Jersey City, N.J. (AP) — The banner posted on the side of the grandstand at the first tee loudly proclaimed the Presidents Cup as “The U.S. versus The World.” That sounded like a compelling competition except for one small problem.
When did Europe move to another planet?
The PGA Tour has pleaded for patience in letting the Presidents Cup mature into a must-see event, referring to a Ryder Cup that once was even more one-sided. During a 50-year stretch, the Americans captured the Ryder Cup 20 out of 21 times.
Then again, they were beating up on a Britain and Ireland team trying to recover from World War II, the worst kind of home game. The turning point came in 1979 when all of Europe became eligible, which included Seve Ballesteros, perhaps the most important figure in Ryder Cup history.
The International team comes from every country outside Europe. What else can it add?
What can it do?
It’s difficult enough playing under a flag with no significance except for one week every two years at the Presidents Cup. And it doesn’t help that the International team takes its direction from the PGA Tour, which also oversees the American team. Imagine a World Series between two baseball teams with the same owner.
Worse yet was looking across at a U.S. team that is loaded with so much young talent that some of those stars at Liberty National might not be on the charter flight to France for the Ryder Cup next September.
The record will show a 19-11 victory for the Americans.
The memory from this Presidents Cup will be the Americans being one match away from ending it on Saturday.
A blowout typically leads to knee-jerk reactions. Those were hard to find two years ago in South Korea when the International team came within two putts in one match from winning — Chris Kirk making his putt from 15 feet, Anirban Lahiri missing his putt from 4 feet.
The big picture suggests a deeper problem.
The Americans are now 10-1-1. Their only loss was in 1998 in Australia, when the matches were held two weeks before Christmas, and most of the Americans spent more time shopping online than studying potential pairings.
The matches return to Australia for a third time in 2019, this time ending on Dec. 15. So there’s hope for the International team.
Nothing would have helped this year. International captain Nick Price referred to this U.S. team as a juggernaut, and that might have been an understatement. The Americans usually field strong teams. What’s different about this team was that all of them were playing great. That’s an unbeatable combination.
“None of this is about making it easier for us,” said Geoff Ogilvy, one of Price’s assistant captains. “It’s about making the event better. Everyone who leaves on Monday morning says, ‘It’s the most fun I’ve ever had.’ But they’re (ticked) off because they’re not in the mix. We watch it lovingly every two years and we get jealous because the Europeans and the U.S. have that. We haven’t had that. That’s what the boys want.
“Anything we can do to help that situation happen more often is going to make this tournament better.”
Playing better would help, but even that might not be enough.
This was the first time in 10 years that every player on the International team was a full PGA Tour member. But their road to America is always longer, and more difficult, when it starts in places like India, Argentina and perhaps China for the next team.
What has to change is autonomy for the International team.
The modern Ryder Cup, which dates to 1979, essentially is the PGA Tour against the European Tour, no matter where the Europeans live or play. There is pride, and from that comes passion and spirit. That can’t be manufactured.
Ernie Els is the logical choice as the next International captain. That decision will come from the PGA Tour, which also will select the American captain. Any change in format is decided by the PGA Tour. The tour isn’t rigging the competition in American favor. That does no one any good.
Even so, separate teams require separate leadership.
“It’s gotten to the stage now where we have to do whatever we can to try and benefit our team,” Els said. “Whether that’s logistics, scheduling, golf course setup, I think we have to be more in control.”
Not to be overlooked is the selection process. The International team is determined by the world ranking because that’s what the PGA Tour decided. Why not let the International team set its own qualification? It could use a mixture of FedEx Cup points and world ranking points. Maybe it wants four captain’s picks instead of two.
None of that would have mattered this year, not against this U.S. team and the way it played. But at least it would make the Presidents Cup feel like a competition instead of an exhibition.