by doug ferguson ap golf writer
This was one of those moments when Jordan Spieth knew he had arrived.
It wasn't earning a PGA Tour card after starting the season without belonging to any tour. Not his win at the John Deere Classic. Not getting into the Tour Championship. Not even his birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle finish for a 62, by four shots the best score of the final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
It was an invitation from Phil Mickelson.
Lefty had just spent five hours on the TPC Boston with Spieth, who beat him by nine shots on this Labor Day. Moments after the 20-year-old Texan signed his card, Mickelson was making arrangements for the rookie to join one of his money games next week at Conway Farms north of Chicago, the next stop on Spieth's amazing ride.
Mickelson has been playing these money games as long as he's been on tour, but only in the last couple of years has he been inviting younger Americans — Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler — who he believes will become regulars in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. It's the ultimate show of respect.
The question is whether Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples feels the same way when he makes his picks Wednesday.
"He's got a 50-50 chance," Couples said Monday night.
Spieth finished No. 22 in the standings, which are based over two years. He turned pro only about nine months ago. If only this year had counted, he would have qualified for the team. That's why he seems like such a logical captain's choice.
But it's not that simple for Couples.
The U.S. captain said Spieth is on his short list. The others are Johnson, Jim Furyk and Webb Simpson, who was bumped out of the top 10 on the final hole of the final qualifying tournament when Zach Johnson made a 25-foot birdie.
Spieth couldn't have qualified even if he had won Boston, though he looked at last week as his final audition.
Did Couples see it that way?
"Jordan, knowing what he had to do, really played very solid," Couples said. "He's showed a lot of character and he's had a great year, there's no doubt."
Less than a year ago, Spieth was still at Texas and crashed out of the second stage of Q-school as an amateur. He turned pro anyway, with hopes of somehow getting into the Web.com Finals, which are going on concurrently with the FedEx Cup for guys trying to get a PGA Tour card for next year.
The Presidents Cup?
"I didn't even know where it was at the beginning of the year," Spieth said.
He does now — Muirfield Village, the course Jack (Nicklaus) built, to be played the first weekend in October. Spieth can't think of a better place to be.
"It would be a dream come true for me," he said, while tempering his optimism. "You guys know the players. You've done the research. You know who's up there — 11, 12, 13 on the list — and those guys are pretty stout. I don't have any expectations whatsoever."
Couples sounded sympathetic toward Simpson and the way he was bumped out of an automatic qualifying spot. Simpson hasn't won this year. He mentioned Furyk (who went 5-0 in the Presidents Cup last time at Royal Melbourne) and his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship. Furyk hasn't won this year. He mentioned Dustin Johnson, a winner at Kapalua eight months ago, being slowed in the late spring by a sore back.
Couples is way more dialed in than his rambling conversations might suggest, but when it came to Spieth, he was all over the place. First, he said Spieth has had "as good or better a year" than the other three players under consideration. In the next sentence, he said Spieth had not dominated any major events.
History should temper the expectations for Spieth. This is the third time Couples has been captain, and he overlooked rising American stars the previous two times. He passed on Dustin Johnson in 2009, and he left Bradley, the PGA champion, off the 2011 team in favor of Bill Haas, who had just won the Tour Championship.
But here's one more thing for Couples to consider — perhaps one reason Spieth is getting so much attention is that he's fresh, and the Presidents Cup is getting stale.
If the rookie gets picked, not even veterans who are passed over could complain. His performance merits a selection, even if that doesn't make him a slam dunk. But this exhibition needs to lean on more than performance alone. Spieth could be just what the Presidents Cup needs to inject some interest.
It's already overlooked as a Ryder Cup imitation, and its credibility is further diminished when the PGA Tour calls all the shots even when it's a "home game" for the International team — such as how the golf course is set up or whether to start with fourballs or foursomes. Plus, the Americans have a 7-1-1 lead in the series. This is not Celtics-Lakers, it's turning into the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals.
About the only time the Presidents Cup has been in the news was when two deer impaled themselves on a temporary fence recently erected around Muirfield Village.
It wouldn't be the first time a player was chosen for the good of the event — Mike Weir comes to mind when the Presidents Cup was in Canada. As lopsided as the matches have been, captain's picks won't make a difference. The very nature of golf at this level would suggest Couples can't go wrong with whomever he takes.
But this would be worth keeping in mind — the Presidents Cup might need Spieth a lot more than he needs the Presidents Cup.