News & Opinion

A way forward for international golf

The Presidents Cup starts in 13 months. Excitement is building. There is breathless anticipation.

Whom am I kidding?

To say the golf community is holding its breath is ludicrous. Holding its collective nose might be more accurate.


Perhaps it is because the self-serving PGA Tour exhibition between the best U.S. players and their counterparts elsewhere in the world, excepting their recent Ryder Cup nemesis Europe, is like a friendly soccer match between Real Madrid and the San Jose Earthquakes. It might be mildly entertaining, but the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

The only difference is that the golf version gives fans a chance to view some outstanding golf courses versus the same familiar soccer pitch. That’s small consolation for what customarily is a U.S. walkover.

The first Presidents Cup was held in 1994, and the format is similar to that of the Ryder Cup, which dates to 1927. It is four days versus the Ryder Cup’s three. As with its forebear, there are 12 players and a non-playing captain. Next year might change that last note, however, as Tiger Woods, the U.S. captain, could play himself onto the team based on recent performance.

Woods and Ernie Els will lead their respective teams at Australia’s Royal Melbourne in December 2019.

Taken today, based on their positions in the Official World Golf Ranking, here are the teams:

For the Americans, who claim five of the top 10 in the OWGR and no player ranked worse than 18th, it would be Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay.

For the Internationals, with nobody among the top 10 and stretching to 55th in the world order, the team would be Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Cameron Smith, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Haotong Li, Branden Grace, Byeong Hun An, Satoshi Kodaira and Siwoo Kim.

Yikes. Forget tilting at windmills. For the Internationals, this is attacking wind turbines.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, in which the relative ranking of the competitors makes for great theater, this farce is, at best, merely entertaining. In a dozen meetings, the U.S. has won 10, the Internationals just one, and there was a gratuitous tie in 2003 given by a magnanimous U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus. The only International victory occurred in the third edition, at Royal Melbourne, site of next year’s 13th matches.

"You get whooped so many times, it just becomes the norm,” Day told Golf Digest recently. “But I think there's a question of whether the guys even care at this point. Some do; some don't. You get whooped every time, and you start to ask, Why are we even turning up for this?

How to fix it? Here’s a thought.

The original Ryder Cup was contested between the U.S. and Great Britain, with the Brits and Irish receiving an almost automatic thrashing every two years. After a five-point American victory in 1977, Nicklaus spearheaded the initiative to include continental Europe, a decision that made the event relevant.

I don’t have Nicklaus’ ear, but here’s a suggestion to make the Presidents Cup relevant … and obsolete at the same time:

Dispose of the Presidents Cup and make the Ryder Cup a truly international exhibition of the best male golfers playing the finest courses around the world.

Every two years, on the existing Ryder Cup schedule, there would be three 12-man teams pitting the U.S., Europe and the Rest of the World against one another.

The format might have to expand to four days (who would complain?), but the rest of the logistics are pretty straightforward, according to esteemed golf boffin Craig Loughry, the director of handicap and course rating for Golf Canada.

“Three-ball match play is a form of match play where each of three players plays an individual match against the other two players at the same time, and each player plays one ball that is used in both of his matches,” Loughry said. “This is actually defined in the Rules of Golf.

“The four-ball matches and foursomes just mean playing in sixsomes. But only the best score for each two-person team or ‘side’ would count in four-ball, and foursome matches are like playing as an individual as only one ball for each team is in play.”

Now all we need to push this forward is a champion. Jack, are you reading this?

And on that note, Dr. Phil, the Americans are looking for a team captain.

John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario. Email:; Twitter: @gordongolf