Think this Presidents Cup was a snooze? Get used to it. The U.S. is back—with a vengeance—and last week's record 21�-10� shellacking of an overwhelmed International team is only a taste of what is to come in these annual team grudge matches. (Yes, this kind of dominance will be visited on the Ryder Cup, too.) On Sunday afternoon the Americans officially regained possession of the Presidents Cup on the 15th hole of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, in Manassas, Va., when Davis Love III closed out a hapless Ernie Els during the anticlimactic singles session.
Truth be told, this Prez Cup was probably won on Sept. 26, 1999, the day of the Americans' historic final-day comeback win at the 33rd Ryder Cup. With that awesome unleashing of talent and willpower the Yanks exorcised the demons of Choke Hill (the '95 Ryder Cup), the Pain in Spain ('97 Ryder) and, most embarrassingly, the Blunder Down Under, the '98 Presidents Cup in Australia in which an apathetic U.S. squad, miffed by having its Christmas shopping interrupted, suffered what had been the worst defeat in the history of international team competition.
Of the galvanizing performance a year ago at the Country Club, Tom Lehman says, "Something changed that day. It was a turning point, and we're still feeling the effect. In every other event before that, it felt like we got out-teamed. Now we're the ones making each other better. We're the ones inspiring each other. You look at this team, and there are a lot of young guys. I don't know if we can win every Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup for the next 10 years, but we're going to be very tough."
Seconds Hal Sutton, "It's an exciting time to be part of American golf."
Not only are the Americans the most talented players in the world, but now they're also the most fearless. Not only is the U.S. the deepest team, but now it's the most cohesive, too. At this Presidents Cup the Americans excelled in every format and showed the kind of blood lust that was a marked departure from the usual slap and giggle of the Presidents Cup. The Americans devoured the Internationals in all five foursome matches last Thursday, and by the end of play on Friday the lead was 10-5. By Saturday night the margin was up to 14-6, and needing only 2� points from the 12 singles matches on Sunday, the Yanks instead rolled up 7�.
What was scary about this U.S. team was its balance. Ten players won at least three matches, and two of the unbeatens were rookies, Stewart Cink and Kirk Triplett (see page G8), who were so supernatural in teaming for three victories that they may as well have been touching rings and chanting, "Wonder Twin powers activate." While the Internationals clearly didn't play their best—particularly their stars, Els and Vijay Singh, who were being fitted for goat horns after going a combined 1-9—it didn't matter. This U.S. squad was unbeatable.
"It was a magnificent performance," said Peter Thomson, the gracious captain of the International team. "This seems to me to be as powerful a team as you've ever had."
Sorry, Thommo, but it's only going to get worse for you and the boys. The American go-to guys, Love, 36, and Phil Mickelson, 30, are in their primes, and the team game seems to bring out their best. After a flawless 4-0 performance, Love has a 12-5-2 record in the Prez Cup to go with a 3-1 mark in Ryder Cup singles. Mickelson, meanwhile, is so wolfishly competitive that he was sent out in last week's opening match and, along with Lehman, set the tone for all that would follow with a 5-and-4 filleting of Steve Elkington and a toothless Greg Norman, the pairing that used to be the Internationals' most potent. That Lehman was batting leadoff was no surprise, given that he and Sutton are the U.S.'s emotional leaders. Both are playing some of the best golf of their careers despite being over 40, and even if they don't qualify for the next couple of Cups, you can be sure they'll be captains' selections.
Complementing this core Fab Four was a collection of valuable role players, notably Jim Furyk, 30, a steady, flinty competitor who went 3-1 last week and is now 4-0 in singles in the Ryder and Presidents Cups. Cink and Triplett, the heroes among the "tail-enders"—Nick Price's term for the less glamorous players—are testaments to the depth of talent on the U.S. tour. In this era of inflated purses, a Cink or a Triplett can get rich without any serious ambition, but both have realized that team events like the Presidents Cup can define a career. "I pushed hard to make this team," says Triplett, 38, who won his first Tour event earlier this year in Los Angeles. "There is a perception that this event is not important to the players, but I can assure you it is very significant to me, and it was significant for a number of others who tried like heck to make the team but didn't quite get here."
Among the U.S. stars conspicuous by their absence were Justin Leonard, the hero of last year's Ryder Cup, and two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, one of the best players on the '97 Ryder Cup team. The battle to be considered one of the 12 best American golfers gets more competitive every year. That should guarantee that our national teams are stocked with motivated players at the top of their games for a long time to come.