Is This Really Necessary?

The first round of the Presidents Cup starts tomorrow (Thursday, October 8th), although since it’s being played in South Korea, it will actually be broadcast on The Golf Channel tonight (Wednesday, October 07). This is just one of the many incongruities of this particular competition.

The Presidents Cup was first played in 1994, and was created primarily at the behest of Greg Norman and Nick Price, who at that time were two of the biggest names in golf. As this was around the time that the Ryder Cup had become truly competitive (and dramatic), Norman (an Australian) and Price (from what was formerly Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe) clamored for the opportunity to play in a similar sort of team competition against American golfers.

The PGA thought this was a swell idea, putting aside that fact that the pretense of constructing the noble opposition was at best flimsy – “hey, let’s put together a team from the rest of the world except for Europe!” This year’s team features players from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, South Korea, India, Thailand, and Japan. Previous teams included representation from Fiji, Canada, Paraguay, and Argentina. These guys probably can’t figure out where to go out for dinner, much less coalesce as a team.

And it’s shown in the results – unlike the Ryder Cup, in which the Europeans have all but retired the trophy in recent years, the good ol’ USA has made itself the Internationals’ (yes, that’s what the opposition is called) proverbial daddy, having compiled a spiffy 8-1-1 record in Presidents Cup play. Price, now the International Team captain, successfully lobbied for a format change which reduced the total number of points being contested in the match from 34 to 30, which may reduce a perceived US team depth advantage.

But beyond the one-sided results – the biggest drawback to the Presidents Cup is that there’s no good old-fashioned animosity between the two teams. Once Seve Ballesteros and Tony Jacklin arrived on the Ryder Cup scene,   the European team didn’t just carry a chip on its shoulder; it took every slight (perceived or otherwise) against its tour as a personal affront. Players like Collin Montgomery, Sergio Garcia, and Ian Poulter became anathema to US golf fans, while Paul Azinger, Tom Lehman, and now Patrick Reed are considered villainous to the Europeans.

[The US / European rivalry has boiled over to the LPGA as well, most recently in this year’s Solheim Cup, where Suzann Pettersen’s denial of a conceded putt fueled a US comeback and even had Laura Davies, a longtime European stalwart as both a player and captain, steaming at her actions.]

None of this ill-feeling manifests itself in the Presidents Cup, save for the 2000 event, in which Vijay Singh’s caddie chose to wear a “Tiger Who?” cap when his man matched up against Mr Woods in singles play on Sunday. As one might expect, this did not go particularly well for Singh. But generally speaking, the atmosphere can be best described as “friendly competition.”

And why wouldn’t it? For one thing, most of the Internationals are full time PGA tour members and spend the majority of time in the United States. We’ve certainly seen plenty of Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, and Charl Schwartzel this season. Steven Bowditch has won two tournaments in my current home state of Texas, including this year’s Byron Nelson Classic, and is married to a local gal.

And then there’s Danny (The Heartbreak Kid) Lee, who plays out of my home club (although we rarely see him, given his proclivity for playing nearly every week on tour). Danny is a native Korean, a naturalized New Zealander, and pays dues to the same neighborhood HOA that the Golf Nerd Goddess and I do. After emerging victorious at this year’s tour stop at The Greenbrier, Danny, upon receiving the $1.2 million winner’s check, lamented about his lack of female companionship. This struck several tour players as somewhat amusing – Pat Perez started a campaign to find Danny a girl, and Rickie Fowler has started a prank war with Danny (see here and here).

I’m not quite sure how to feel about all this. I’m torn between loyalties to country vs neighbor. And that, friends, is the problem with The Presidents Cup.

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