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Tour Confidential: Is the lopsided Presidents Cup in danger of becoming irrelevant?

September 10, 2017

GOLF.com conducts a weekly roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Presidents Cup captains Steve Stricker and Nick Price finalized their teams with wild card picks last week, so the rosters for the biennial event to begin later this month at Liberty National in New Jersey are set. The U.S., however, is a heavy favorite (-400) to top the Internationals (+300), and the Americans haven’t lost in this century and are 9-1-1 overall. The Presidents Cup will always be the Ryder Cup’s little brother, but with the event becoming so lopsided is it in danger of becoming irrelevant?

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Growing up a Red Sox fan, I spent my days consumed with our “rivalry” with the Yankees, until I visited relatives in New York and realized they didn’t think of it as much of a rivalry at all. The Red Sox were just another team the Yankees routinely dusted. You can’t have an intense rivalry if one side never gets its butt kicked, which is why the Ryder Cup wasn’t really an electric event in the States until the Europeans started winning. That’s when American fans really started to care. So yeah, the Prez Cup needs things to work both ways if it’s ever going to feel heated on these shores. As for the International contingent, I don’t get the sense that their fan base is all that worked up about the losing streak. It’s just too disperse a group to cultivate the kind of intense tribalism that a rivalry requires. So, I dunno—how about we just accept the Presidents Cup as the exhibition it was meant to me?

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): How soon we forget. Two years ago in Korea, if Anirban Lahiri makes a 2 1/2-footer on 18, or if Chris Kirk doesn’t make a 15-footer for birdie in front of him, the Internationals win. So while the overall record may be lopsided, the competition itself has been getting closer and closer. It’s folly to think the U.S. will win in a walk. They have 12 great players too, and in match play anything can happen. I don’t think it will ever be irrelevant. Like you said, it will always be the Ryder Cup’s little brother, but I think golf fans love to watch this caliber of play in the team atmosphere. It’s just different.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The above response, from a man with real-world experience in team rooms, shows he was listening to every coach and manager for whom he ever played baseball. I believe the U.S. will win in a walk, but you gotta have John’s attitude going in. As long as it means something to the participants, the event is in no danger of becoming irrelevant. It’s foremostly for them. Anybody who wants to watch can watch.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Some really good points here from both Josh and John. From the beginning, I thought the Presidents Cup was ridiculous—some kind of early 90s fevered dream from the PGA Tour brass because they needed a way to get the game’s best two players at the time, Greg Norman and Nick Price, involved in some Ryder Cup-style hysteria. It never worked for me, for the very reasons Josh outlined. I also thought it was a drain on the U.S. stars to make them do this every year. Now, with the wisdom of age, I’ve come around to Mr. Wood’s point of view. It really means very little, but because we so seldom get this kind of competitive event in pro golf, it’s fun to watch if the match is reasonably close. Korea was awesome.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): Korea was indeed awesome, and a glimpse of what this event can become if the Internationals can consistently make a game of it. I don’t want to sound unpatriotic and I’m not pulling for this to happen, but the best thing that could happen to the Prez Cup might be an International upset victory at Liberty National. That’s how great (and heated!) rivalries are born.

2. Speaking of those captain’s picks, Stricker used his selections to pluck Charley Hoffman, who was 11th on the points list and the first man out via the automatic qualifying, and Phil Mickelson. Did Stricker get it right?

Sens: I was hoping he’d go right along with the Prez Cup point system, which would have meant Hoffman and Brian Harman. But it’s hard to argue too passionately against Mickelson, especially with the life he showed in Boston last week.

Wood: I think he did, yes. I know there will come a time when Phil doesn’t qualify for either a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team, and that will be a very sad day for U.S. team golf. For me and many others, though, as long as he is close, his 23 teams made, 42 wins, five majors and unbelievably positive influence in the team room eclipses any rationale to leave him off. And by the way, the last time we saw Phil in a team competition he was making 10 birdies vs. Sergio at Hazeltine. So yeah, if you think Phil shouldn’t have been a pick, then it’s either personal or you’re just a contrarian.

Passov: When I was asked last week who the two captain’s picks should be, I went with Phil and Charley, so certainly I believe Strick got it right. Phil brings so much to these things. His mere presence makes me want to watch more than I would otherwise. And Hoffman was so close to 10th place, he truly deserved the pick.

Ritter: I just loved the fire Harman showed this summer, especially when he hung in at Erin Hills. I would’ve taken him along with Phil, who is a no-brainer for both his leadership and his track record of raising his play at the team events.

Bamberger: With all due respect to the run Phil has had, I would have gone with Harman and Hoffman.

3. With a break in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and a new schedule on the way in 2019 (which will push the playoffs forward into August), it’s a good time to re-imagine a new format for the series. Give your pitch.

Sens: Hmm. I know this is the age of discontent, but I don’t have any huge gripes with the format. But just for fun, let’s eliminate the week off and make the guys play for each other’s money. Payment due in cash on the 18th green.

Wood: Keep it all the same. But start the Tour Championship on Wednesday and finish it on Saturday. Only the top four in the FedEx Cup standings then play on Sunday: 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 in the morning, and the two winners meet in the afternoon. Medal play.

Passov: Dump one of the tournaments and skip the week off. With new sponsors for the first two playoff events, it lost me a bit in the prestige department this year. And let’s come up with some better names—something with some permanence to attach to the corporate sponsor. Barclays? Gone. Northern Trust—Riviera, right? Dell Technologies—they’re the Match Play, correct? Oh, they replaced Deutsche Bank. When all these supposedly big-time tournaments have interchangeable names, it makes me think it’s nothing more than a cash grab, akin to a limited-field exhibition. Perhaps let’s honor Deane Beman and Tim Finchem this way. Call it the Deane Beman Northern Trust — or the Deane Beman whatever the future host is — so that the first tournament of the playoffs will have some meaning and relevance, no matter who the sponsor is or where the venue is.

Ritter: I agree that the week off is a buzzkill. The format mostly works for me until the end—too much math involved at the Tour Championship with projecting a winner. The scenarios involved in crowning a champion should be obvious in the final round of a playoff. So I’d invite 32 to East Lake and set them in match play brackets, winner cashes $10 million.

Bamberger: I like three events in three weeks, with carryover. No reset after Week 1 and Week 2. You start with 125. In the first eight rounds, the bottom 10 are cut every day. So 125 play the first round. Roughly 115 the second, 105 the third, 95 the fourth. Week 2: 85 the first (cutting 10 from the fourth round of Week 1), 75 the second, 65 the third and 55 the fourth. For the first round of Week 3, the bottom 10 from the Sunday round are cut, so you start with 45 and you keep playing 45 through Sunday. (Ties on the cuts will be done by matches of cards.) Playoffs are supposed to be about elimination and survival and prevailing over time. I also agree with Joe—the names are terrible. Must improve the names.

4. GOLF unveiled its biennial list of the Top 100 courses in the U.S. and World last week. Name a course that’s not on either Top 100 list that deserves to be.

Sens: Claremont Country Club in Oakland, Calif. Charming Mackenzie design where Sam Snead won his first Tour event back in the 1930s. Too short for tournament golf today, but loaded with character, beautifully conditioned and a ton of fun. Also, Belvedere in Northern Michigan. It’s always been great. But recent work that brought it closer into line with Willie Watson’s original have made it, as the kids say, frickin’ awesome.

Wood: Josh, I’ve played Claremont! Used to play there in college every once in a while. Fastest greens I’ve ever putted on and such a pure course. I’d have to say Harbour Town. The course hasn’t had to change one iota and the scores are the same they have always been. It’s a brilliant test.

Passov: John, Harbour Town did finish 45th in the U.S. rankings, and 101st in our World rankings, so I can’t say it’s been overlooked, but you make a fair point about it being underrated. I’m in that camp with you. I won’t pick a specific course that I feel deserves to be in, but as the guy who puts together the rankings for GOLF, I’ve always enjoyed the international flavor sprinkled throughout our World list, so I’d like to see a South American course represented. Gil Hanse’s Olympics course in Brazil did well this time, but fell a little shy. And Africa needs a representative as well, now that Durban Country Club has dropped off.

Sens: Have not had the pleasure of Harbour Town but I’ve heard a number of pros describe it as their favorite course. Sigh. Another entry on the ever-expanding bucket list.

Ritter: Manele GC on Hawaii’s island of Lanai has ocean views on all 18 holes, outrageous cliffside carries and mai thais waiting for you when it’s over. It’s pure and relaxed, and also the track I played one day after getting engaged six years ago, so it’s forever entrenched on my personal list.

Bamberger: I’m likely a poor judge. I’m not looking for “greatness” when I play a course. I’m hoping for challenge and charm. I’m looking for a course I can play, a course I can walk, a course where I won’t loose balls, with greens that I can two-putt. I don’t like country-club bunkers. I do like sand pits and rough that is literally rough terrain. I welcome beauty as we all do, but we all define it differently. I’m looking for a course where you and I can play a match and I do not care what Dustin Johnson would, quote, do to the course. Off the top of my head, Elie and Machrihanish would be AMFs (among my favorites). My AMF list is another person’s “Top 100.” John Garrity’s personal list is one of the best in golf. It is beyond math.

MORE: Top 100 in the U.S.  |  Top 100 in the World  |  8 Top 100 takeaways

5. Walker Cup competitors were met with a 78-yard par-3 during afternoon singles play on Saturday. Love it or hate it?

Sens: Seventy-eight yards on a course that isn’t subject to wildly varying winds is cutting it close, but I like the change of pace. Tournament golf already puts plenty of primacy on power. A subtle three-quarter shot under intense pressure is a pretty cool showcase of skill, and great fun in a match-play format.

Wood: I love it. Golf-course setup is so much more interesting when you don’t have to protect par. Everyone ends up playing the same holes, so why not?

Passov: I thought it would be goofy—until I saw it on TV on Saturday. With the hole cut on a little tongue of the green, and with the putting surface as firm and fast as it was, and with the rough as dense as it was, and with nasty bunkers lurking front and back, it turned out to be brilliant. On such a tiny shot, there’s nowhere to hide, and amid the intense pressure of competing for your country, it served as a great gut-check.

Ritter: Sounds both fun to play and a little buzzworthy, as demonstrated by its inclusion in today’s panel discussion. Win-win.

Bamberger: For match play it was neat, but right on the edge of goofy. At that level of play, I think 100 yards is about as short as you would want to go.

6. And with the Walker Cup fresh on our minds, what is the most underrated event in all of golf?

Sens: I’m partial to the World Speed Golf Championship as a reminder that very good golf can be played very quickly. Not that we all have to shoot 68 in 38 minutes, but this event is a refreshing change of pace that gets at a truth: play a little quicker, and you’ll very likely play a whole lot better.

Wood: It was only played once as far as I know, but in 1980 there was a fantastic “The Snobs vs. The Slobs” 18-hole best-ball competition. Loads of side action, illegal bribery, a quirky greenskeeper (check that, assistant greenskeeper), incendiary hazards. You can find footage of it if you google: “Webb/Noonan vs. Smails/Dr. Beeper” or “Czervik—future cemeteries.”

Passov: GOLF Magazine has co-sponsored the World Club Championship since 2002. It’s a very appealing amateur event that’s equal parts golf skill and camaraderie, where the club champion from one of our Top 100 courses in the World picks a partner and the two compete against their counterparts from other Top 100 clubs. The blend of youth and experience on the teams, the hoopla and pageantry involved (including a television broadcast), the outstanding golf on a great course and the friendships made for life are all extraordinary.

Ritter: Many to choose from, but the first tourneys that sprang to mind are all the U.S. Amateur events, men’s and women’s alike. Droves of inspiring stories come out of those every year.

Bamberger: I must be living under a rock. Never heard of Josh or John’s proffered event. Nothing is coming readily to mind, but I can tell you the PGA Tour event I miss the most: the old Westchester Classic at the Westchester Country Club in Westchester, N.Y. Small, beautiful course. An oasis of New York wealth opening its doors to the rest of the world. Close proximity of fan and player. Just intimate. The first FedEx event on Long Island this year actually had some of that same feel.