Presidents Cup at a crossroads
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2013 The Presidents Cup | Preview | 01 Oct 2013
The Presidents Cup is played for the 10th occasion this week when the Americans and the Internationals face off at Muirfield Village in Columbus Ohio, the Internationals facing what appears to be an uphill battle if they are to have any remote chance of overcoming their dismal Presidents Cup record.
Since its inception in 1994 when the Americans won by 20 – 12 in Prince William Country in Virginia, the Internationals have struggled to keep pace with the respective US Teams, losing on seven occasions in all, winning one and sharing the honours in the other.
The only victory by the Internationals in the those nine previous encounters came on very much home soil at Royal Melbourne in 1998. The USA side were to a large extent blindsided by the very foreign nature of the Royal Melbourne layout that year.
As the Americans travelled and played internationally on a more regular basis in subsequent years, however, their 2011 side was far more prepared when it returned to that same venue in 2011 to win 19-15.
The Presidents Cup itself and its ongoing success is reliant on a much closer contest however, and perhaps a win by the Internationals, if it is to build any genuine ongoing passion amongst the players and long term interest from golfing fans worldwide.
Certainly it took the Ryder Cup nearly fifty years before it became a bona fide contest, more especially when the Europeans joined the fray in 1979 and just look at it now, but the Presidents Cup is still some way from the magic that is the Ryder Cup.
It is however imperative that the Internationals begin to make this a more contested battle less we begin to see it as a glorified exhibition and the Americans tire of playing a team event for their country every year (they play the Ryder Cup every other year). They (the Internationals) have been competitive on occasions, of that there is no doubt, but closer battles, if not wins, are becoming just so necessary.
The nearest the Internationals have come to winning other than in 1998 was in 2003 in South Africa when the teams tied, so, clearly and understandably, they enjoy playing “at home” in front of a partisan crowd. That will certainly not be the case this week.
The Americans have won all seven of the nine encounters played in North America, six on US soil and one in Canada and given the match-ups on paper this week it would appear that things aren’t about to change.
The Americans boast eight players inside the top twenty in world ranking, compared to just three amongst the Internationals. The lowest ranked American, Bill Haas, currently stands at number 28 while for the Internationals three are outside the current top fifty and Brendan De Jonge, their last player picked, is at number 63 in the world ranking.
The Internationals will take seven Presidents Cup rookies into the event while for the Americans they have four although, importantly, three of those, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker have played the Ryder Cup leaving PGA Tour rookie of the year, Jordan Spieth, as the only player not to have represented his country in professional golf.
So ’on paper’ there is a disproportionate advantage to the USA side and while the Internationals are not without some hope the odds are stacked heavily in favour of the Americans.
A factor that might work to the advantage of the Internationals and is no doubt a point being rammed home to them by Captain Price is that they arrive in Ohio in the knowledge that the last two sides to play the Americans on US soil, in last year’s Ryder Cup and in this year’s Solheim Cup for the women, were outweighed in terms of their on paper comparisons but still found a way to win.
Nine of the Americans in this team carry the scars of that loss. Whether that works as an incentive or a burden remains to be seen although they are not facing a fired up European side in an event full of historical importance this week.
Another potentially positive factor for the visitors, while disappointing for International golf in some respects, is the disproportionate amount of Southern Africans in the field. Six of the International side are from either South Africa or Zimbabwe, in addition to the Captain and two of his assistants who are also from that same region. Rather than polarise the Internationals it could well help to bond them.
If the Internationals are to have any chance however it would seem they must find a way to stay close to and perhaps head the Americans through the eleven Fourball and eleven Foursome matches on the opening three days. That is not beyond the realms of possibility as pairing combinations have been shown to disrupt any player’s normal pattern, irrespective of their allegiances.
If they can do that, and it is a big if, then the Internationals might have a chance in the Sunday Singles.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps so, but if we give up hoping then we give up one of the very reasons for the event’s existence, namely to narrow the gap that existed in world golf twenty years ago.
The Americans to win but by how much may help determine the ongoing viability of this event or whether the whole concept needs further tweaking.