Sunday, November 20, 2011
Norman renews call for format change
By Bob Harig
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Everything appeared in place for the International Presidents Cup team to get that elusive second victory -- at the place where they got the first.
The biennial event returned to historic Royal Melbourne, site of the only International victory in 1998. Five Australians, including three from Melbourne, were on the team. And there seemed to be a strong desire among veterans such as Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Adam Scott to end a frustrating losing streak.
But after the Americans claimed another victory, this time a 19-15 win that saw them lead after every session, International team captain Greg Norman was advocating change in the competition that has seen the United States go 7-1-1.
"I think it should be the host nation's opportunity to dictate how the format is played,'' said Norman, twice on the losing end as captain. "I think the host nation should have the opportunity to defer on their choices. I also think the international team captain should have four [at-large] picks, not two.''
Norman was referring to both the order of play and how the team is constructed. He said he took his thoughts to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem after the 2009 competition but no changes were made.
Finchem has said the tour studies all aspects of the Presidents Cup, but it does not seem a change is imminent.
While the issue of more or less captain's picks can be debated, Norman has a point about the order of play.
The event typically begins on Thursdays with foursomes, or alternate shot. That same format is played again on Saturday morning. Traditionally, the international team has fared poorly in that format, and this year did not differ. The Americans won those sessions by a score of 8-3.
"I think we are so bad at it, and every year we start the Presidents Cup with foursomes,'' said Ernie Els, who has now played in seven Presidents Cups. "Especially if we have a home-field advantage, why don't we start with something different, you know? Let's start with four-ball matches. Maybe that's the answer.''
The theory is that the Americans at least get to play the format every year in either a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. No other professional event has a format that calls for alternate shot, and getting used to the vagaries of the competition can take time.
Making matters worse for the International team was the fact that Japan's Ryo Ishikawa was delayed in getting to Australia until Tuesday afternoon. Els took him under his wing, trying to help him learn the course, but they lost their first two matches, including foursomes.
"I thought what Greg tried this week was the right game plan,'' Els said. "A lot of us have a lot of experience around Royal Melbourne. A lot of guys were absolute rookies, and you need to know the course to know how to play it. It's a bit of a mystery. I think we did what we could.''
It didn't help that the Aussies as a group performed poorly. Overall they went 7-14-3. Robert Allenby, a captain's pick who is from Melbourne and has played the course countless times, went 0-4 and never advanced past the 16th hole.
|Greg Norman would likely want to steer clear of opening with the foursome format in future Presidents Cups.|
Geoff Ogilvy went 3-1-1, but nobody else had a winning record. Aaron Baddeley, who is also familiar with Royal Melbourne, went 1-3-1. Jason Day also went 1-3-1. Adam Scott was 2-3.
"Our foursomes let us down, no question about it,'' Norman said. "I said in the beginning that it was going to be the hardest one for us and it turned out to be the case.
"We do get our cage rattled a bit in the foursome match. Maybe we just get our confidence level off. The Americans do it every year, and once the internationals get used to it, they might just revert back to it.''
U.S. captain Fred Couples seemed surprised that there was a suggestion for change.
"If they want more picks, then the tour will get involved,'' Couples said. "But that's not why we win. We win a lot of times, because we have been in America. That's one that helps.
"But we won this week because we were better players, and I think we have a little motivation, and we teamed well and we won. I don't know what they would have said if they would have won.
"I'm not saying anything bad to Greg. I'm just saying ... I don't get that.''
The next Presidents Cup will be in 2013 at Muirfield Village in Ohio. New captains are expected to be named sometime next spring.
We won this week because we were better players, and I think we have a little motivation, and we teamed well and we won. I don't know what they would have said if they would have won.
-- U.S. team captain Fred Couples
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.