You may not remember this-perhaps you weren't even born yet—but in 1959 baseball had what it thought was a splendid idea: If one All-Star Game a year was so popular, why not play two? Alas, the show closed after four performances, in 1962. A second Christmas, say on June 25, would have stood a better chance.
I offer this preamble to explain why the Presidents Cup is one cup too many. The Ryder Cup has become the hottest property in golf, rivaling the four majors for spectator and media attention. The European team that was beaten by USA! USA! last fall was truly international, with players who live in places like Dumfries, Scotland, and Geneva, Switzerland, and Fuenterrabia, Spain. It was us against them. The weekend was exhausting but thrilling, ending in a storm of controversy. Everyone needed a two-year hiatus to recover.
But no, this October we'll have the Presidents Cup IV, or what I have come to think of as Ryder Cup Lite, a flat, watery brew. Once again Tiger Woods, David Duval and America's other heroes will be called upon to represent the red, white and blue against a dozen Internationals—that is, players from the rest of the world other than Europe. Launched by the PGA Tour in 1994, the main objective of the Presidents Cup has little to do with sport. Instead, read money.
The name Internationals, for openers, is a joke. Many prominent members of the team live in Florida, some just down the street from their U.S. counterparts. Vijay Singh may be from Fiji, but he hangs his hat in Ponte Vedra Beach, close to the houses of Duval and Jim Furyk. South Africa's Ernie Els has a place in Orlando, as does Aussie Stuart Appleby. Anytime they're looking for a game, Tiger, Scott Hoch and Mark O'Meara are minutes away. You get the idea. Many players are good friends with guys on the other side. The Presidents Cup is, in effect, us against us. As Duval said after the U.S. lost two years ago, "This is different than Europe. Vijay is my neighbor. Nick Price? How can you not be happy for him?"
What's more, many leading Internationals are regulars on the PGA Tour. Singh entered 29 events in '99, eight more than either Duval or Woods. Steve Elkington played in 21 tournaments, Els and Price 18 each. Only injury prevented Greg Norman from playing more man 12 times, and when he did play, he often dropped by the tower at 18 to schmooze with his good buddy Ken Venturi, who will be captaining the U.S. team in October.
So you can see why the Presidents Cup lacks Ryder Cup intensity. Ali-Frazier it's not. It isn't even Harvard-Yale.
The Presidents Cup also suffers by offering the same menu as the Ryder Cup, with a few minor tweaks. Why not try some real innovation? For instance, instead of two better-ball and alternate-shot matches, have only one of each and throw in a scramble and an aggregate—a 3 and a 4 for 7 for the U.S. beats a 3 and a 5 for 8 for the Internationals. If nothing else the Presidents Cup should break away from exactly what the Tour intended it to be when it began, an off-year Ryder Cup.
There's no point in asking the U.S. players how they feel about the Presidents Cup because it would be impolitic of them to give an honest answer, but it's safe to say that few would shed tears if the event went the way of the Rubber City Open. Woods has said privately that his participation in the Presidents Cup simply means he drops a Tour event from his schedule. Playing in the Ryder Cup requires the better part of a month to prepare for, to play in and to recover from, and once every two years is acceptable. Every year is something else, especially when the event is played 10,000 miles from home during the holiday season, as the Presidents Cup was two years ago in Melbourne. This year's competition will be held Oct. 19-22 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club near Washington, D.C., but brace yourselves, lads. In 2002 you're off to Cape Town in December.
It would be heartless to suggest that the Presidents Cup be scrapped entirely. Why not this? Since so many of the players live in Florida, hold the competition there every year—yes, every year—at Isleworth Country Club outside Orlando in early December. No ceremonies, no uniforms, no travel required, just a bunch of pals playing a little golf and having a beer afterward. No place like home for the holidays. Come to think of it, the Presidents Cup could be the highlight of the Silly Season.