The Presidents Cup, the team match-play event that isn't the Ryder
Cup and never, by god, will be, has been an easy target for
critics. In the U.S. its detractors include the players. "The
Americans probably don't talk about it until the day before their
two wild-card picks are made," says Bradley Hughes of Australia,
who played in the inaugural Presidents Cup, in 1994. "It's just
another thing for them. We look forward to it more and check all
summer to see who's going to be on our team."
The fourth Presidents Cup will be played next week at the Robert
Trent Jones Golf Club in suburban Washington, D.C., and you
should know that even if the tournament doesn't matter as much as
the Ryder Cup, it has some redeeming qualities. For instance,
Tiger Woods will play, and that alone may finally put the event
on the map. There are two kinds of tournaments these days--those
with Tiger and those without him--and only the Withs matter.
The Presidents Cup is also a virtual music festival. At the
opening ceremonies you can listen to nine national anthems--one
for the U.S. and eight for the close-knit International team,
which this year has players from Australia, Canada, Fiji, Japan,
New Zealand, Paraguay, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The
Internationals are "Potpourri for $200, Alex," so the nationalism
that fuels and occasionally ignites the Ryder Cup will never set
this baby afire.
Another plus is that there's still room for sentimentality in
the Presidents Cup. A revered old television commentator can be
given the captain's duties. Now that you mention it, longtime
CBS analyst Ken Venturi will do the job for the U.S. this year.
Presidents Cup captains are seldom second-guessed, which is a
good thing, because David Toms, who was left off the U.S. team,
played impressive golf on Sunday to beat Canada's Mike Weir, a
member of the International team, in a playoff at the Michelob
Championship at Kingsmill, in Williamsburg, Va. Toms was passed
over as a wild-card addition to the team despite having won
twice in 1999 and finishing 13th on the Presidents Cup points
list. Justin Leonard wasn't chosen, either. Instead, Venturi
went with two old warhorses, Paul Azinger and Loren Roberts.
Nevertheless, Toms said after his win, "I think Ken made great
choices. I had my chances to make the top 10. Maybe with that
added pressure, I didn't perform."
This is the stuff of a Ryder Cup potboiler, and it could bring
some heat to this Presidents Cup. Remember when Curtis Strange
was chosen for the '95 Ryder Cup team by captain Lanny Wadkins
and then contributed to its defeat? Wadkins's move is still being
Another thing the Presidents Cup has going for it is that its
outcome, just like the Ryder Cup's, is no sure thing. Sure, the
U.S. appears to be stronger, with five of the eight top-ranked
players in the world. (The Internationals have only one, No. 2
Ernie Els.) Still, a U.S. team that included Woods got shellacked
20 1/2 to 11 1/2 in the '98 Presidents Cup, at Royal Melbourne. The
nine-point margin was one more than the sum of the last seven
victory margins in the Ryder Cup. That stunning loss doesn't seem
to have given any sense of urgency to this year's Presidents Cup,
"The fact that Tiger will be there makes it a big deal," Azinger
says. "The Internationals are going to be very motivated. If our
guys are caught flat-footed again, we'll get smoked. The
challenge for Ken Venturi is to give the players a reason to
want to win."
The Americans clearly lacked a reason last time. The event was
moved to December in Australia in an effort to expand its appeal
abroad and to give the Internationals a home game after two
visits to Virginia. The U.S. players weren't keen to travel that
far or to play in December, which is all that's left of their
shrinking off-season. "I think we actually went down there
expecting to win," says former U.S. Open champ Lee Janzen.
"Obviously, we weren't ready to. Maybe some guys didn't want to
be there, although I didn't sense that. The first match went to
the 18th hole. One of our guys had a fairly short putt, then
Frank Nobilo holed out from 45 feet. It really hurt. Most of us
had been at Valderrama the year before [for the '97 Ryder Cup],
and it was the same thing: We'd hit it close, they'd make a
bomb, and then we'd miss. They got out ahead, and we didn't have
enough heart to come back. After the first morning session, we
were like deer caught in the headlights."
If his aim was to improve the team's heart quotient, Venturi may
have made shrewd choices in Azinger, 40, and Roberts, 45. They're
proven under pressure and among the Tour's best in putting--a
category in which the U.S., with Woods, Notah Begay III, David
Duval and Jim Furyk, should have an advantage. Azinger, a fiery
Ryder Cup leader in '89, '91 and '93, was a U.S. co-captain in
the '94 Presidents Cup when he was recovering from cancer.
"I think Ken picked me because I've been playing well," says
Azinger, whose victory in January's Sony Open was his first since
the '93 PGA Championship. "Experience is overrated. I had no
experience in my first Ryder Cup, and I played great. Seve
Ballesteros and Nick Faldo have all the experience anybody could
want, and they can't break an egg. Ken thought I would bring
certain elements to the team, but if I had been shooting 71s and
72s, I don't think those elements would've been as intriguing to
Roberts, the Boss of the Moss, was considered the Tour's top
putter until Woods got hot this year. Roberts is a short hitter
and an underrated player, but when he won July's Greater
Milwaukee Open by a Tigeresque eight strokes, Lorenmania nearly
broke out. "I was mad at myself that I didn't win by 10," he
says. "I let up."
Roberts was also third at this year's Masters, eighth at the
U.S. Open and seventh at the British Open. Think he wants to win
the Presidents Cup? He stopped off for a practice round at Robert
Trent Jones on the Monday before the Michelob. Roberts played
well in his one Ryder Cup (3-1, in '95), and in the inaugural
Presidents Cup he and Corey Pavin rallied from three down with
six to play to beat Craig Parry and Fulton Allem in a foursomes
match. At the 15th hole that day Roberts hit what he says was
"the best three-iron of my life out of a bunker" off the fairway
into one beside the green. Pavin holed out from there. "I've hit
the ball tee to green better than I have in 10 years," Roberts
said after contending for three rounds at Kingsmill, then
finishing 19th. "I'm pretty excited."
Azinger, likely to be chosen as a Ryder Cup captain within four
years, expects the whole team to be excited, unlike two years
ago. "It was a joke to make those guys go to Australia at
Christmas," he says. "If the Presidents Cup goes away someday,
you can point the finger at the guy who scheduled that one, and
if we go to South Africa [late in '02], it'll be the same
mistake. I wouldn't be surprised to see some really good players
say, 'I'm not going.'"
Next week, though, Azinger expects the U.S. to come out firing.
"One or two guys may not want to be there," he says, "but when
the bell rings, they'll want to win. Pride always kicks in. It's
not the Ryder Cup, but I guarantee you it'll be as competitive."
After 1998, that would be a step in the right direction.
have all the experience anybody could want, and they can't break