Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 6, 2013

After Another Rout, Presidents Cup Needs To Change

Golf had its fair share of the sports world’s drama this weekend. In Beijing, China, Shanshan Feng eagled the par-5 closing hole to win the inaugural Reignwood LPGA Classic by one stroke over American Stacy Lewis. Feng, ranked 8th in the world and the only Chinese woman in the top 200 of the Rolex Rankings, delighted the home crowd when her second shot at the last took an unlikely bounce out of the rough, rolled across the green and glanced off the pin, stopping three feet from the cup. After Lewis missed an 18-foot putt for birdie, Feng completed the two shot final hole swing by rolling in the eagle putt for her second LPGA Tour victory.

Seven time zones to the west, just outside Paris, the European Tour staged the Seve Trophy, a biennial team competition that pits ten golfers from Great Britain & Ireland against ten from continental Europe. Named after the late Seve Ballesteros, whose contributions to Team Europe’s Ryder Cup fortunes are the stuff of legend, the series began in 2000 with a Continental Europe victory. Since then Great Britain & Ireland had won six straight times. This year Continental Europe took an early lead in Thursday’s fourballs, which the defending champions slowly chipped away at through Friday’s fourballs and Saturday’s foursomes.

Thus the two teams were knotted at 9-9 after three days, and remained tied 12-12 after the first six of Sunday’s singles matches had been completed. Then Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez crushed David Lynn 6 & 4, and 20-year old Italian Matteo Mannasero displayed a flawless short game in beating Stephen Gallacher 3 & 2 to take the Continentals to the brink of victory. Former Open champion Paul Lawrie held off Mikko Ilonen to keep the GB&I hopes alive and send the decision all the way to the final match. That ultimate pairing turned on the 16th green, where Francisco Molinari rolled in a 16-foot birdie to vanquish Chris Wood 3 & 2, securing the Trophy for Continental Europe. It was a familiar role for the Italian, who also scored the decisive point in Europe’s dramatic Ryder Cup comeback last year at Medinah.

While there was high drama and plenty of excitement in both China and France, unfortunately neither location was the focus of most golf fan’s attention. The LPGA continues to operate deep in the long shadow cast by the PGA Tour, and the fact that chips and puts on a Beijing afternoon were being made in the middle of the night in the U.S. did nothing to help the cause of Commissioner Michael Whan’s tour. And even the LPGA has a higher place in the minds of most American golf fans than the European Tour. With both Seve Trophy teams made up of lesser lights and European Tour journeymen there was little to cause many fans here to switch over to the Golf Channel.

Instead attention was focused on Muirfield Village, just north of Columbus, Ohio. There the biennial Presidents Cup matches between the United States and a team of international pros from countries ineligible for Ryder Cup play had their tenth renewal. There was lots of rain, causing multiple stops and starts in play and turning the event into the lift, clean, and place Open. What there was not was any semblance of drama. For the ninth time in ten tries, Team U.S.A. coasted to an easy victory that was not nearly as close as the final, not especially close, tally of 18 ½ to 15 ½ would indicate.

About the only bright spot for the International team came on Thursday, when Australia’s Jason Day and Canada’s Graham DaLaet won the opening fourball match over Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker, 1 up. After the second match off the tee was halved, the South African pairing of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel saw off Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley 2 & 1. That gave the Internationals a 2 ½ to ½ lead. But after a ninety minute rain delay the Americans swept the final three matches to claim a lead that they would not relinquish.

Team U.S.A.’s advantage after Thursday remained after the six Friday matches, most of which were not actually completed until Saturday morning because of the weather. Then the Americans nearly ran the table in the five fourballs originally scheduled for the Saturday morning session, taking all but one match. Five foursome matches went off in the afternoon, with Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson defeating South Africa’s Richard Sterne and Australia’s Mark Leishman in the only contest that finished before dark. That gave the U.S. a gaudy five point advantage heading into Sunday morning.

The big lead grew even larger when the foursomes were completed Sunday morning. With only the twelve singles matches remaining, the U.S. lead 14-8, meaning that the Internationals would need to take 9 ½ of a possible 12 points to claim the Cup. Not even the NBC announcers could milk any drama out of such a lopsided score. When Zach Johnson closed out South Africa’s Branden Grace 4 & 2 Team U.S.A. had 17 points and was guaranteed no worse than a tie, with five matches still out on the course. The International team winning three of those matches was the golfing equivalent of some meaningless dunks during garbage time of a one-sided NBA contest.

Victory at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in 1998 remains the only Presidents Cup triumph for the International Team. As was the case this year in Ohio, most of the matches have been neither compelling nor competitive. As a means of raising money for charity ($27 million prior to this year) the Cup is a fine idea, but as a golf event it borders on meaningless. It was created by the PGA Tour whose leaders were no doubt jealous of the millions raked in every two years by the PGA of America’s sponsorship of the Ryder Cup. But after two decades the Presidents Cup is at best a pale off-year reflection of the drama and tension that has come to be associated with the Ryder matches.

Of course the Ryder Cup wasn’t particularly competitive either until the opponent for Team U.S.A. was expanded beyond Great Britain to include all of Europe. Unfortunately for the Presidents Cup, short of NASA’s Curiosity rover happening upon some Martians with golf clubs, no similar expansion is possible for the International team.

Given that the logical action of doing away with the matches isn’t going to happen, the PGA Tour should rethink the format. Currently, and decidedly unlike the Ryder Cup, the first two days each feature six team matches. That means that along with the singles matches on Sunday, all twelve golfers from each team have to play on three of the four days. That’s schedule gives Team U.S.A., with its far deeper roster, a virtually insurmountable advantage. This year all twelve Americans were ranked in the top 30 in the world, with half the team currently among the top ten in the Official World Golf Rankings. In contrast Australia’s Adam Scott was the only International Team member ranked in the top ten, and half the team was ranked outside the top thirty.

Given the lack of U.S. success in other team competitions lately, we should probably be glad the format of the Presidents Cup is what it is. But in the interest of making this biennial event worth watching, it’s time for the PGA Tour to recognize that sometimes, less is more.

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Responses

  1. Nice article. Thanks. Here’s hoping someone will notice.

    Don


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