CHARLOTTE — There are a couple ways to look at the developments over the first two days at Quail Hollow, where the Americans have grabbed an 8-2 lead that puts the 2022 Presidents Cup effectively out of reach for the International Team before weekend play even begins. You can take the long view, as I did before the event began, that it has been a close contest twice in a row away from America, and that time and patience should bring us to an era when this event is routinely competitive. (Plus, even in a whitewash, there are plenty of entertaining moments.) But you can also watch the ongoing massacre in North Carolina and conclude that we've reached a critical juncture, and something's gotta change.
In the heat of the moment, when yet another Presidents Cup in America is turning into a blowout, it's hard to maintain that everything is hunky-dory. Even if the patience perspective might pay off in the long run, the fact is that 2022 is just more evidence that this is fundamentally not competitive. If the broader perception is that America can't be beat, and each new result seems to bear that out in a new way, that is—at the very least—a marketing problem.
It's no secret that a close match would be good for the Presidents Cup, and it's no secret that it would be even better if the International team could win. So how do you bring that about, short of waiting for the rest of the world to catch up, which it hasn't done in the almost 30 years of this event's existence?
Before we get into that, it's worth noting that the final three matches to finish on Friday were all exciting, all came to the 18th hole, and despite the final 4-1 score to the Americans for the session, this wasn't without drama. The same could be said for Thursday—a 4-1 session could easily have been tied, or even gone to a slight edge for the Internationals, if a few late putts had gone the other way. Even within this context, though, we have to admit that the range of possible outcomes did not include overwhelming International success; at best, they could hope to stay even, and at worst, well … 8-2.
OK, then—what to do?
One option is to blow it up. There has been a rising cry lately, if only in golf media, to make the Presidents Cup a mixed event with six men and six women. Due to the strength of women's golf in South Korea and the rest of the non-European world, that would do a lot to balance out the event immediately—you'd only need to go to No. 8 in the current Rolex World Rankings to fill out the women's side of the International team. You'd also have to make some very tough choices on the men's side; if the current top-six points criteria were in place, Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa would have been left out, among others.
To do that would essentially be to give up on the promise of this event. A more moderate route would be to take lessons from the Ryder Cup, which moved to a shorter format with fewer matches in order to make things more competitive (and when the Americans tried to expand it to four days with a second singles session in the late 1980s, the Europeans fought vigorously against it). A smaller sample size always benefits the "weaker" team, as do sessions where a higher percentage of players sit out in the pairs sessions.
This year is actually a good example of how things might be different if the Presidents Cup was played in a Ryder Cup format. With the freedom to sit his four weakest players over the first two days, rather than just two, Trevor Immelman could have optimized his lineups and stayed closer to the Americans. At worst, it would have been 6-2, but fewer lopsided matches could mean an even better outcome. Even if it was 6-2, that's still within shouting distance, and certainly beats the deep sense of inevitability that comes with 8-2.
All of this being said, Friday contained solid golf drama of the kind that you rarely see in the fall season, and the passion from both teams was electric right down to the final two putts from Taylor Pendrith and Max Homa. When someone like Homa says that making his massive putt on the 18th hole is "about 100 times better" than winning on the PGA Tour, that means something.
This year's final result is not going to be great for the public perception of the Presidents Cup, and there is space for tweaking the format, but the reality on the ground is not quite the same as the numbers on the scoreboard. Criticism is harshest in the immediate aftermath, and the next week could be tough, but it's better not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
In the captains' press conference following the day's action, when asked about what the score meant for the perception of the event, Davis Love III partially avoided the question by praising the Internationals' new sense of identity as symbolized by the shield logo, and praised them for the strides they'd made in that direction.
Trevor Immelman praised the hunger of his players, and their passion, but he addressed the point more directly.
"The score means we need to get better, plain and simple," he said. "And we will."
Despite the score, it still feels like they deserve the chance.
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