While watching the World Golf Championship Dell Technologies Match Play the last five days a question came to me. Were the U.S. players demonstrating the ability to win at match play? Continue reading
The buildup to September’s Ryder Cup has begun and over the summer as it always does will grow in intensity. However, in news of the other international competition between touring professionals a few changes have been instituted in an attempt to achieve at least a semblance of competitiveness. The Presidents Cup has been not so much a battle between the International Team and Team USA as a glorified exhibition lacking both the intensity and excitement of the biannual Ryder Cup.
It’s not the Internationals haven’t tried just that strong U.S. teams have dominated the matches which began in 1994 under then PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. The record shows 10 wins, one loss and one tie for Team USA and last September Captain Steve Stricker’s Americans beat up on Nick Price’s Internationals 19-11. After the first two days the margin was so lopsided all the Americans needed for the win in the Sunday singles matches was one-half point.
At the time I wrote, “…continued U.S. dominance has made it essentially an exhibition masquerading as a real competition. This needs to be fixed before the Presidents Cup becomes totally irrelevant to players and fans, if it hasn’t already.”
The runup to 2019 started with naming two media-attractive captains, Tiger Woods for the United State and Ernie Els for the Internationals. Who the captains are by itself won’t make the Presidents Cup more competitive nor more exciting for fans, but with Woods involvement it does attract media attention.
Secondly, the rules now say every team member must have played at least once on Friday or Saturday before the Sunday singles matches. We will just have to wait and see if this helps the Internationals which of course is the reason rules are being modified at all.
More significantly, captain’s picks will be made closer to when matches begin and each captain will have four selections rather than two as at present. This could be a big deal allowing selection of “hot” players just before the start of matches. But again, presuming the rule was put in place to help the Internationals the question arises if it will at all. Presidents Cup play starts December 13, 2019 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. This is well after the finish of the 2018-2019 PGA Tour season where the best of the Internationals play and if the 2019-2020 schedule has similar timing three weeks into the holiday hiatus.
How “hot” a player can be with these gaps is open to question, so it is another instance of “wait and see.” Best guess is there will be no impact except serving to perhaps mollify the perennial naysayers criticizing the picks by any captain.
The real issue, competitive parity, needs something drastic to keep fans, the players and the media interested. Another U.S. rout in Melbourne could just about finish the Presidents Cup…”an exhibition masquerading as a real competition,” and it’s a shame since there is the potential for it to be a real “guns blazing in the middle of main street” confrontation.
Until 1979 the Ryder Cup had a similar problem when the European team was solely players from Great Britain and Ireland, but after the continental European competitors were added the Americans have had their hands full to say the least.
What then could be done to enliven and invigorate the endangered Presidents Cup?
Following last fall’s debacle, I suggested teams should be expanded to include female professionals which in the case of the International Team’s roster would include the LPGA Tour’s Asian superstars. Imagine pairings like Dustin Johnson and Lexi Thompson teeing it up against Jason Day and Lydia Ko. Or how about Jordan Spieth and Michelle Wie fighting it out with Adam Scott and Ariya Jutanugarn?
Whew! You think anyone would watch?
The Presidents Cup has the potential to be the golf world’s premier international competition and from many aspects bigger than the Olympics. Bringing women and men together would be good for its future and golf’s future.
Anyone have the PGA Tour commissioner’s phone number?
It was fun. Fans saw a lot of quality shots hit by a couple dozen of really good golfers…some even deserving the often loosely applied label of world-class. Even the weather cooperated the final day of the Presidents Cup, an exhibition masquerading as intense competition.
It was clear even before the teams were named this was going to be a rout. The International squad just didn’t have the horsepower of Team USA. But of course, they haven’t had it for any of the twelve Presidents Cups with the exception of 1998 when a Peter Thompson led squad beat up on Jack Nicklaus’ twelve and oh yes, I almost forget, there was a tie in 2003
The U.S “Dream Team” so dominated this year it was just one-half point short of clinching the trophy at the close of play on Saturday. Had that happened, Nick Price’s Internationals would have been even more embarrassed but it also would have put the PGA Tour in an uncomfortable position with sponsors and fans.
As it was the twelve Sunday matches were almost pointless, a mere half point from being totally pointless and analyzing the Presidents Cup over its entire 23 year run leads to an inescapable conclusion.
It is just an exhibition. It is not a true competition with the gut wrenching drama of the Ryder Cup, though of course the PGA Tour would like it to be.
Things have been modified over the years starting with going from three to four days in 2000 but the basic format has been fourball and foursomes play capped the last day mano a mano single matches, just like the Ryder Cup.
Potentially thrilling except it isn’t when, as happened this year, a team’s only hope to salvage some semblance of pride is to win the majority of the last day singles matches. The International Team did but it’s hard to believe the U.S. players were really fired up with such an immense lead after day three.
So what’s the remedy or do we relegate the Presidents Cup exhibition to silly season status? There aren’t any options for improvement by expanding the inventory of eligible players as was done in the Ryder Cup when Europe was added to the team composed of Great Britain and Ireland. Frankly there aren’t many golfers outside the U.S. and Europe who are ready for prime time so creating an All-South America Team or All Africa Team and even an All Western Pacific Rim Team would seem to be futile. Additionally any plan impinging on perceived Ryder Cup prerogatives would be impossible to implement, after it is the Holy Grail of international team competition,.
My proposal some will call ridiculous or even ludicrous but change is needed to give the Presidents Cup relevance, to make it a true competitive tussle and save it from the oblivion of just another golf exhibition. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The idea would be to expand both teams by adding female professionals from the United States and around the world, including obviously Japan and Asia to both squads. How many? I don’t know, but the inherent attractiveness of male/female mixed pairings would be unique if not downright compelling for advertisers and fans.
Spice things up by awarding points (definitely not dollars) to participants, i.e., Race to the CME Globe for LPGA players on both teams, FedExCup points for PGA Tour members and even Race To Dubai points if an international is on the European Tour. Points could be allotted just for getting picked with more for each match won and more for winning the Cup.
Players couldn’t help but be enthusiastic plus and a couple of badly needed things would be accomplished. First the Presidents Cup would be rescued by giving fans something exciting and different to watch but more significantly female professionals would be showcased holding their own playing with and against the men.
The time is now for stirring the pot to fix the Presidents Cup…anybody have email addresses for Jay Monahan and Michael Whan?
Finally, I want to take a swipe at all the critics, naysayers and so-called experts who criticized Steve Stricker for selecting Phil Mickelson as a captain’s pick. The eminent philosopher and mangler of the English language Yogi Berra put it well, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Two years ago when Captain Jay Haas tapped Lefty it was the same discordant chorus but at the age of 45 he accounted for 3 ½ points tieing for the most on the team. Mickelson this year played four matches and finished with 3 ½ points only one point behind point leader Dustin Johnson.
At an age when most players, if they even still have their Tour card, are cruising to the magic five-oh and the PGA Tour Champions, Mickelson stepped up and again silenced the know-it-alls who criticized his inclusion on the team. He was ranked fifteenth in FedExCup points with the top ten being automatically getting a spot. By comparison the other captain’s pick eleventh ranked Charley Hoffman had a record of 1-2-0…not exactly stellar.
As a friend of mine said referring to Lefty’s invigorated play the last month of the regular season and his record in the Presidents Cup, “There’s a reason he’s in the Hall of Fame.”
Well, the teams are set for the biannual exhibition called the Presidents Cup to be played over the Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey at the end of the month.
The top ten world ranked players for the International Team and the top ten point earners for the United States team have been joined by two picks by each team captain. International captain Nick Price added the 11th ranked international player, Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo and Anirban Lahiri from India who was the 16th. Though both are strong, experienced players and join a team headed by world number three Hideki Matsuyama plus Australian’s Jason Day and Adam Scott it’s hard to conceive the Internationals will prevail.
The U.S. team is led by world number one Dustin Johnson followed by Open champion Jordan Spieth plus PGA champion and five-time winner this season Justin Thomas. Spots four through six are filled with players almost as impressive: Rickie Fowler, Daniel Berger and U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka. Let’s face it that’s a strong lineup and captain Steve Stricker made predictable choices for his two picks: Charlie Hoffman, who was 11th in points and World Golf Hall of Fame member Phil Mickelson.
The prediction (which isn’t really so fearless) is the United States will romp, maybe not by 11 points as in 2000 but it’s almost certain this year won’t be close.
As in 2015 when Mickelson was a pick by captain Jay Haas the tsk, tsk crowd has lined up to criticize Lefty’s inclusion. They don’t remember that two years ago when he was having a singularly mediocre season with his best finish being a tie for third he went 3-0-1 in the Presidents Cup. Granted past performance is no guarantee of future success, but it’s hard to argue player with low experience should be picked over even a mediocre Hall of Famer.
The other argument against Mickelson’s inclusion misses the mark entirely. I have a lot of respect for Alex Miceli but in his Morning Read column the logic was Lefty, though playing well at the Dell Technologies Championship, hasn’t had winning form since the 2013 Open and is 15th in the points list therefore younger players should be given the chance to be on the team.
He’s correct that Lefty hasn’t lit it up recently though who can deny his memorable fight against Henrik Stenson for the 2016 Open shooting a final round 65. Unfortunately Stenson posted a 63 to take the Claret Jug home to Sweden but Mickelson was magnificent that Sunday to say the least.
The reason Stricker picked Mickelson was not so much for his record in international team play nor the level of his game this year but because his maturity and leadership are undeniable…an immense asset to the team. If younger players should be given a chance they should just play better and get in by virtue of the points system.
Team Lefty – that has a nice ring to it and after the clutch play by the U.S. Team stemming the strong comeback by the Internationals it is obvious to every observer that Phil Mickelson was a key to the Presidents Cup victory…Maybe even THE key.
Captain Jay Haas was questioned, criticized and even called names by so-called pundits for his captain’s picks. Not for taking his son who narrowly finished in eleventh spot outside the automatic top ten on the points list but for taking Phil Mickelson as the other pick.
It seems those who made ungentlemanly even rude comments about Lefty have now disappeared and I’ve waited for the apologies to show up on the web with the same intensity as the diatribes. I guess I’m expecting so after two days I’m not holding my breath.
Mickelson was on the squad because he is looked upon by the younger players as a leader and someone they can trust. Captain Haas and several of the players have said that and it was the main reason he was on the team.
And by the way in case the negativism gets in the way Lefty shared the best record with Zach Johnson at 3-0-1. The two oldest on the team accounted for 7 of the U.S. Team’s winning total of 15 ½.
Where are the critics now?
The explosion of negative comments on the web concerning Phil Mickelson as President Cup Captain Jay Haas’s pick to the twelve-man U.S. team was predictable. Lefty was number 30 in points and chosen over a bunch of other good possibilities such as Bruce Koepka or even Charley Hoffman, both of whom have played great of late.
Haas also chose his son Bill to the team as the second of his picks but got a bye from the guff writers since Bill was eleventh in points.
But the real problem is if one looks realistically at the ten who automatically made the team you are struck with two facts. There’s the youth and crowd appeal of Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Spieth and Read who all can play lights out and the experience tempered by maturity of Furyk, Zach Johnson, Watson and Kuchar for sure.
But it’s difficult to imagine any of these fine players stepping up to be team leader…a psychological guide star in the team room and on the course.
Mickelson is the only one capable of filling that vital role and what’s more he proved it after last year’s Ryder Cup captaincy of Tom Watson by stepping up—in public—to voice his concerns and criticisms of Watson.
Lefty was raked over the coals but what wasn’t common knowledge then and is now, other Ryder Cup players felt the same only didn’t speak up. It just was Mickelson who understood change was needed and did something about it which is a fairly good definition of leadership.
And this wasn’t a first in his career he has had to withstand slings and arrows. Remember before he won his first major the comments about him never being able to win one. The label “Best Player To Not Won A Major” was coined just for him. He now has five majors and 42 Tour wins. Or, perhaps you remember his comments a few years ago the clubs Tiger Woods was playing as not being the best available and the word storm that followed.
So let’s applaud Haas’ astute judgement adding experience, maturity and leadership by picking Mickelson. And the aging Hall of Famer can still play a little though he hasn’t posted a win since The Open two years ago he has played his way to the third round of the playoffs this week in Chicago, has three top tens this year including a second behind Spieth at the Masters plus a wealth of international team competition.
Besides Mickelson being focus of all the noise has another possibly huge benefit to Haas and the team. The critics (do they ever find anybody or anything they can support?) would just find someone else to pick on, possibility a player who couldn’t cope with all the negatives as Mickelson has shown he can do.
Image courtesy of Odyssey Golf