Jack Nicklaus used his captain's choice selections yesterday to add Fred Couples and Justin Leonard -- popular players with a history of clutch performances in team match-play competition -- to the U.S. team for the Presidents Cup matches Sept. 20-25 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville.
Gary Player, captain of the international team, added Australian Peter Lonard, a member of his 2003 team, and South African Trevor Immelman, bypassing longtime international stalwart Steve Elkington, who finished in a tie for second yesterday at the PGA Championship.
Elkington played on the first four international teams starting in 1994, but was not on the team in 2003 when the matches in South Africa ended in a draw.
"Before the majors started, I had said anyone who wins a major absolutely was on the team," Player said. "If he'd won [the PGA], no question he'd have been on the team. But he was 31st on the points list."
Leonard was the hero of the United States' come-from-behind Ryder Cup victory over Europe in 1999: He clinched the winning point with a 40-foot putt on the 17th hole of his match against Jose Maria Olazabal. He was 11th on the American points list and is ranked No. 22 in the world. A former British Open champion, he has won 10 times on the PGA Tour and had two points for the American team in the last Presidents Cup in 2003.
Couples has played on five Ryder Cup teams and will be on his fourth Presidents Cup squad and first since 1998. He scored a pivotal point in his singles match against Nick Price to help the U.S. team win the '94 event at RTJ and also scored the Cup-clinching point against Vijay Singh in the Americans' 1996 triumph, also at RTJ. Nicklaus also cited his 8-3-1 record in Presidents Cup play, 6-1 at RTJ, as major reasons for his selection.
Nicklaus said he had been looking forward to having some of the top young American players on his team, particularly Zach Johnson and Chad Campbell, and was disappointed they could not make the team on points accumulated over the last two years. He said he called Johnson yesterday and told him he would be his first alternate if any player withdrew because of injury.
Lonard has played the last four years on the PGA Tour. "I love his aggressiveness when he plays golf," Player said of Lonard, who was on the 2003 team and had a 1-3 record. Immelman, who plays predominately on the European Tour, will be playing on his first Presidents Cup team.
Player said yesterday he had wanted Price to be his assistant captain, but the veteran player told him he did not want the job. Player will announce his choice today at the WGC-NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio.