Why 'The Other' Cup Matters
U.S. Team captain Fred Couples celebrates with Aussie fans on Day Four Singles Matches of the 2011 Presidents Cup.
Yes, the Americans will probably beat the Internationals again in the Presidents Cup.
They've done it seven out of nine times, including the last four in a row (by an average of 4¼ points). Many will then take up the cry that the Presidents Cup is a poor and unnecessary imitation of the Ryder Cup.
And they will be wrong.
It's easy to criticize the Presidents Cup for lacking drama, tradition and in the case of the International side, team closeness. Compared to the Ryder Cup, it definitely comes up short in all these areas. But it took the Ryder Cup 60 years to hit anything approximating a competitive stride. Before Europe's current 9-4-1 run in the biennial matches, the U.S. held a 21-3-1 advantage.
By comparison, the Presidents Cup is off to a much better start. More importantly, there are strong signs that it can also achieve a similar turnaround in relevance. As International captain Nick Price says, "The Presidents Cup is where the Ryder Cup was in the '70s right now. Something is waiting to happen."
But even before it does, the Presidents Cup should be accorded a premier spot on the game's landscape. For one thing, it does what is becoming more problematic in big-time golf -- get some of the best players in the world to show up. This is no longer a given for anything outside of a major championship, the Players and the Ryder Cup, particularly late in the season and especially with Steve Stricker's 2013 season supporting the seductive idea that millionaires might play better by playing less. It's to the Presidents Cup's credit that by offering nothing more than the honor of playing for glory and national pride (albeit with more than a little friendly persuasion from the PGA Tour's mother ship), the best players eligible don't take a pass.
The matches are also a vital bridge to the game's most untapped wellspring of potential top players -- Asia. Over the years players such as Shigeki Maruyama and Ryo Ishikawa have been afforded a world stage to show their stuff in a way that is more compelling to viewers than a medal-play event. So far the cumulative effect hasn't reached critical mass, but when Asia does produce a truly elite male player (might the young and powerful Hideki Matsuyama be the first?), the effect on the fortunes of the International side could be similar to what a young Seve Ballesteros started in the Ryder Cup.
While the matches have suffered from B-list venues in the United States, this year Muirfield Village will be an upgrade. The drier fall season will show the course at its fast-and-firm best (as it was during the 1987 Ryder Cup). Playing in the House That Jack Built will also provide the ceremony and cult of personality that helps any important sports event.
Speaking of Nicklaus, his four-time captaincy in the Presidents Cup elevated the matches, demonstrating the value of having iconic figures as captains (a lesson the Ryder Cup is finally following with Tom Watson). Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Peter Thomson all drew inspired play from their teams, especially Nicklaus in 2005, when his players rallied around him shortly after he had tragically lost a grandson. While Fred Couples and Price are respected, the Presidents Cup would gain something by going back to a giant.
There's no denying the Cup can use all the lore it can get. Currently, the list of magic moments is sparse, led by the Tiger Woods/Ernie Els sudden-death showdown in South Africa in 2003. Otherwise, it's mostly insider stuff like Steve Elkington and Phil Mickelson getting sideways in 1994, Couples beating a trash-talking Vijay Singh and Robert Allenby outing Anthony Kim for doing a Walter Hagen, although Woods' twirled 3-iron at Harding Park got everyone's attention.
But if the Presidents Cup can stay the course, the moments will come. The matches don't need drastic changes, although Price's idea of reducing the total number of available points from 34 to 28 -- to mitigate the International's disadvantage in team depth -- makes sense.
Who knows, perhaps there will be a surprise this year. Plain old good play by the Internationals is capable of overcoming the Americans' innate advantages in familiarity with the format and with teammates. Players such as Louis Oosthuizen, Angel Cabrera and Branden Grace may currently be below the radar, but we know their good is very good.
If the United States wins again, no harm done. The Presidents Cup only has to be like the Ryder Cup by staying for the long haul.