by Jeff Skinner
For the casual fan that just glanced at the leaderboard a few times or watched only a few minutes of The Presidents Cup it might have looked like another boring American victory. Well, they may be half right: it was certainly a decisive win, 19-15 but it was hardly boring. The players, the course, the fans and Mother Nature combined to give us four days of interesting and entertaining golf.
Royal Melbourne lived up to the hype it had received and is by any measure a world class, major championship worthy course that embodies all the aspects of a classic course. The weather tested the participants when it forced the players to reset their strategy when Melbourne went from fast, hard greens rolling over 14 to a slower test that many failed to adjust to.
The International Team, loaded with five Aussies was touted by Captain Greg Norman to be as strong as any International team and would use the home field advantage to earn their second Presidents Cup at the scene of their only victory. As it was, the Aussies were the Achilles heel of Norman’s team with only Geoff Ogilvy, who grew up next to Royal Melbourne, posting a winning record. Norman’s Captains Picks of Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley managed only one and a half points between them. Allenby had a miserable week and ended with no points at all for his team.
The International Team may have handed over the Presidents Cup on Sunday evening but it was lost long before then. The Thursday Foursomes session saw the U.S. jump to a 4-2 lead. Again, on Saturday the Internationals were trounced in Foursomes 4-1. That gave the Americans an 8-2 advantage in the alternate shot portion of The Presidents Cup and that’s an edge that no team could recover from.
The Americans got a vast amount of their points from a bunch of old veterans and a few young studs. Jim Furyk was a perfect 5-0. Phil Mickelson went 3-1 despite his singles meltdown. And David Toms showed that he has plenty left with three points. Anyone who thought Hunter Mahan would have scars from the 2010 Ryder Cup should think again: he went 4-1 and has set the tone for a new generation of Presidents/Ryder Cup studs. Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson teamed together for three straight wins before they cooled off but still went 3-2 for the week. Tiger Woods started off the week by getting his worst trouncing ever in a team format. His play got better when he was teamed with Dustin Johnson but Johnson offered him little help. Still, Woods managed two wins for the week. He hasn’t hit the ball any better in the last two years and his cup clinching win over Aaron Baddeley was said to be “vintage Tiger.”
At every team format event much is written as to how the Americans are a bunch of individuals and how they don’t enjoy the team format. The recent European success in the Ryder Cup is attributed to how the Euros love playing as a team. To hear the Americans speak here, they relish the team competition. Phil Mickelson says it’s one of the things he misses from college. Tiger Woods, normally the most individual of individuals, relishes being one of the boys for the week. And Jim Furyk has been the most outspoken of their love of the team events. He fervently defended his team at the 2010 Ryder Cup when the Americans team commitment was questioned and again here in Australia Furyk boasts of how everyone loves playing as a team. “I said this years ago, and it’s still true. This stuff about how we aren’t close and how we can’t come together as a group, it’s just not accurate. We will win some of these events like the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup, and we’ll lose some. But whatever we do, we’ll do it as a team. Since I’ve started playing in these, I’ve always loved them. But so do all the guys. They all care. Look at Tiger and Phil in his room. Do they look like they don’t care about what we just accomplished? Did they look like they didn’t care the last four days on the course?” Furyk praised his captain and teammates, “Fred’s a terrific leader by keeping things loose, Tiger leads in his own way. This group really meshed.”
The group really did mesh and was able to put down the Internationals each time they mounted a comeback. The Americans did what many thought they couldn’t: defeat a team stocked with hometown boys on a course that takes away the driver. They couldn’t have been more wrong. The Americans managed their way around Royal Melbourne by using the driver sparingly and they were quick to learn the subtleties of the difficult greens.
Overall, this was an entertaining week of golf and sportsmanship. The Presidents Cup is played in a different atmosphere than the Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup is a death match with players, captains and fans so whipped up that mistakes are cheered and players taunted. The Presidents Cup has a spirit of competition yes, but it is not overshadowed by the spirit of sportsmanship and appreciation for your opponent. In Sunday’s singles, Phil Mickelson obviously had zero game early on. He went down 4-0 after four holes to Adam Scott. Late in the round Phil finally found his putter. On the fifteenth hole he drained a 33 foot putt for birdie to get to 3 down. He looked at Scott and smiled, Scott smiled back. On the sixteenth he sank another bird from eighteen feet to cut it to two down. He looked at Scott and laughed. Scott was laughing too. They walked to the seventeenth arm in arm with smiles on their face. Scott had to be thinking, “Are you kidding me?” Scott closed out Phil 2&1 on the seventeenth but that scene never would have happened at a Ryder Cup.
The Presidents Cup is more fun than the Ryder Cup. Some of that may be taken from the attitude of the captains. Norman left no doubt he wanted this bad, as did Couples but that didn’t stop Norman from grabbing Fred and including him in the cheering section of a group of Aussie fanatics. Afterwards, Americans and Internationals partied together and reveled in the spirit of sportsmanship and good humor that separates the Presidents Cup from its more historic cousin.
Couples and Norman set the tone this week: competitive play as true sportsman. They both were winners.