I used to think that way. Used to think that a captain merely picked out a few matching outfits, paired a few of the world's best golfers, then sat back and watched, patting 'em on the butt like a glorified first-base coach.
Paul Azinger changed my mind back in 2008, when he employed personality profiling to group players in a pod system that worked to perfection. He didn't just oversee the U.S. team; he managed it to its first victory in nearly a decade by giving players a sense of responsibility and accountability -- not just that week, but for months ahead of time.
Paul McGinley reinforced that opinion three years ago, revealing himself to be the ultimate tactician behind another European conquest. At its roots, captaining a Ryder Cup team is like one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books. Unlike his counterpart Tom Watson, McGinley always had a Plan D if A, B and C didn't work out.
And it's no coincidence that the U.S. team finally won again three months ago. Make all the task force jokes you'd like -- we've all done it -- but the committee that appointed Davis Love III to the captaincy strategized a long-term plan to once again form a more cohesive unit than in previous years. Sure, doubters will still insist that the team which makes the most putts wins. But when a leader places a certain accountability upon his players, those putts seem to drop more often than otherwise.
All of which leads us to Furyk, who was named to the position during a Wednesday news conference at PGA of America headquarters.
If there's a "been there, done that" poster child for the Ryder Cup, it just might be him. He's won the clinching point for the U.S. team and lost in the clinching match against Europe. He's witnessed the proceedings from the pressure-cooker inside the ropes as a competitor nine times and he's gotten a taste for managing as a vice-captain. He's experienced the highest of highs in this event and the lowest of lows.
It all means he owns a keen understanding of how influential and inspirational a captain can be -- and yes, how important, too.
"What I think I've learned the most about a captaincy is, we each have our own style, our own flair, our own personality, and that can't change," he explained. "Each and every one of these captains that I played for used their personality to an advantage and provided -- poured their heart into making the team room, the team itself, a place where we could try to succeed."
Armed with a self-made swing and no-nonsense personality, Furyk has never been as awe-inspiring as Tiger Woods, or as beloved as Phil Mickelson, or even as admired as his predecessor Love, whom he's already named as his first vice-captain.
What he lacks in affability, he more than makes up for with intelligence and sincerity and respect from his peers, qualities which should make him a strong captain for next year's festivities at Le Golf National in Paris.
Not that it means he'll guide the U.S. team to victory -- Europe's recently appointed captain, Thomas Bjorn, offers many similar qualities -- but it at least gets them off to the right start. It should come as little surprise that, as PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua revealed Wednesday, the committee vote for Furyk was both "quick and unanimous."
This is the residue of that task force, one which was formed to promote a long-term plan for the U.S. team, which includes a line of succession within the captaincy. That's because it's such an integral role. The man in charge might not be teaching his players the intricacies of the game, but he isn't just scribbling their names onto a card and watching them play, either.
Furyk will set the tone for this squad. It will undoubtedly take on his no-nonsense personality; it will be respected to the same degree that he's been throughout his career.
These are important qualities for a captain, and prove once again just what an important role it really is.