Presidents Cup plays second fiddle to Ryder Cup
On this side of the pond we are a bit sniffy about the Presidents Cup. The biennial clash between the pro golfers of America and an “International” team is regarded a pale imitation of the Ryder Cup.
It lacks the history, passion and drama that so enthrals not just the golfing community but the sporting world when the United States and Europe trade golfing blows every two years.
“Yeah, it’s not the Ryder Cup is it? The Presidents Cup doesn’t mean so much to the players,” I heard a former American Ryder Cup captain comment a couple of weeks ago.
He is correct but, as Fred Couples’ Americans prepare to take on Greg Norman’s Internationals at Royal Melbourne this week, there is a genuine sense of anticipation for what threatens to be a truly memorable contest.
The ninth Presidents Cup, where the US meet a non-European International side in a Ryder Cup-style format, takes place in Melbourne in November. PHOTO: Getty
One of the things that has counted against the Presidents Cup in previous years was that the American players seemed to enjoy it too much.
Some went as far as to say they preferred it to the Ryder Cup because the opposition were not as hell-bent on victory as their European foes.
It is a less intense experience and there is the compensation of a fat cheque to go to charities of the players' choice as well.
It is much harder for us fans to be as interested in a match given such circumstances. We want legs to be shaking with fear on the first tee – we want it to matter.
Also, it is hard for those opposing the US to unite under the “international” banner.
They are playing for the bit of the world that is not governed by the stars and stripes and not directly affected by the Eurozone crisis - a team without flag or currency, and often with little in common.
America invariably run out winners - the Internationals have won only once and there was a famous tie in 2003 when, after the match finished 17-17, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els couldn’t be separated following three holes of a sudden-death play-off.
In the Ryder Cup a draw is a draw, with the holders keeping the trophy. We don’t mess with artificially concocted sudden-death denouements and prefer the drama to develop in a more organic way.
So why should we be interested by the contest in Melbourne this week?
Maybe, but the truth is they are in the place that will command most golfing attention because the Presidents Cup really does threaten to be a seriously compelling occasion.
For once there is a discernible edge between the teams, further enhanced because the match has returned to the scene of the Internationals’ only victory, when defeated the US 20½-11½ in 1998.
Both Couples and Norman had plenty to say about each other’s wildcard picks to give the contest some early needle.
Norman raised eyebrows at the wildcard selections of Woods and Bill Haas over the PGA champion Keegan Bradley, while Couples pointed to the lack of recent wins of International pick, Australian Robert Allenby.
This mini-spat provided a healthy dose of posturing in the build-up – but real spice was added unwittingly by caddie Steve Williams’s infamous racially charged slur against his former boss Woods in Shanghai last week.
Williams caddies for Aussie Adam Scott and, with scope for the captains to pre-determine some matches, there will be a huge temptation to capitalise on the controversy and engineer a Woods versus Scott showdown.
“It’s not going to be premeditated,” claimed International skipper Greg Norman. “I talked to Adam about it and asked him if it worked out that way, did he have a problem with it?
“He said, ‘Not at all, I’ll play him and win a point for you’. It can fall that way. He might end up playing with him every day. Who knows? I would expect them to meet some time.”
More significant to generating the feel of a genuine contest is the Australian setting. The home crowds will offer boisterous support and an atmosphere rarely felt in a predominantly individual sport.
The crowds will help unite the International team, which is drawn from Australia, South Africa, Korea and Japan and turn them into a motivated unit.
The match is being staged on a classic course in Royal Melbourne but, as countless Ryder Cups have proven, the quality of the layout doesn’t overly matter.
If you bring together two decent teams desperate to beat each other, you could stage it on a local municipal course and it would still be worth watching.
Funnily enough the last Presidents Cup was played on a rather good public course at Harding Park in San Francisco. But it was a pretty dull affair won convincingly by the United States with Woods enjoying a clean sweep of victories.
As we know, soon after, an awful lot changed in the life of the former world number one who has just climbed back up to 50th in the rankings.
Yes, it is not the Ryder Cup and will never achieve the acclaim of those historic US-Euro jousts – but the Internationals versus America will be well worth watching.
The contest starts with a series of foursomes on Thursday.
With a deeply felt desire for victory and fear of failure, the Presidents Cup may just come of age this week.