By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If timing is everything in sport, as the saying goes, then the stars could not be better aligned for Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge to make his debut at the biennial Presidents Cup in a month's time.
The burly 33-year-old earned a spot on the 12-man Internationals team as one of two captain's picks announced on Wednesday by compatriot Nick Price, who has long been his golfing idol and, more recently, a mentor.
De Jonge will become the third Zimbabwean to compete in the Ryder Cup-style event, following Price (1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003) and Mark McNulty (1994, 1996). Both Price (captain) and McNulty (assistant) will be with him in the team locker room.
"It's pretty cool and obviously it couldn't work out any better," de Jonge told Reuters by telephone a few hours after his Cup debut was made official.
"Once I found out Nick was going to be captain, it was definitely one of the goals that I set for myself, to do everything I could to try and make this team, and have the opportunity to play for him.
"Some of my best sporting memories are from playing team sport and unfortunately we don't have that opportunity too much in our profession. I am looking forward to the camaraderie of team sport again."
With 10 players already inked in as automatic choices on the International team after the final counting event, the Deutsche Bank Championship, finished on Monday, de Jonge was one of "five or six guys" Price had in his cross-hairs to be wildcard picks.
Though de Jonge and Australian Marc Leishman ended up gaining Price's nod on Wednesday, the Zimbabwean conceded he had been feeling the pressure of expectation.
"It was almost impossible to stop thinking about it," said de Jonge, who gave his own wildcard credentials a timely boost by tying for ninth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of the PGA Tour's lucrative FedExCup playoff events.
"Obviously I was trying to play as best as I could in the first couple of playoff events but you find it creeping into your mind every now and then."
De Jonge, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour despite several close calls since he first competed on the U.S. circuit in 2007, first heard about his Presidents Cup summons when former world number one Price phoned him on Tuesday.
"Nick called me at about four o'clock yesterday afternoon and asked me if had a beer in my hand and told me if not I should go get one because I am on the team," de Jonge said.
"Obviously it was very, very exciting. I had been waiting all day and wasn't sure what was happening," added the Zimbabwean, who has made more birdies on the PGA Tour than anyone else since the start of the 2009 season.
De Jonge could not be happier that he will make his Cup debut at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio from October 3-6 when Price, the golfing hero of his childhood, will captain the Internationals for the first time.
"I first knew about Nick probably in the early 90s when I was about 11 or 12," de Jonge recalled. "He used to come back and play in the Zimbabwe Open every year and I met him for the first time when I was 13.
"I played the Zim Open when I was 16 for the first time when Nick was still coming across from the U.S. and we had a chat then but it was all very brief and in passing. But the last five years, I have stayed in close contact with Nick.
"I stay at his house when I play the Honda (Classic in Florida) and any time that I am struggling with anything or feel like I need someone to talk to, he's definitely the first one I call with regards to golf."
Asked what had been the most valuable lesson he had learned from three-times major winner Price, de Jonge replied: "Perseverance and patience.
"He has often spoken about how many times he has won a tournament when it fell into his lap and I haven't yet won (on the PGA Tour). Nick has told me to remain patient and persevere, just keep doing what I am doing and keep improving."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)