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Nick Price takes Presidents Cup shot

10/1/2013 - Golf Nick Price

At the first Presidents Cup in 1994, Fred Couples beat Nick Price 1 up in their Sunday singles match to clinch the cup for the Americans at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va. At the 18th hole, Couples famously closed out the match by hitting a 9-iron 147 yards from a bunker to within a foot of the hole.

Couples had been on the 1989 and 1991 U.S. Ryder Cup teams, but for Price and his 11 International teammates, this was their first foray into a major match-play competition.

Prior to that inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994, Price won the Open Championship, the PGA Championship and four other tournaments to become the No. 1 ranked player in the world. The former Zimbabwean Air Force pilot was long overdue for an opportunity to compete in a major professional match-play competition. The Ryder Cup was restricted to Americans, Great Britain and Ireland natives and continental Europeans.

"It's unfortunate that Nick Price isn't here on our team," said the American Chip Beck during the 1993 Ryder Cup matches at the Belfry. "It's difficult to understand why players like Nick and Greg Norman aren't on the team, because, after all, they play on our tour. But I guess it's just not going to happen."

Beck was right. Price and Norman would never play in a Ryder Cup, but the Presidents Cup was created to give great international stars like them the opportunity to compete in match play against the top Americans.

Seve Ballesteros, an iconic figure of the Ryder Cup in the 1980s, called these new matches a poor and unnecessary imitation, but under the power of the PGA Tour, they were here to stay.

And in many ways, Price, widely considered one of the nicest great players of his generation, embodied the goodwill of the new cup. These exhibitions were not going to be characterized by the tensions that had come to mark the Ryder Cup matches by the late 1980s.

"No one out here is going to holler against a Greg Norman, a Nick Price, a Japanese player or a South African," Couples said at those first matches in 1994. "That may happen later, but not now.

"I think the public enjoys watching Greg or Nick as much as they do me or Hale [Irwin] or Corey [Pavin]."

Starting on Thursday at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, Couples will again face off against Price in a Presidents Cup. But this time they will compete from opposing sides as captains, without compromising the congeniality of their long friendship.

In his five appearances on the team, where he compiled an 8-11-4 record, Price enjoyed the experience perhaps more than any of the players. Now as the International team captain, the 56-year-old Champions Tour member has his first opportunity to lead a group of men on the world stage. He has the remarkable task of trying to bring the Internationals only their second victory in the 10th edition of the matches.

In 1998, the future World Golf Hall of Fame inductee earned the clinching point in that lone victory for the Internationals with a 2 and 1 win over David Duval in the Sunday singles.

"The win that we had in 1998 was just phenomenal," Price said. "If I could recreate that feeling again for the guys who play at any time, it would just be very special because you never forget those moments."

In his last Presidents Cup appearance in South Africa at the Fancourt Country Club in George, Price missed a 6-footer at the 18th hole for a crucial halve in his Sunday singles match against Kenny Perry. After shaking hands with Perry, Price angrily broke his putter in front of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Luckily for Price, the two captains later agreed to declare the matches a draw.

Price doesn't want that fiasco to be the last memory of him in the Presidents Cup. To serve that end, he hopes to inspire a team that has pretty long odds of wrestling the cup away from an American unit that includes seven of the top 11 ranked players in the world and three golfers who have won the Memorial at Muirfield Village. That group includes Tiger Woods, who has five wins on the Jack Nicklaus course.

The International team has seven rookies, while the U.S. squad brings four newcomers to the matches. Nine of the 12 American players were on last year's Ryder Cup team, making it relatively easy for Couples to send out pairings with excellent chemistry.

Yet Price believes what his team lacks in experience, achievements and cohesiveness, it will make up for in enthusiasm and sheer will.

"The American team is going to [look] a lot stronger on paper than our team is going to be," Price said over the summer. "But it's hard to measure the camaraderie and the willpower and the spirit of a team because that can overcome a lot of things.

"So that's one of my prime objectives is to get amongst the guys and to sell them how keen I am and how keen I want them to be on playing in it and to really be a part of it."

Price wanted to reduce the number of President Cup matches from 34 to 28, which is the amount used to decide the Ryder Cup matches.

"When you've only got four pairings and you've got 12 guys to choose from, that's a lot easier because you take your best players," he said. "The Europeans put out the eight best players they can. It would be really interesting to see if the Ryder Cup was played under the Presidents Cup points system what the outcome would be."

Price believes these matches need to be more consistently competitive and the time for that change might start this week at Muirfield Village.

As a player, Price wasn't a long hitter or the greatest putter, but his superior ball striking led him to three majors and almost 50 wins around the world. He stood in the shadow of contemporaries like Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Norman, until he raced past them in 1994.

These men took their turns as match-play team captains with varying degrees of success. Now it's Price's turn to show the quality of his leadership skills.

"I've always enjoyed being the underdog," he said. "The favorites have more pressure on them, no doubt about it."