Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Time for Internationals to spice Cup up
By Bob Harig
MELBOURNE, Australia -- It is a long way from Celtic Manor to Royal Melbourne, and the distance between the venues for last year's Ryder Cup in Wales and this year's Presidents Cup in Australia might also speak to the difference between the two events.
Colin Montgomerie was hailed as a hero when the Europeans narrowly avoided disaster at the 2010 Ryder Cup, holding off a final-day American rally for a 14½-13½ victory that is still being talked about.
Had the U.S. mustered one more half-point along the way and retained the Cup, the situation would be viewed much differently. Captain Monty would have been hounded all the way to Scotland.
In Europe, they are already talking about next year's Ryder Cup at Medinah outside Chicago. A loss brings considerable second-guessing, a victory much joy.
What about the International Presidents Cup team? It has captured the competition just once in eight tries, in 1998 here at Royal Melbourne. It forged a memorable tie in South Africa in 2003 that led to a rules change. But it has been on the losing end six times, including four that were by 5 points or more.
And yet, what is the fallout? K.J. Choi is not likely to get the kind of negative treatment in South Korea that Nick Faldo endured in England after his losing 2008 captaincy.
Even in golf-mad Australia, it is difficult to fathom the likes of the five Aussies on this year's team suffering a public and media backlash if the International side were to lose again.
"You're talking about the British press, in reality,'' said Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who is playing in his third Presidents Cup. "They're a negative bunch, really. It's hard to say it's been bad because they've [the Europeans] done really well. There is a tour pride for them, the European Tour. They feel like their tour's been battered if they lose. We can kind of go hide in Australia and South Africa and Japan. It's a whole different setup ... One day, this event will have that type of thing. One thing will create it. This event needs that and I'm sure that will happen.''
Most thought the 2003 event in South Africa would be that tipping point. The matches ended in a tie and under the rules at the time, each team picked one player to compete in a sudden-death playoff.
So it was Tiger Woods versus Ernie Els in some of the most pressure-packed golf you can imagine. One-on-one for the whole thing. It went three holes, with both players making clutch putts to keep it going before darkness halted the competition. The captains agreed upon a tie, and from then on, the Cup would be shared in such a situation.
But the United States has won by fairly easy margins the last three matches.
"It's tough to take,'' said Els, who discounted the notion that there is no fallout for the International players. "Especially since I've played it so many times and only had two positive results. I almost took it personally last time. We really don't want to keep losing this thing. We want to move it around, change it around, and start winning some and put the pressure on the American side for once. We feel like we've been under the gun for a while.''
There is a feeling that the International team needs to start winning the Presidents Cup a bit more frequently in order to make the competition more meaningful -- much in the way the Ryder Cup didn't become big until the Europeans started beating the Americans.
And yet, there are other factors that are difficult to overcome. It is difficult to build up much animosity for the opposing team when a majority of both teams play on the PGA Tour. Of the 24 players, only Japan's Ryo Ishikawa and South Korea's K.T. Kim are not PGA Tour members.
And all but Ishikawa, Kim, Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel have a base in the United States.
So there is a familiarity that takes away a bit of the edge, which prompted former Ryder Cup captain Lanny Wadkins to quip back in 1998: "Our guys went halfway around the world to play a bunch of guys from Orlando.''
The event then was still trying to gain its footing, and skeptics wondered if the Presidents Cup could survive, especially with the Americans having to play the format every year. Questions persisted about whether such a tournament was even necessary.
And yet, Woods has never missed the Presidents Cup since he first became eligible in 1998. This is Phil Mickelson's ninth, and he's played in every one. Combined with the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has competed in 16 straight Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups.
"I really enjoy the team events,'' Mickelson said. "I enjoy the relationships that are involved. I enjoy the match play format and I enjoy playing fourballs and foursomes and these are events that I've come to really appreciate and enjoy and look forward to.''
International players who had no Ryder Cup embraced the idea, including Greg Norman, who played in the event four times and is now captaining the team for the second time. Major championship winners such as Angel Cabrera, Michael Campbell, Steve Elkington, Els, Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Nick Price, Vijay Singh and Mike Weir have all had their chance to experience the competition. This year, Masters winner Schwartzel gets his first try.
"I know my guys are getting sick and tired of getting beaten,'' Norman said. "We won in '98, and that's it, with another tie, and they want to win ... They are sick of getting beaten.''
Having a home-course advantage at Royal Melbourne should help, as will having a home-crowd advantage. Openly cheering and rooting against the opponent is tolerated at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and with five Australians on the International team, plenty of support is expected.
It will clearly take time to match the intensity of the Ryder Cup, and Royal Melbourne at least appears to be a place where that process can begin to move along.
"Europe's had years of building it up to where it is,'' Ogilvy said. "They had the Great Britain and Ireland days when they got pummeled every year. Europe came on board when they had that sweet spot of players. They had the catalyst of Seve [Ballesteros] firing everyone up. They won a couple. The U.S. saw they could, [in '99 at Brookline] create a level of animosity.
"There was a buildup over time. I think we can do that. The nucleus of our team is pretty much the same, so I think we can create that. Maybe win one in the U.S. [to] build [it] up, sort of like the Europeans did over the last 30 years.''
Of course, it would also help if someone on either side really got mad about a loss.
|Ernie Els played in all but two Presidents Cup events and owns an overall 16-12-2 record in those six matches.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.