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World Cup Not Worth The Name

Despite some good golf, the absence of stars makes this tournament a pale imitation

Posted Nov 26, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

palmer nicklaus

As an intended adornment to the tournament year, the only decent thing about the newly-shaped World Cup last weekend was the courageous performance by the individual winner, Jason Day at Royal Melbourne.  Otherwise, it gained the dubious distinction of being an entirely forgettable happening at one of the game’s most iconic venues.

It certainly did nothing to enhance the memory of a splendid President’s Cup at the same venue in 1998 when the International team gained their only victory in the series by the remarkable margin of 20 ½ to 11 ½.   And it was decidedly low-key, compared with previous World Cup stagings there.

For the benefit of the stayaway stars last weekend, it may be no harm to remind them of how seriously the tournament was treated by their distinguished predecessors.  Like in 1963 at Royal Melbourne, where Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer represented the US as a pair for the first time.  Interestingly, that particular staging had to be reduced to 63 holes because of heavy fog on the final day when it became necessary to define some of the fairways by using the headlights of motor-cars, simply to complete nine holes.

As it happened, Nicklaus defied the conditions to hole a 70-foot bunker shot on the sixth hole, having sunk putts of 20 and 35 feet at the previous two, to complete three birdies in a row. “I’ve never had three holes like this in my life,” said the 23-year-old Bear at the time. “It’s hard to believe.”  A measure of his competitiveness was his treatment of a birdie putt on the ninth. “I babied it,” he admitted afterwards. “I didn’t want to take any chances in case Arnie missed.  The team victory was more important to me than my individual score.”

In the event, the Americans made a clean sweep, winning the team event by three strokes from the Spanish pair of Sebastian Miguel and Ramon Sota.  And Nicklaus, almost predictably, captured the individual title by the comfortable margin of five strokes from Miguel.  It’s difficult not to view last week’s American duo of Matt Kuchar and Kevin Streelman as fairly ordinary by comparison.  Indeed one has to go back only to the Millennium staging of the World Cup in Buenos Aires, to see the US represented by their two best players.  That was when Tiger Woods and David Duval brought home the trophy when, as an experiment, the original 72-hole strokeplay format was abandoned in favour of fourballs and foursomes.

Without wishing to labour the point about changed times, it is also worth noting the Royal Melbourne staging of 1988, when the US sent the reigning Players champion, Mark McCumber, into action as a partner for 1984 Masters winner, Ben Crenshaw.  And once more, they did their country proud, capturing the title by a stroke from the Ozaki brothers, Jet and Jumbo, representing Japan, while Crenshaw captured the individual title.

As a consequence of Day’s inspired play, especially against the background of having lost no fewer than eight relatives in the Philippines disaster, Australia won the team award even with the decidedly moderate support of Adam Scott.  The important thing, however, was that Scott competed, so giving real impetus to the build-up to this, the revival of the World Cup as a biennial event.

One can imagine Chris Woods and Danny Willett, both in a share of 32nd place in the individual table, giving of their best for the English cause.  But what of their illustrious compatriots, starting with the reigning US Open champion, Justin Rose?    There is something fundamentally wrong with the structure of a sport in which players don’t give priority to representing their country.   When you consider the enormous physical effort, for instance, that rugby union players from the home countries made in recent test matches against New Zealand, pride in country from certain tournament golfers appears pretty shallow by comparison.

And they can’t take refuge in the familiar excuse about being burnt out by a crowned fixture list.  When they sat down last winter to plan their 2013 season, they knew the World Cup would be taking place last weekend at one of the game’s truly great venues.   And it is reasonable to assume that the absentees made their decision at that stage, rather than a few weeks ago when they could have claimed, with some justification, that their bodies were badly in need of a rest.

So, if the game’s officials want a tournament on this particular weekend in November every other year, let them come up with another title.  Because to compare last weekend’s happening to the World Cup in which Jack Nicklaus took such pride in winning 50 years ago, amounts to a serious stretch of the imagination.

- Dermot Gilleece

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