CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Presidents Cup critics could learn a thing or two from the game of golf itself.
Listening to all the dramatic ideas about the best ways to improve, or (gasp!) save, this biennial event between the United States and the Internationals you’d think the tournament was already over rather than about to begin.
For those playing catch up on the storyline, Davis Love III’s Americans are a star-studded Dream Team playing at home game beginning Thursday at Quail Hollow in Charlotte against Trevor Immelman’s underdog squad of world players likely in need of a miracle. Rather than breaking down what admittedly looks on paper like a one-sided competition, television and social media pundits are full of bold plans for an alternative future of the event such as mixed teams of men and women or even fantasies like LIV players vs. PGA Tour players (after lawsuits are settled of course). In this age of 30-second attention spans these ideas get all the clicks and the likes they desire.
But golf is a long game, not one that bends to your whims when you’re frustrated. It rewards patience, and the Presidents Cup would be smart to remember that. Yes, the Internationals have just one win and one tie in 13 previous Cups, but assistant captain Mike Weir explained on Wednesday there was value and lessons learned even in his defeats.
“When you get to this chance one week every two years to see familiar faces and bring in new people and meet them, especially with our diversity on our team and the different cultures, to tap into that and form those bonds is personally very rewarding and very satisfying,” Weir said. “On the playing side, just some of the things that boosted my career, my first Presidents Cup, the feeling of, ‘Do I belong?’ It was my first one, my second year on tour, getting out there, getting thrown in there with Nick Price, who I looked up to, and playing well and then playing the singles and beating Phil Mickelson in my first one.”
Despite reaching world No. 3 and winning eight times on the PGA Tour, including the Masters, Weir told me most of the best memories from his career came from Presidents Cups.
This year’s team features four South Koreans and two Canadians, both record numbers. One of the promising stars on the International team is 20-year-old PGA Tour winner Tom Kim who was just a year old when Aussie Adam Scott made his first appearance at the Presidents Cup. Golf’s living connection to history is a big part of its emotional appeal, from courses, to tournaments, to players. In its infancy, Greg Norman’s LIV Golf is proving that team golf devoid of meaning and history is rather lifeless.
Over a 50-year span beginning in 1935, the Ryder Cup was even more one-sided than the Presidents Cup with the Americans losing just once in 21 events. Some will point to the inclusion of continental Europe in 1979 as the Ryder Cup’s turning point, but others look toward four-time captain Tony Jacklin elevating the status of the European team, convincing them they were not second-class citizens.
The International team in 2019 appeared to be having its own Tony Jacklin moment under Ernie Els’ leadership with a slick new unifying logo and a burgeoning team identity. Els’ Internationals were given no chance three years ago but took a two-point lead into Sunday Singles before losing to the Americans under playing-captain Tiger Woods.
The ineligibility of LIV players such as Cam Smith, Joaquin Niemann, and Louis Oosthuizen is undoubtedly a serious blow this year, but the International team is committed to building on the identity forged in Melbourne under Els.
“I think the shield is pretty important,” assistant captain Geoff Ogilvy said of the logo. “It’s more and more recognizable. Kids growing up in the world look at that and think I want that on my shirt one day, and that’s really powerful. You might underestimate that, but that’s a really powerful thing. We represent the rest of the world. That’s a lot of people.”
Ogilvy also half-joked that his slick custom golf cart for the week gives him hope.
“My cart’s really fast. Have you seen our carts? They’re really nice,” he said.
Material changes might seem a far-fetched plan for success in the face of 7-1 betting odds this week, but Jacklin’s European movement began with cashmere sweaters and a flight on the Concorde, so who’s to say what works.
“I walked into that hotel room and to see all the gear was, you know, I got a little teary,” Kim said. “It’s an absolutely amazing feeling.”
Given time, the International identity will grow, and the continued influx of more world-class Asian players might even cut into the American edge on paper.
Like golf, the Presidents Cup requires patience not a quick fix.
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