The prevailing wisdom regarding this week’s Presidents Cup is that the American team is going to slaughter their International opponents.
It’s hard to find any fault with that argument:
- The 12 players on the U.S. team have combined for 101 PGA Tour victories against just 41 for the Internationals.
- All 12 U.S. players are ranked in the Top 30 in the Official World Golf Rankings including six in the Top 12. The other side has just six in the Top 30 with just two in the Top 12. For the rest of the International squad, you have to reach all the way down to Captain’s pick Anirban Lahiri in 68th place.
- The format is set up to benefit the Americans who have greater depth. Unlike the Ryder Cup, which has four matches at a time, the Presidents Cup starts off Thursday and Friday with five matches each day, thereby exposing the weaker depth on the International side.
- The Americans hold a 9-1-1 record in previous Presidents Cup matches and will have home course advantage this year at Liberty National GC in Jersey City, NJ, which will naturally be packed with loud, boisterous New York City fans.
- Even the Captains’ Assistants look stronger for the American side with Hall of Famers Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, Davis Love and certain to be future Hall of Famer Jim Furyk supporting Captain Steve Stricker. Both Couples and Love are previous winning captains for international team matches too. The Internationals can boast Hall of Famer Ernie Els in support of Captain Nick Price and fill out their roster of cart drivers with Tony Johnstone, Geoff Ogilvy and Mike Weir.
About the only statistical category that looks like it might favour the International squad is they have fewer rookies (4) than the Americans (6).
So, now that the outcome is practically a foregone conclusion, is there any reason to watch?
I think so. Here are 7 things that will make this year’s Presidents Cup exciting:
It’s a Team Event
As we’ve seen with previous Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups, the players have a different attitude when they’re not just playing for themselves. There’s certainly more pressure. Some players thrive under it and some fold. Who could forget Hunter Mahan’s chunked chip on the 18th hole at Celtic Manor in Wales that handed the 2010 Ryder Cup to Europe. That’s a shot he makes 100 times out of 100 in a regular Tour event. But not when he’s playing for team and country. Or the incredible shotmaking exhibition put on by Tiger Woods and Ernie Els in 2003 to decide a playoff in the dark at Fancourt in South Africa, which mercifully ended in the only tie in Presidents Cup history.
It’s New York City
The golf course may officially be in New Jersey but the crowds and viewers watching at home will get spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline all week long. And that proximity to New York, New York means a boisterous crowd that will be pulling hard for the U.S. team. Remember the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black when Sergio Garcia was gripping and re-gripping his club repeatedly before every shot? The fans got on his case and never let up. Hopefully good sportsmanship will see fans cheer every shot at Liberty National but nationalism is stronger than ever in the U.S. these days so don’t be surprised if things get out of hand.
It’s Phil’s Last Hurrah
For most of the year it looked like Phil Mickelson wouldn’t qualify for the U.S. team on points and was too far down the list for Steve Sticker to make him a Captain’s pick. That would have ended a streak of 22 straight Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup appearances. Then Phil pulled up his socks in the playoffs, had a T6 finish in Boston and surged up the points list. His experience will be invaluable to the rookie members of the American squad and his presence in the team room is reported to be a huge plus for all his teammates. Mickelson will surely be a future Captain but with his PGA Tour career near its end, this may be the last time you’ll see Lefty playing in an American team jersey.
It’s Match Play
The PGA Tour is scared of match play – fearing that their featured Sunday match might include two no-name players from Outer Mongolia – thereby killing off their fan base, destroying sponsor relationships and ultimately leading to the demise of their brand and Tour. Nonsense! Match play is the most exciting form of golf both to watch and play. One player moves on, the other goes home. There’s nothing more definitive than that. And it sure beats trying to figure out some convoluted points system, like the FedEx Cup playoffs. At the Presidents Cup, viewers will get to see 30 matches consisting of 5 foursome matches on Thursday, 5 fourball matches on Friday, 8 matches on Saturday (4 fourball and 4 foursome) and 12 singles matches on Sunday. One of the best aspects of the format is that Captains get to match up players against the other team, unlike the Ryder Cup, which relies on a blind draw. So, it’s very likely that you’ll see more marquee matches between the hottest players or maybe even players with a grudge to settle.
At the 2016 Ryder Cup, Patrick Reed emerged as one of the heroes for the winning side, displaying a level of enthusiasm that fired up the crowd and was an inspiration to his teammates. Rory McIlroy responded in kind for the Europeans but it wasn’t enough to overcome Reed in their epic singles match or to power the Europeans to victory. Reed is bound to reprise his role as the Yank’s in-your-face leader but it remains to be seen who will match him in fervor for the Internationals. Jason Day has the experience and firepower to go head-to-head against Reed but I’m betting a rookie will grab the reins – maybe Jhonny Vegas or Emiliano Grillo.
Tiger vs Mike One More Time
It’s definitely a sideline to the main event but Assistant Captains Tiger Woods and Mike Weir do have some history at the Presidents Cup. In 2007, the matches were held at Royal Montreal and Weir beat Woods in their Sunday singles match. The U.S. prevailed over the Internationals 19 1/2 – 14 ½ to keep the Cup but not before Weir thrilled the home crowd with his 1-up victory. While neither Assistant Captain will hit a shot at Liberty National, you can bet there will at least be some good trash talking between the two old foes.
More Canadian Content
Adam Hadwin will debut for the Internationals this week, becoming just the third Canadian to play in the biennial matches after Weir (2007) and Graham DeLaet (2013). DeLaet was paired with Jason Day for all four of the pairs matches at Muirfield Village in Ohio and they combined for a 2-1-1 record. On Sunday, DeLaet beat a young Jordan Spieth in his singles match, thereby extending his record to 3-1-1 for the week. The experience seemed to give DeLaet’s career a major boost and over the next few years he continued to climb in the world rankings. Hadwin already has a win on the PGA Tour and made the finals in the FedEx Cup playoffs this season but who knows, maybe a successful pairing with Jason Day or Adam Scott will propel him onto even better things in 2018. Regardless, he’ll be fun to watch and another reason to cheer for the underdog Internationals.
If that’s not enough reason to watch, maybe it comes down to 18 of the world’s 30 best players going head-to-head in match play and nobody will need a computer to calculate the points to know who’s leading. It will be written all over the players’ faces.