Mike Hulbert has already experienced one Ryder Cup as an assistant captain. He expects his second time around to be much different.
Hulbert, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour and a former All-American at East Tennessee State, will serve as an assistant captain to Davis Love III when the Ryder Cup is held Sept. 28-30 at Medinah Country Club near Chicago.
“It’ll be a different atmosphere because it’s here in the U.S. and we’ll feel like the whole country has our backs,” Hulbert said. “At the Belfry, we were the enemy the whole week. This is gonna be unbelievable. I’m really looking forward it.”
Hulbert is hoping for a different outcome as well. The Europeans won in 2002 when he was an assistant to Curtis Strange at the Belfry in England.
“Let’s face it, Europe has won six of the last eight,” he said. “We need to turn that ship around. First and foremost, we need to have that Cup in our locker room.”
The 54-year-old Hulbert, who never played in a Ryder Cup, is one of four assistant captains chosen by Love, joining Fred Couples, Scott Verplank and Jeff Sluman. In addition, Michael Jordan will be a “trusted advisor.” Love went to North Carolina and has been credited with stoking Jordan’s intense interest in golf.
“Davis has been great,” Hulbert said. “We’ve been close friends for a long time. We’ve been bouncing a lot of ideas around. That’s what I’m there for, somebody to lean on. I’ll do whatever he wants.”
Some of those ideas included input into Love’s four captains’ picks, usually a controversial decision when the Ryder Cup comes around every two years. Love’s choices of Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker were universally lauded, although for the first time in a while, the American team actually had more players playing well than available picks.
“We had been talking for a while, the guys on the team and the other assistant captains,” Hulbert said. “It was a tough call. Bottom line was everybody fighting for spots was playing pretty well. To tell you the truth, we could have used another pick.”
“I think this is one of the deepest and well-rounded teams we’ve ever put together.”
Hulbert said Love’s toughest chore was having to call the guys being considered who were not picked.
“They’re all friends and they wanted to make the team bad,” Hulbert said. “We knew it was gonna happen. There weren’t any easy picks. Like I told Davis, there aren’t any wrong picks. Somebody’s just gonna get left out. They’re OK with it. At least I think they are.”
A major point of interest for the past several Ryder Cups has been who will be Tiger Woods’ partners for the first two days. Woods’ record in Ryder Cup fourballs and foursomes is mediocre at best. He has a combined 8-13-1 mark with a partner, although he is 4-1-1 in singles.
“He’s not playing with Phil (Mickelson), I’ll tell you that,” Hulbert said. “He’ll probably play with a couple of the veterans. It’s pretty public knowledge that he’s played with the likes of Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, so there’s a good chance. But don’t put it past us to put one of the young guys under his wing. We’ll see what happens.
“The hardest part isn’t putting guys together, it’s sitting four guys out each session because we’re so deep.”
The last time the Americans won the Ryder Cup, four years ago at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., captain Paul Azinger had the course set up to take advantage of his team’s length. He widened the fairways and made several holes longer. Love is doing the same at Medinah, having some rough thinned out and offering a lot of the “risk-reward” type of shots.
“We have the golf course coming around,” Hulbert said. “It’s in excellent shape. We’ve got it set up the way we want it. We’ve got guys that can really drive their golf ball and we’re gonna try to take advantage of it.”
After taking this weekend off, the PGA Tour wraps up its FedEx Cup playoffs next week with the Tour Championship at East Lake. Then it’s on to Medinah, where two 12-man teams will play for a surprisingly small trophy that has caused grown men to cry.
“It’s gonna be on us soon,” Hulbert said. “We have a real good bunch of guys. I’m very excited about it.”