Greg Norman put aside his differences with the PGA Tour and agreed to be captain of the International team at the Presidents Cup, joining Fred Couples of the United States as the first captains who have competed in the matches.
It will be held in October 2009 at Harding Park, a public course in San Francisco.
The announcement Tuesday shifts the Presidents Cup into a modern era of captaincy. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were captains at the last three competitions, and previous captains included Arnold Palmer, Ken Venturi, Hale Irwin, Peter Thomson and David Graham.
Couples was a natural fit as the face of these matches, which were patterned after the Ryder Cup and began in 1994.
He clinched victory for the Americans in the inaugural year with a spectacular 9-iron from a bunker to 2 feet, and two years later, his 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole in the last match secured another win.
In his fourth and final Presidents Cup, he made a 20-foot birdie on the last hole to beat Vijay Singh.
The surprise was Norman, who has been battling with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem for more than a decade over the World Golf Championships and more recently, the tour’s finances.
Norman’s proposed world tour in 1994 never took root, and Finchem introduced the WGCs a few years later.
“I think what’s happened in the past is in the past,” Norman said. “If you sit on a board of any company, you don’t want to have a friendly board. You need to have some bit of contentious, open discussion because not everybody is going to think exactly the same way. Tim and I have an open discussion about certain situations with the game of golf, whether it’s personal, whether it’s business.
“The issues are always going to be there. Those issues have got nothing to do with The Presidents Cup.”
Norman said Finchem asked him to be International captain at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and he consulted Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott.
His biggest issue will be finding a way to win. The United States leads the series, 5-1-1, with the only International victory coming in 1998 in Australia. The tie came in South Africa in 2003, the first year Nicklaus and Player were captains together.
Tour officials then were looking at Couples and Norman as the next captains, but decided on Nicklaus and Player again in 2005 as a way to settle the tie. The Americans won the next year, then won again in 2007 at Royal Montreal.
Couples is one of the most popular players in golf and figures to be the quintessential players’ captain. He has expressed interest in being the Ryder Cup captain, although any hope probably ended in December when he said, “I can promise you, there’s 12 guys who don’t want to do 75 percent of the stuff there. If you’re a great captain, you should tell everyone you’re not going to do 75 percent of the stuff.”
The Presidents Cup is far more relaxed, and Couples jokingly suggested he would pick Michael Jordan and Robin Williams as assistants, one to tell stories of greatness, the other to tell jokes.
“The Presidents Cup is a treat to play in, and it will be doubly special to captain this thing,” Couples said. “As close as I am to these guys, I feel like I’ll have fun with all of them, whether they’re 50th in the rankings or first.”
Norman has played two of the last three weeks on the PGA Tour, but is too consumed with his business and his engagement to tennis star Chris Evert to play much tournament golf.
Couples said he planned to play a full schedule each of the next two years, and noted he would be eligible for the Champions Tour right after the Presidents Cup ends.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen,” Couples said.
Many thought Norman would be captain in 2011, when the Presidents Cup goes to Australia. Norman said he would like to be considered for that, too.
“But under the circumstances, I thought the priority for me right now was to get into the captain’s seat, do the best job I could possibly do, and basically pull the team through for 2009,” he said.