• Presidents Cup

Internationals search for Presidents Cup redemption

October 3, 2013
The Internationals are embracing their Presidents Cup underdog status

The journey from Medinah to Muirfield Village is a quick one, especially if you travel the way golfers do today. But it might as well be a million miles as it relates to the difference between the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, which will be played at Jack Nicklaus' venue starting Thursday.

The Golden Bear knows a thing or two about each competition, having been a winning and losing US captain for both and having played in six Ryder Cups, never on a losing side.

The Ryder Cup, once the source of derision for Americans who used to beat up on a Great Britain & Ireland team regularly, is now a US albatross, a second straight 14½-13½ defeat still lingering from a year ago.

The Presidents Cup, meanwhile, has been an easy win for the Americans over their rest-of-the-world counterparts, leading to talk that the International side needs a victory this week or at least a highly competitive result to keep the event from fading to irrelevance.

"The International team is a lot better than you think it is," said Nicklaus, who was 3-1 as Presidents Cup captain and 1-1 in the Ryder Cup. "The American players have played very, very well this year. They have stepped up and done a good job. But I think that goes in cycles. Four years from now, the Americans might be begging for mercy."

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That appears far from the case, at least on paper. The Americans boast 12 players ranked among the top 28 in the world, including seven of the top 11. The International side, led by Masters champion Adam Scott, dips down to the 63rd spot in the world; Scott, at No. 2, is the only International player among the top 11.

The Americans, who are often the superior team according to the records going into the Ryder Cup and have managed just two victories in 20 years, know that stuff doesn't mean much, especially in match play.

Yet the US is 7-1-1 heading into the 10th Presidents Cup and has won each of the past four competitions by at least three points.

"We know how important this one is," said International captain Nick Price, who played on the team five times, part of the only winning squad in 1998 and the tie in 2003 in South Africa.

"I wouldn't say it's a must-win; that's a hard thing to put on anyone. But this one needs to be competitive. I think more than anything else, this Presidents Cup needs to be very competitive, because the last four, you can argue, have not been.

"When we started out with this, the initial guys, myself and Greg [Norman] and Ernie [Els], we so enjoyed watching the Ryder Cup and so wanted to be part of the Ryder Cup-type format. The Presidents Cup came along, and that was fantastic. The first couple of years have been exciting, but as we have seen in the last decade, it's just not been as competitive as we would like."

Numerous reasons for the competitive imbalance have been suggested: It's hard for the International side to bond as team (five countries are represented on this year's squad); the stakes are not as high; the International players are not as familiar with the various match play formats, especially since the Americans play every year in a team competition.

Making matters worse for the International side this year is the relative lack of experience. The team has five major champions but also seven rookies, meaning at least one of the teams that goes out Thursday will be made up of players who have never competed in the event.

The Americans, meanwhile, have just one true rookie: Jordan Spieth. The other 11 players have competed in at least one Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.

Els referenced the European struggles in the Ryder Cup, but it was really more a product of the US taking on Great Britain & Ireland until all of Europe joined in 1979. The Amercians were 18-3-1 to that point. Starting in 1979, the Europeans lead 9-7-1, including a 7-2 record in the past nine Ryder Cups.

Nicklaus played a role in the European expansion, expressing to the powers that be in the late 1970s that all of Europe should be included to make it more competitive.

"I think it's made a far better match out of the Ryder Cup," he said.

Unless Europe is included in the Presidents Cup - the event is for players from the rest of the world, excluding Europe - the only changes that might help would be to the format. Both Norman, the International captain the past two times, and Price lobbied PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem for fewer matches, the feeling being that the Americans have superior depth.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, which has 28 matches in three days, the Presidents Cup has 34 matches in four days. On the first two days, all 12 competitors on each side play, and only two players sit out each session on Saturday with everyone required to play at least once.

At the Ryder Cup, four players sit out each session the first two days, giving captains the ability to sit the weakest players.

Finchem turned down the request to alter the format, and Nicklaus concurred.

"The reason I like the Presidents Cup structure is you can't hide a player," Nicklaus said. "Everybody has to play every day. Guys didn't work for a whole year or two to make the team and have to sit on the sideline because the captain doesn't think he's playing well. Guys worked their tails off and want to play. I think that's a good thing."

Els is perplexed at the lack of success. The International team, typically loaded with elite players, has traditionally been poor at the alternate shot foursomes, so this year that format is not being used until Friday.

And he's seen virtually the same US team (nine of the 12 who were at Medinah are here) struggle against Europe while having its way against the rest of the world when the competition changes from the Ryder Cup to the Presidents Cup.

"I really didn't think the Europeans would pull it out [last year], but it shows you, you've beaten a side before, you know you can do it again, and that's the European motto," Els said. "They feel like they can beat these guys.

"It's a momentum thing, and that's the thing we need to change. We kind of are under the rock at the moment, and they are holding it over us."

Bob Harig is a golf writer for ESPN.com and tweets here

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