There’s no doubt most of us fell for the romance of the Presidents Cup when it was first played in 1994.
The thought of the top Australians being part of an International team taking on the best of the Yanks was enough to whet the appetite of any serious golf fan.
For years, we had looked longingly from the other side of the world as Europe and the United States waged war in the Ryder Cup. In time, we thought, the Presidents Cup would be steeped in its own history like the Ryder Cup, which, after all, had only been played since 1927. And if we needed convincing, it came in spades when the third Presidents Cup was brought to Royal Melbourne’s famous Composite layout in 1998.
With Jack Nicklaus and Peter Thomson at the helm of their respective teams, Royal Melbourne rocked; from the first day when Craig Parry holed a 20-metre chip from off the green to give he and Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama a 3&2 foursomes victory over Lee Janzen and Scott Hoch, until Greg Norman and Tiger Woods stared each other down in a tension-filled singles match on the final day. Tiger triumphed 1-up.
It was grand golf theatre and the fans loved it. More importantly for the parochial gallery, the International team romped in.
It was no Ryder Cup but in just six years the Presidents Cup was starting to carve its own history. But somehow, less than 20 years later, as battle lines are being drawn for this year’s event at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, the Presidents Cup needs a few serious tweaks. Otherwise, it runs the risk of withering on the vine.
The doyen of golf commentators and former Australian golf international, Jack Newton, has long been in search of ways to breathe new life into the Presidents Cup, which he says has become a tired event.
“I guess the biggest problem has turned out to be that it is a direct copy of the Ryder Cup,” says the 1979 Australian Open champion.
“They decided to go that way and it hasn’t worked.”
Now “changes need to be made” or the Presidents Cup will be forever dubbed the ‘poor cousin’ of the Ryder Cup. “I think it (the Presidents Cup) definitely needs a touch-up. We’re losing pace with the real event (the Ryder Cup). That’s been going for a long time. Given the Presidents Cup is a direct replica of what has already been played for such a long time between America and Europe, it (the Presidents Cup) doesn’t make much sense to me,” says Newton.
While the United States team members are all seemingly excited and keen to play in the Presidents Cup, selection will never be as highly regarded by the Americans as making the Ryder Cup team.
At the risk of treading on toes, Newton believes Presidents Cup organisers need to “get serious” about where they play the tournament.
“If you keep going to these ‘council’ courses they’re playing on in America, then the Yanks will win all the time,” says Newton. “But if you play on a serious golf course like Royal Melbourne – although they did beat us at Royal Melbourne in 2011, I must admit – it will be a different story.”
Royal Melbourne is due to host for the third time in 2019.
The event always needs to be played at an iconic venue, where the character of the course and the challenges it presents add an extra dimension to the contest and the media coverage.
“I’ve never heard of the course (Liberty National) they’re playing on this year,” Newton says. “There are plenty of great golf courses all over the United States but they don’t seem to use them for the Presidents Cup.
“Look at a couple of the recent US Opens (Erin Hills and Chambers Bay). No one had ever heard of them. I don’t think they were good enough golf courses to play the US Open on. The same goes for the Presidents Cup.
“Perhaps they don’t have to pay any freight to have the tournaments there (at the lesser-known courses).”
Newton says some of the courses may even pay to host the Presidents Cup when they are not ready for it.
“Playing on quality golf courses would add a bit of ‘oomph’ to the whole thing.”
The Poor Cousin
The American team has always batted far too deeply for the Internationals because of the quality of the US PGA Tour. To a lesser extent the same used to be said about the Europeans when it came to the Ryder Cup.
“But now there are some very good European players who eventually will take the mantle off the Yanks in the Ryder Cup,” Newton enthuses.
This is making the gap ever wider as far as interest goes between the Presidents and Ryder cups. The American domination in the Presidents Cup – they have only lost once (1998) in 11 contests – needs to be curtailed.
On the upside, the emergence of South Korea as a force in the game is a real positive for the Presidents Cup. This will bolster the depth of the International Team, in the short and long term.
“There were only about two South Koreans on the men’s tour a few years ago who were considered good players. Now there are a number of them winning on the US PGA Tour. They could end up dominating like they have on the women’s tour.”
It would be a radical move, but Newton thinks making the Presidents Cup a mixed event could be the tonic the tournament needs. The idea has plenty of merit. Mixed golf events are being met with huge approval around the world. Thirteenth Beach Golf Club at Barwon Heads, on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, has been the international pacesetter, first marrying the Victorian Open men’s and women’s events six years ago.
Newton says making it a mixed event could prove to be the salvation of the Presidents Cup.
“You could play same-sex foursomes and fourballs, mixed-sex foursomes and fourballs, then singles on the last day to see who gets the chocolates,” Newton says.
The idea is not new. They did it for years when Newton’s Junior Golf foundation in New South Wales did battle with Greg Norman’s Junior Golf foundation from Queensland. And it worked a treat.
Such a bold move might just put the Presidents Cup back in its rightful place on the golf map. Otherwise it will forever remain in the huge shadow cast over it by the Ryder Cup.