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The Presidents Cup is dead—here's how to resurrect It

October 01, 2017
The Presidents Cup - Final Round

Sam Greenwood

Let's face an unpleasant truth—the Presidents Cup stinks.

It's nobody's fault, and I'm not here to play the blame game. It was a great idea with a solid format—you can do much worse than essentially duplicating the Ryder Cup—and the world's best players bought in. For the most part, everyone that matters has done his part to make this thing work, and the PGA Tour should be congratulated for conceiving of a promising late-fall event to fill the void in non-Ryder Cup seasons.

But it's been 23 long years, and the verdict is in: The International Team just isn't good enough to elevate the Presidents Cup beyond an exercise in futility. Aside from a flukey win in 1998, all they've been able to muster are a small handful of close-ish results on home soil, and a lot of blowout losses in America. The Ryder Cup had this same exact problem of U.S. dominance in its early days, but they eventually solved the problem by expanding the format from "U.S. vs. Great Britain" (and later Ireland) to "U.S. vs. Europe." Almost immediately, they were off to the races.

Bad news, though—you can't expand the "International" team in the same way. (Not unless you find life on an alien planet, and that life happens to be really good at golf.) Their recruiting parameters are already as generous as possible: "The rest of the known world." Adding Europe would just make this a useless Ryder Cup on steroids, and barring the next U.S. captain taking pity and giving them someone like Rickie Fowler for the week—unlikely, as the American golf establishment is not given to socialistic ideas—they are completely maxed out.

More bad news: It keeps getting worse. For the Presidents Cup, 2017 was the final nail in a moldy coffin. The U.S. team came a half point from winning the competition on Saturday—Saturday—which is a total embarrassment. In theory, the International squad should not be getting humiliated like this. Sure, their players are lower-ranked overall, but not that much lower. Maybe the various language barriers hurt team camaraderie in a way that it doesn't hurt Team Europe in the Ryder Cup, since the Euros can use English as a lingua franca. Or maybe the intensity of the Ryder Cup makes this lesser competition a little less tense for the Americans, freeing them to excel. How else can you explain the fact that someone like Tiger Woods went 24-15-1 in Presidents Cup, but just 13-17-3 in the Ryder Cup? Or that Phil Mickelson's 23-16-2 Presidents Cup record is miles beyond his 18-20-7 Ryder Cup mark? The list goes on, but the most amazing is Jim Furyk—20-10-3 in Presidents Cup, 10-20-4 in Ryder Cup. It's almost a mirror image!

Whatever the cause, it's time to declare the institution dead. It's bad enough that the Presidents Cup has to compete with football—throw in the fact that there's no actual competition, and this thing is doomed from just about every angle. Even hardcore golf fans have been reduced to mocking the event, and by now even that mockery is so stale that it's become boring. Once we've run out of fresh jokes to make on Twitter, the situation has become critical.

But the PGA Tour can't just scuttle the sinking ship—they have sponsors and venues lined up at least through 2025. In all likelihood, they will cross their fingers and pray that the event magically gets more competitive, even as the rising generation of young American golfers proves that they're really, really good at match play events—far better than their predecessors, who already dominated this event—and that their international counterparts are shrinking violets who wilt under pressure. They'll probably continue down this road, and the Presidents Cup will die. It may take a decade, but the writing is on the wall, and the final outcome is certain.

Is there a better way? I think so—make the Presidents Cup a country-by-country event rather than a contest between unequal juggernauts. In fact, I already came up with what many, many experts (read: just me) agree is a terrific system. Back when Olympic golf was still two years away, I advocated for a team match play format that, frankly, would have been awesome.

Without going into all the finer points, here's what I propose: Have teams of two players, with a maximum of two or three teams per country—sort of like the World Cup of golf, but not limited to one team per nation. Invite the European nations into the mix, and find a way to determine a champion in four or five days using the four-ball format. You could basically copy the WGC-Match Play 32-team format, with group stages followed by a two-day, 16- or eight-team knockout round, and it would be great. Imagine getting to root for a Spieth-Reed pairing over the course of an entire event, rather than watching them play four times in a meaningless rout. Imagine following the Aussie tandem of Day and Scott, or a Spanish duo of Garcia and Bello, or one last hurrah for Poulter & Rose representing the UK. It would be a fantastic spectacle, and it would open up the field completely, making it far less likely that a U.S. team would coast to the championship. Here's what the groups would have looked like in 2014—feast your eyes, and tell me an updated version of that wouldn't be appointment TV.

One final point: The main argument against match play events with a single winner is that the unpredictability of the early outcomes can lead to a boring final day. I've never quite agreed with the heart of that argument in the first place, but the 2017 Presidents Cup has rendered it obsolete—this Sunday, there was absolutely no reason to tune in. It was purely ceremonial, and the Americans could have taken a page from the Tour de France and drink champagne on the fairways if they wanted. Even if my format produced a Borneo vs. Chile final (note: it wouldn't), at least a title would be on the line. That beats irrelevance any day of the week, but especially on Sunday.