Golf

Gillespie: Presidents Cup is low on drama

What's your favorite Ryder Cup memory?

Is it the U.S. win in 1991 at Kiawah's Ocean Course, the now-infamous "War by the Shore"? Or maybe Justin Leonard's cross-green bomb of a putt to all but lock up the 1999 Cup and break a long U.S. drought?

Or perhaps it's last summer's electrifying matches: the joy of Kenny Perry, Hunter Mahan's snaking birdie putt and primal roar in singles play, the inspiration of U.S. captain and cancer survivor Paul Azinger?

OK. Now: What's your favorite Presidents Cup memory?

No question, right? It's Woody "Aquaman" Austin's header into a pond during the 2007 event at Royal Montreal Golf Club. Dramatic, no, but comic relief? Priceless.

This weekend, the best golfers from the U.S. and the portion of the globe excluding Europe convene at San Francisco's Harding Park to decide the "other" international golf competition. The whole world will be watching - OK, London, Madrid and Berlin probably won't, but in the U.S. ... well, Saturday-Sunday there's all that college and NFL football ...

Oh dear.

I'll be watching, taking note of Greenville's Lucas Glover, the U.S. Open Champion, and analyzing the strategies of captain Fred Couples, such as they are. Other PGA Tour players and golf junkies will watch, too. They care.

The other 99 percent of potential viewers ... we'll see.

Truth is, much of the public is not hooked on what many view as a Ryder Cup wannabe. Start with what once plagued the Ryder Cup: Most of the time (five of seven meetings, with one tie), the Americans have won handily.

For years, this made little sense. In the world rankings, most non-Americans in the top 50 came from places other than Europe. Now, nearly twice as many Euros (seven) occupy spots in the top 20 as internationals (four), and only Geoff Ogilvy makes the top 10, at No. 10. Little wonder Europe makes the U.S. work harder.

There's tradition, too. The Ryder Cup began in 1927; the Presidents Cup dates from 1994. And despite a desire to win for their home countries, there is nothing to bind everyone else in the world the way the Europeans have come together.

Still, bottom line, it's about competitiveness, about a foe which can, and does, rub America's noses in defeat. The Ryder Cup was a mildly entertaining diversion pre-1985, until the rest of Europe joined the Great Britain-Ireland team and began kicking Yank booty.

Suddenly, the U.S. cared. The "War by the Shore" was over-the-top jingoism - but boy, did people pull for their team. Last year when the Americans ended another long dry spell, chants of "USA! USA!" made a Pittsburgh Steelers home crowd sound tame.

Some will tell you the Presidents Cup is what the Ryder Cup once was: spirited but civil matches between peers. They point to the taut 17-17 tie in 2003, the three-hole playoff between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els that left the sides still deadlocked, and the sportsmanship of captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in declaring a draw - in direct violation of the rules.

Alas, other than one win by the Internationals in 1998 in Australia, when almost no one outside the Southern Hemisphere saw it, the Presidents Cup has been one long U.S. victory parade.

Maybe this time will be different. After all, two of this year's majors were won by International Team players (Angel Cabrera at the Masters, Y.E. Yang at the PGA). Too, the U.S. team has Tiger and Phil Mickelson, which usually draws fans, assuming Couples doesn't make the mistake of teaming them up.

Said Greenville resident and U.S. assistant captain Jay Haas recently: "I don't think anyone is a heavy favorite any more. (In the past) the Internationals have been favored but the U.S. wins. Everything is so close."

But Haas also inadvertently touched on another issue: the "There's No There There" syndrome. "So many (Internationals) live in the U.S., we don't really look at them like the Europeans," he said. "They're U.S. Tour players, they just weren't born here."

Sort of like an intrasquad game. And historically, the results have looked like the varsity vs. the B team.

Will it be different this time? Consider: for his two captain's picks, Couples took Glover and Hunter Mahan, hero of the last Ryder Cup. International boss Greg Norman chose Ryo Ishikawa, a talented but callow teen from Japan, and fellow Aussie Adam Scott, mired in a year-long slump.

So who are the Detroit Lions playing next Sunday, anyway?

  Comments