The best ideas usually are the ones that never see the light of day. They make too much sense, cost too much money or turn into political footballs, and when it comes to tossing around the pigskin, no sport lumbers with more lethargy or less remorse than pro golf.
Consider the Presidents Cup, a gathering of such minimal significance that the PGA Tour hasn’t bothered to move it out of the fall, rendering it incapable of perpetuating interest amid the whirl of NFL madness. Of course, the event itself is a shameless Ryder Cup knockoff, a pale mimic staged for commercial gain instead of national honor. Beyond its alarming lack of originality, there’s something terribly gauche about swiping a fellow organization’s flagship property, stinkbombing it with logos, then acting like the game probably couldn’t survive without such ingenuity.
Welcome to the inaugural clash between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour—the showdown everybody’s been talking about for months. It’s the Defectors vs. the Objectors, an updated version of Kiawah Island’s memorable War by the Shore back in 1991. This one shapes up as another terrific battle absolutely oozing with ill will, which is why we’re expecting huge crowds all week and millions more watching at home. So find a seat, folks, and fasten your safety belts. We could be in for quite a ride!
This year’s President’s Cup begins next week with no such hyperbolic attachment. The Americans and Internationals both have lost key personnel to the Saudi invasion, but the Yanks could send their third string to Charlotte and still wipe out the depleted visitors by noon Saturday. Competitively speaking, this duel has been seriously compromised, and the last thing this charlatan needed was another reason not to care …
Despite the decision to field teams of eight players per side, the Monahans are the betting favorite, but you don’t want to sell this underdog short. Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson, plus Ryder Cup heroes Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia—maybe this is the week some agitated Tour soldier tries to ram a clubhead cover down Sergio’s throat in response to all those grade-schooler tantrums over the years!
Not for nothing, the United States has utterly dominated the Presidents Cup since the series began. If its 11-1-1 record doesn’t add up to a foregone conclusion, you need to find a new mathematician. In fact, the only International victory occurred way back in 1998, when the Yanks traveled to Australia and were said to have spent more time horsing around in a Melbourne casino than preparing for three days of world-class match play. Almost a quarter-century later, that about sums up the meaninglessness of this non-rivalry.
As for Poulter, nobody has stuck it to Uncle Sam more often under the duress of the Ryder Cup spotlight. Despite a modest career on both sides of the Atlantic, the British bulldog just might be the greatest match-play competitor ever to represent Europe. He’ll have his LIV teammates operating at full throttle come Friday morning, you can bet on that!
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Given how the Presidents Cup was first held in 1994—just three years after the unforgettable, down-to-the-wire bout at Kiawah—it’s a wonder the PGA of America didn’t file charges of plagiarism against its former business partner. The Tour has lightly tinkered with the formula over time, the dumbest decision being the abolition of extra holes at the end of regulation, but to the naked eye, it looks like the Ryder Cup’s twin brother. Just six inches shorter and a lot clumsier.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell viewers what a fabulous job both sides did in allowing this event to come to fruition. It wasn’t all that long ago when Tour executives wouldn’t even acknowledge LIV Golf, much less sit down to discuss a Hatfield-McCoy extravaganza without all the ceremonial crud or obligations to sponsors. These two empires have some very pronounced differences, but in deference to the game’s loyal fan base and the greater good of the sport, they have agreed to meet on grass, armed only with irons and woods, not bayonets or lawyers.
Perhaps it stands to reason that the Presidents Cup has failed to attract the public’s attention because it looks and smells too much like the Ryder Cup. One thing that makes the U.S.-vs.-Europe affair so appetizing is the biennial increment—playing every other year only adds to the excitement and drama during those three precious days in September. In that context, a copycat product never stood a chance. Especially when it involves players who tee it up together all year. Guys who wouldn’t dare ruffle the feathers of a foe under normal circumstances, a practice that has become somewhat common in the Ryder Cup cauldron. A little bad blood can go a long way to pique interest in any athletic contest. We call it passion.
What gives this duel such a strong identity, particularly from the viewer’s perspective, is the built-in emotional edge every player brought to the festivities. A grudge match? Yes! Absolutely! There’s also a lovely twist to the final-day singles competition, which will adhere to the stroke-play format and award a point for each shot in the margin of victory. We’re going to see some outrageous momentum swings on Sunday, folks. I don’t think we’ll see many concessions on putts longer than two feet, that’s for sure. Let’s turn up the temperature and see who can deal with the heat!
In defiance to the game’s old-world partiality, the Presidents Cup needs an overhaul to its competitive structure if it has any designs on becoming an entertaining or worthwhile fixture. Assign that mission to the players themselves. With Tiger Woods and Adam Scott as co-chairmen, you assemble 10 guys who have participated in the matches and ask them to think outside the box. To get clever. To view this whole humdrum deal through the eyes of the dude watching it in his basement. To give it a kick in the ass. Hey, it seems to work on donkeys.
We’ve seen lots of fireworks in the past on Ryder Cup Sunday, but this PGA Tour/LIV Golf tilt comes with a unique dimension that almost surely will have an impact on the final outcome. Without the presence of a team captain or his 19 assistants, the performers rule. By the players, for the fans, which is why the final session will begin with each golfer choosing their singles opponent on live television. None of this backroom, secrecy stuff. The order of selection will be determined by total points earned through the first three days, and if I were a betting man, I’d figure Sergio will come off the board before the second PGA Tour member steps to the podium.
That’s what this landmark occasion is all about, golf nuts. Unbridled exposure, full disclosure. Even if the two sides remain miles away from legal closure.
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