In order to stop becoming an embarrassment – and irrelevant – urgent fixes are required for the biennial teams competition.
The easiest question to ask this weekend while forlornly watching the meek excuse for a ‘contest’ being offered up at the 12th staging of the Presidents Cup, is to ponder which explanation carries more weight: is the International side that bad or are the Americans simply that good?
However, discussion about that masks the greater issue, one that’s been percolating in this biennial competition for several years now. There are inherent flaws in the entire process that will continue to provide lopsided results in favour of the red, white and blue side until they’re remedied. Two of them are especially glaring.
Firstly, the qualification system is all wrong. Using the world rankings to select the bulk of the International side seems logical on the surface but the machinations of the arithmetic that determine players’ rankings are arguably too stretched out and a player ranked 50th in the world, for instance, is likely to still be ranked there courtesy of good results achieved too long ago. The ranking is less of a reflection of current form than it should be and results as far back as two years preserve the lofty positions of some players whose form is actually on the slide.
Take Branden Grace, for instance. Despite a season in which he broke the all-time 18-hole scoring record at Major championships, the South African has fallen from 17th in the world at the end of 2016 to 42nd this week but still comfortably made the Internationals’ line-up without recording a single top-five finish this year. Then there’s Bubba Watson – in freefall this year, plummeting from 10th in the world to 57th – who was never part of the conversation for the US side (and for good reason) but likely would have made the International squad if he weren’t American.
‘Use the Official World Golf Ranking as a guide by all means, but it shouldn’t be the key determining factor handcuffing the make-up of the side.’
The solution here? Abandon the qualification process and instead allow the International captain to choose the 12 players he’d like to see competing. Use the Official World Golf Ranking as a guide by all means, but it shouldn’t be the key determining factor handcuffing the make-up of the side. There may well be greater overall depth to the American roster, but 12 captain’s picks would ensure the most in-form players are chosen. Hindsight is always beneficial, of course, but I think Australia’s Scott Hend and China’s Li Haotong would both have made more impact this week than India’s Anirban Lahiri and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel (who is without a top-10 finish since June), and this method would have paved the way for their inclusion.
The second major flaw is the huge advantage bequeathed to the Americans by virtue of the fact they compete under this format annually and not every two years. In contrast, the disparate International side comes to terms with the vagaries of foursomes and four-ball competition only once every 24 months. Dealing with factors like getting used to a different ball and its flight characteristics in foursomes play – an issue this week, according to Internationals captain Nick Price – and building camaraderie within the pairings would become easier if the adjustment away from individual play occurred more frequently.
The global golf calendar would appear to be too loaded to allow time for a Europe vs Internationals contest (as riveting as one would be), so instead perhaps the players eligible for the International side need to implement an internal event whereby, for example, the Asian players take on the rest or the South Africans and Australians compete against everyone else. Frankly, any format that allows these golfers to experience this style of team competition more frequently would help rectify what is about to become a 1-10-1 overall win-loss-tie ledger at the Presidents Cup.
There are other questions to be answered as this edition of the Presidents Cup effectively becomes over before the singles matches even begin – such as, what did Price see in Lahiri’s game that warranted a wildcard pick and, how could so many elite players appear so desperately out of form at one time? – but addressing these two matters is essential if we are to prevent yet another embarrassing rout at Royal Melbourne in two years’ time.