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President's Cup: Plan B?

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece on the future of the President's Cup after yet another US victory

Posted Oct 13, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

presidents cup

It was all so perfectly polite. When last Sunday's singles got under way in the President's Cup at Harding Park, San Francisco, we were informed that in the unlikely event of a tie, the trophy would be shared by both the US and International teams.  Just as had been agreed so sportingly by rival captains, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, in 2005 at Fancourt, South Africa, where it became impossible to decide the issue because of fast-fading light.

There was none of the distasteful, win-at-all-cost attitude associated with those Ryder Cup rowdies who insist that only a victory can wrest the trophy from the team in possession.  With an eventual outcome of 19 1/2 to 14 1/2 in America's favour, however, it would be reasonable to question how long the fixture can survive, given that the Internationals have won only once in eight attempts since the event was launched in 1994.

When a similarly one-sided situation arose in the Ryder Cup, it will be recalled that Nicklaus suggested a broadening of the British and Irish line-up to make it more competitive.  The great man said in 1977: "... as a golf contest pure and simple, it badly needs a change of format.  As far as the American players are concerned, everyone wants and enjoys the honour of making the team, but many find it difficult to get charged-up for the matches themselves."  Two years later, the European Ryder Cup team was born and the rest, as they say, is history.

There would appear to be no Plan B on this occasion, however, unless the organisers were to look at another Nicklaus proposition.  In the wake of Europe's hammering of the Americans at Oakland Hills in 2004, Davis Love suggested that playing President's Cup matches and Ryder Cup matches in successive years "takes some of our edge off."  Love, incidentally, also suggested:  "We must accept that the rest of the world are getting better at golf. Who's the number one player in the world?  He's from Fiji (Vijay Singh)."

As it happened, the current world number one, Tiger Woods, seemed to have a serious edge to him last weekend when he demolished YE Yang by 6 and 5 to complete a sizzling five points out of five.  Still, it is interesting to note the Bear's response when I put Love's comments to him.  "I agree with Davis," said Nicklaus.  "I've been saying this for years.  It definitely makes a difference, having to get up for an important team event every year as opposed to doing it every two years, like the Europeans."

He went on: "A possible solution which I believe could work, would be to create a new tournament, a sort of 'King of the Hill' event involving the US, Europe and the Internationals.  And if, say, the US beat the International side in one year, they would qualify for a decider against Europe a year later. Or if Europe beat the US, as has been happening regularly in recent years, they would get a crack at the International team." But Nicklaus conceded: "The only problem with such an arrangement is that there would be a conflict of interests here in the US, where the Ryder Cup is controlled by the PGA of America while the PGA Tour run the President's Cup."       

There's the rub.  The Europeans would never agree to such an arrangement, given the importance of the Ryder Cup to the coffers of the PGA European Tour.  Every four years, they can bank on a veritable bonanza from a home staging of the Ryder Cup, which they enjoyed at The K Club in 2006 and which is also likely to deliver a handsome dividend at Celtic Manor in 12 months' time, world recession notwithstanding.

As for the Americans:  similar cash considerations mean that Tim Finchem, commissioner of the US Tour, will trenchantly defend the President's Cup, no matter how one-sided it may become.  The extent of its cash dividend could be gauged from the number of television hours it generated last weekend.  And it must be remembered that his tour receive virtually nothing from the Ryder Cup, other than a modest share of the television income.

So we can take it that the President's Cup will continue for the immediate future.  And even if the US win again at Royal Melbourne in two years to make their dominance over the Internationals even more pronounced, nobody in authority will be overly concerned.  So long as the television revenues keep pouring in.

- Dermot Gilleece


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