Tiger Woods reportedly declines Ryder Cup captaincy; here’s 5 candidates who could lead Team USA

The PGA of America will announce who will lead the Americans at the 2025 Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black on Tuesday, Jul. 9, in New York City—thirty miles east of where Bethpage Black will host the biennial competition for the first time.

Many golf fans and pundits have speculated that Tiger Woods will captain Team USA, as the 15-time major winner won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. Woods also has a better resume than any other viable candidate, so it would make sense for him to do so.

But James Corrigan of The Telegraph reports that Woods turned down the captaincy for next year’s competition. In prior months, Woods said that he has had a lot on his plate, especially with the PGA Tour, given his position on the Policy Board as it continues to work on a deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF). Woods also noted that he has had discussions with the PGA of America about leading the Americans. Yet, neither side finalized an agreement, with Woods worrying about the commitment the position would require.

“I’m dedicating so much time to what we’re doing with the PGA Tour; I don’t want to not fulfill the role of the captaincy if I can’t do it,” Woods said at this year’s PGA Championship.

“What that all entails and representing Team USA and the commitments to the PGA of America, the players, the fans, and, as I said, all of Team USA. I need to feel that I can give the amount of time that it deserves.”

As such, it appears that the PGA of America will wait two more years before asking Woods to lead Team USA again. Adare Manor in Ireland will host the 2027 Ryder Cup—the course and resort owned by J.P. McManus, the Irish businessman and philanthropist who also doubles as a close confidante of Woods. In addition, by then, Woods and the other stakeholders will hopefully have resolved golf’s current schism, which would alleviate Woods of plenty of commitments, thus giving him more time to dedicate to the Ryder Cup.

So, here are five other candidates—in order of least likely to most likely—of who could lead the Americans next September at Bethpage Black:

5. Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson, Ryder Cup

Vice-captain Phil Mickelson at the 2021 Ryder Cup.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The New York crowd loves to call Phil Mickelson one of their own. He is beloved at Bethpage Black, Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills, and every other course in the Tri-State area. Mickelson came close to winning the U.S. Open on three occasions at Bethpage Black and Winged Foot, finishing runner-up in 2002, 2006, and 2009.

Surely, the PGA of America would have selected Mickelson to captain in a heartbeat for next year’s competition, which would have fired up the raucous New York crowd even more. But his association with LIV Golf makes him an unlikely candidate as he helped sheperd professional golf’s current divide after joining the Saudi-backed circuit in 2022.

With that said, Mickelson would have made a terrific leader for Bethpage. He has played in more Ryder Cups than any other American in history, amassing an 18-22-7 record over his career 12 appearances. His first appearance came at Oak Hill in 1995, and his last at Le Golf National in Paris in 2018—both European wins. Mickelson also served as one of Steve Stricker’s vice-captains in 2021, when the Americans won 19-to-9—the largest-ever defeat for the Europeans.

4. Mark O’Meara

Mark O’Meara, Ryder Cup

Mark O’Meara hits from a bunker at the 1999 Ryder Cup.
Photo by Montana Pritchard/PGA of America via Getty Images

Mark O’Meara, a close friend of Tiger Woods, played in five Ryder Cups, with the 1999 competition being his last. He did not have the best record, posting a 4-9-1 career Ryder Cup record, but he does have the respect of his peers.

He also won two major championships, both of which came in 1998. He won The Masters, as Woods helped him slip the Green Jacket on, and he became the Champion Golfer of the Year at Royal Birkdale.

O’Meara is an unlikely selection, but he is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. That, coupled with his association with Woods, is why he is included on this list.

3. Justin Leonard

Justin Leonard, Ryder Cup

Justin Leonard celebrates his birdie make on the 17th hole during the 1999 Ryder Cup.
Photo by Jon Buckle/Getty Images

Justin Leonard holed arguably the most famous putt in Ryder Cup history at the 1999 edition at The Country Club at Brookline. On the 17th hole, from 45 feet away, Leonard drained his birdie attempt, thus eliciting a grand celebration from the Americans. Team USA swarmed the green, which flared European tempers, as Jose Maria Olabazal had a shorter putt to match. He subsequently missed, which all but secured the cup for the Americans.

Leonard played in three Ryder Cups, won the 1997 Open Championship, and won 12 times on the PGA Tour. He has also worked for NBC Sports as a commentator and is greatly admired by his peers and the golf industry. Honoring Leonard’s putt 25 years later at Bethpage Black would be a nice homage, but he likely will not get the nod from the PGA of America.

2. Fred Couples

Fred Couples, Ryder Cup

Fred Couples celebrates his chip-in at the 1995 Ryder Cup.
Getty Images

Another close companion of Woods, Fred Couples, would make a terrific Ryder Cup captain at Bethpage Black. The 1992 Masters champion is beloved by the golfing world, and everyone would welcome his easy-going, laid-back demeanor.

Couples represented Team USA in five Ryder Cups, playing in each edition from 1989 to 1997. One of the highlights of his career came at Oak Hill in 1995, when he chipped in for birdie on the famous par-5 13th during Saturday afternoon four-balls. His unlikely birdie turned the match back towards the Americans on Saturday, which helped give Team USA a commanding 10-to-6 lead going into Sunday Singles. But Europe ultimately prevailed. Still, Scotsman Sam Torrance later said that he had never heard a louder roar on a golf course than after Couple’s chip-in—a sentiment he still believes to this day.

Nevertheless, Couples is not a fan of LIV Golf, as he has publicly bashed the Saudi-backed circuit numerous times in recent years. But he would have to put those quarrels aside to lead Team USA, as Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka would be viable candidates to play for the Americans again.

Judgments aside, Couples would be a great Ryder Cup captain, and, quite frankly, he is overdue for leading Team USA. He has served as Vice Captain three times before, most recently doing so last year. Plus, Couples is a big enough name that would warrant excitement among New York golf fans and beyond.

1. Stewart Cink

Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, Ryder Cup

Vice Captain Stewart Cink and Captain Zach Johnson at the 2023 Ryder Cup.
Photo By Brendan Moran/Getty Images

Stewart Cink, the 2009 Champion Golfer of the Year, has competed in five Ryder Cups and most recently served as Vice Captain last year. The 2023 edition marked Cink’s first appearance at the competition since 2010, when the Europeans defeated the Americans at Celtic Manor in Wales.

Over his career, Cink amassed a 5-7-7 record in Ryder Cup competition, but only played for a victorious American side once. That came in 2008 under the tutelage of Paul Azinger.

Despite that, Cink now appears to be the favorite among possible candidates. He is 51 years old, still plays on the PGA Tour part-time, and has strong relationships with many current players on tour, including younger stars. Plus, Cink, like Couples, is a popular, easy-going player who is beloved by many. He may not be the flashiest of picks for Bethpage Black, but he would undoubtedly be a safe bet. Cink would do an adequate job in the role, but he will face a mountain of pressure, considering the Americans have won their last two home Ryder Cups. They also need to bounce back after their embarrassing performance in Rome.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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