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Presidents Cup is all wet, as usual
The lasting motif came at the very end, when Tim Finchem handed the Presidents Cup over to the winning United States team in, of all places, the media tent.
“The rain tried to put a damper on what this week was all about, but it didn't succeed,” declared the PGA Tour commissioner.
Apparently, the incessant rain that plagues golf every time we’re here — the result, I’m reliably informed, of a curse put on Jack Nicklaus when he built Muirfield Village on an ancient Indian burial ground — did put a damper on things, because Finchem canceled the opulent closing ceremonies, and here everyone was, in a damp, leaky tent without fanfare or the much-ballyhooed Kenny G concert.
The ad hoc presentation had the feel of a shotgun wedding, but no one really minded because, after all, they were too exhausted and too soggy and too scared of the next Big Storm closing in to put on formal wear and listen to long-winded speeches.
“I have to say that the tradition of each Presidents Cup being better than the last continues this week,” said Finchem, like a character out of a Kafka story, believing that insistence leads to acceptance.
Indeed, he sounded like the old Franco blackshirt Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Spanish Don who ran the International Olympic Committee for 21 years and rolled out “the best ever” after each Olympics, even the lamentable Atlanta Games.
“By every measure, this was the strongest Presidents Cup we've had,” Finchem went on.
By any measure, it was the weakest.
If the weather was abysmal throughout, the planning was worse.
When the rain created chaos of the schedule the PGA Tour — stubbornly refusing to move up Friday’s 1:10 p.m. ET starting times — just made it up as they went along.
It was as Junior Varsity as it gets.
Not that the golf was bad, especially from golfers who had to pile into buses at 4.30 in the morning on Saturday and Sunday.
Just like the Atlanta Olympics were saved by Muhammad Ali’s poignant climb, and Michael Johnson’s fast shoes and Amy Van Dyken’s four swimming gold medals, it was the athletes who put the lipstick on this pig.
Canadian Graham DeLaet was a revelation — twice holing out on 18 for birdies — while Tiger Woods went a competition-best 4-1 and, theatrically while (again) fighting back spasms, delivered the clinching point for the US, as he’d done in the previous two incarnations.
The Internationals with their seven rookies had mounted a spirited comeback in the singles — enough to make US captain Fred Couples nervous — but it was too little, too late.
The damage had been done in the dim light and rain of Sunday morning, when they capitulated in the Foursomes — having done so in the session before — giving the US a commanding 14-8 lead.
Nick Price’s men failed to win any of the four team sessions, and that was only ever going to add up to an eighth defeat in 10 Presidents Cups.
That one-sidedness is, of course, part of what ails this fledgling team event that Finchem and his marketing geniuses in Ponte Vedra Beach created as a rival to the big money-spinning Ryder Cup.
But that’s not all that’s wrong.
The over-arching problem with the Presidents Cup is that it doesn’t really know what it is: Is it an exhibition or a combative competition like the Ryder Cup?
It finds itself stuck somewhere in between.
"Actually, the tournament is about promoting the game of golf on an international level," Phil Mickelson said a couple of weeks ago. “Who loses and by how much isn't as important as having the guys get together in a competitive, friendly environment, put on a good show or display of golf and have some fun doing it.”
Let us be clear: That does not describe the Ryder Cup.
The Ryder Cup’s a pitched battle, in part because it’s a much closer contest, but there are other important cultural differences.
Tiger and Matt Kuchar are probably not doing a "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" retro slap-back hand slap when they win a hole at a Ryder Cup, and Davis Love III is probably not walking around with a squirrel in his pocket.
But the Presidents Cup is not an exhibition, either.
The Internationals are sick of playing the Washington Generals to the Globetrotters. When Nick Price was asked why he didn’t give the world a show by pairing the two top-ranked players, Woods and Adam Scott, in the singles, he bristled.
“I did my pairings this morning to try and win the Cup, not to put 1 and 2 together,” he said.
One of golf’s nicest guys, Price took the high ground when asked about changes he’d like to see to the format.
“Oh yes, there's lots of changes I would like to see, but I don't think we should discuss those now,” he said. “Let's let the Americans enjoy this win and let's look to the future as to what we can do to make this perhaps more competitive.”
That invariably means reducing the number of points available — like the Ryder Cup — to neutralize the depth in the US team and so the singles matter more than they do now.
But Finchem’s already discarded that idea because he wants the event to last four days which is, obviously, better for the revenue stream.
And that’s the main reason the President Cup can’t be like the Ryder Cup: because Finchem, in reality, is the captain of both teams.
It’s his show.
And while it is, it will remain the JV.
It will move to South Korea in two years’ time — where the Internationals, let’s face it, will have no real home advantage — and nothing will have changed.
Yet Finchem will declare that the cup’s still big. It’s just that on a stormy Sunday in Ohio in 2013, it was the room that got small.