interested in what’s to come,” Furyk said. “It was nice to have all the vice captains here. Let them know what I’m planning and what I’m all about. We talked about different timelines for the year and camaraderie.”
This gathering — and the timing — made perfect sense. The Ryder Cup is a little more than four months away and the top players in the world are in Furyk’s hometown this week for the Players Championship just down the street at TPC Sawgrass, beginning Thursday morning.
“Last night was Military Appreciation Night for the PGA Tour, so we didn’t want to do it on Tuesday,” Furyk said. “That’s a big night for the them and for us. It wasn’t the proper night for the Ryder Cup get together. We were aware of their timeline Wednesday night; some of them with early tee times tomorrow. They came at around 6 and they were out by 8 so they could get plenty of rest. I had a great time and was honored to have everyone here. It gave me the opportunity to address a team of potenital players and talk about what we we’re trying to accomplish this year.”
In 2016, then-Captain Love did something similar… but with the help of a legend.
During Honda Classic week in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., during March of that year, 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus allowed Love to host a number of USA hopefuls for a casual dinner and evening at his Palm Beach home.
Woods attended that dinner and wrote in a blog entry on his website later, “Jack, [Captain] Davis [Love III] and [Vice Captain] Tom [Lehman] talked about their experiences and what to expect” at the Ryder Cup, Woods wrote. “[Vice Captain] Jim [Furyk] asked questions, and it was good to hear from the younger guys who are on the cusp of making the team for the first time.
“It was nice to get things out in the open, so they understand what the atmosphere will be like,” he added. “I think the dinner was a great idea and brought a lot of guys closer.”
The bonding dinner — at least in part — worked that year, as the USA would go to Hazeltine and claim its first Ryder Cup victory since 2008 at Valhalla.
This time around, however, the task could be even more daunting. The USA hasn’t won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil since 1993 at the Belfry.
Of the players — and captains — at Furyk’s dinner on Wednesday, only Love was a part of that 1993 Ryder Cup.
He was there as a rookie for the USA and secured the winning point in a 1-up singles victory over Italy’s Constantino Rocca.
For some perspective, that “road win” happened the year Spieth, Thomas and DeChambeau were born.
Though Love was in attendance Wednesday, Furyk didn’t have him address the players on hand to talk about that experience of winning a Ryder Cup in Europe.
“The fact that Davis won the clinching point in 1993, I’ve seen the video a hundred times, it’s not anything that has escaped me,” Furyk said. “It’s something I plan to utilize in the future.
“This dinner was a little different than in 2016,” he continued. “For one, we’re coming off a win this time around. But, it’s been such a long time since we were successsful in Europe. It’s been 25 years since we won there. We’re reminded of it all the time. So we’re aware and understand the task ahead.”
Furyk isn’t in the field for the Players this week, but said will be at TPC Sawgrass for appointments on Thursday and Friday. As for Ryder Cup meetings with players though? That’s over for this week.
“Monday to Wednesday was my time with these guys and it was incredible,” he said. “I’m going to stay out of the way and watch now — get a handle on the guys that will make the team. Thursday through Sunday, they have a job to do to try and win a the Players Championship — a huge golf tournament. Not only this week, but for the rest of the year, I want to be in the background and watch these incredible players.”