News & Opinion

Presidents Cup needs an overnight delivery

Tiger Woods’ inclusion would help, but a few format changes might entice U.S. fans to stay up and take seriously this biennial laugher

The Presidents Cup. It’s not just for breakfast anymore, but more like a late-night snack.

The event will be contested at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia on Dec. 12-15, some 16 hours ahead of New York and 19 hours in front of Los Angeles. Live TV coverage will run on Golf Channel from evenings early into mornings in the U.S. If you’re staying up to watch an epic battle between Webb Simpson and C.T. Pan, have the leftovers nearby.

The Prez never has resonated for some, present company included. Remove the fancy packaging and it’s a Ryder Cup knockoff, a Fender Stratocaster made in Mexico. Nice in its own right, but not the genuine article. For a global game that is cluttered with concocted international competitions, the Presidents Cup is more like a can.

A few moments of drama have been sprinkled about, but the cup's signature snapshot happened in 2003. After Ernie Els putted an 8-footer in the dark to keep his overtime match with Tiger Woods alive, captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player cried “no mas,” declared the proceedings to be a draw and split the trophy in half. The gesture of sportsmanship was appropriate. But in terms of championship credibility, that’s like saying what you remember most about a five-star restaurant is your lovely place-setting.

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am 2017
Perhaps a celebrity addition such as comedian Bill Murray to the Presidents Cup might boost fan interest. If nothing else, viewers might tune in to see what kind of uniforms the Americans would break out each day.

On the Presidents Cup website, the history is defined as “More than 20 years of competition and excitement.” Huh? The USA has won 10 of 12 previous meetings in the biennial series. The Internationals have one “W” – at Royal Melbourne 21 years ago – and, lest we forget, the dramatic tie. If that qualifies as exciting and competitive, you must be a Baltimore Orioles fan.

The 2019 event features Els as international captain, while his adversary from that ’03 memory, Woods, skippers the Yankees. The two will be making their captain’s picks this week. Much ink has been spent on the reigning Masters champion. Until last week, much of it suggested that Woods eliminate himself from playing consideration (“Do right thing, Tiger: Don’t play Prez Cup,” Aug. 28). As the season was winding down and Draft Day drew near, the decorated officer was scuffling.

Then Woods caught people by surprise. He tied Sam Snead for the most career PGA Tour wins by capturing a tournament in Japan two weeks ago. The music changed. Now many of the same Prez Cup commentators are suggesting that Woods include himself in the few, the proud, the four at-large selections.

Knee jerks aside, there never should have been any question about the captain taking the captain. The “PC” in Presidents Cup stands for programming content. This is not about competitive integrity as much as it is about entertainment. This is – as Nicklaus and Player recognized – an exhibition.

People should have been encouraging Woods the way Seinfeld encouraged Uncle Leo. “C’mon … when’s the last time you looked in a mirror … you’re an Adonis … you should be swinging.”

Woods’ victory on the other side of the globe simply makes it politically palatable. Long before Woods won the Zozo Championship, Davis Love III was asked whether he thought Woods should play, and he responded, “I think it will be the best thing ever for the Presidents Cup.” DL3 was absolutely right, and it never was contingent on how well TW1 was playing.

A Presidents Cup in Australia should do whatever it needs to do to ensure that someone such as Tiger Woods plays. The bylaws should be changed to allow substitution and re-entry. If Woods isn’t up to it physically, if he can play only nine holes one day, half-time substitutions should be allowed. Likewise, the biggest name in golf should be able to come out of the bullpen to take over a match.

If he can’t hit the broadside of a fairway, if the back is barking, the neck is stiff or the knee is knocking, he should serve as a designated putter, able to be utilized at any time in any match. The same would apply for Els, of course, categorized under the “captain’s privilege” rule.

Radical, perhaps, but it’s 1 o’clock in the morning. Do you know where your Presidents Cup is? Do you care?

Several other embellishments might be made. The final day of singles always should begin with a “Clash of the Captains” match. Woods and Els could re-enact that memorable match of ’03, settle things once and for all. And wouldn’t it have been something to see Nicklaus against Player, or Fred Couples against Greg Norman?

Maybe one of the four captain’s picks should be a celebrity. You could have Bill Murray on one side and Hugh Jackman on the other. Heads up in the gallery, because “Wolverine” has a bit of a slice.

Along those lines – and perhaps a little more seriously – the Presidents Cup would benefit from including women. Given the Asian dominance on the LPGA, making room for the females would help balance the scales of competition and create some intriguing pairings. Perhaps a roster spot should be dedicated to a “Legends” category, with each side adding a star from the Champions Tour.

That’s not a knockoff. That’s a cup worth raising.

To receive Morning Read’s newsletters, subscribe for free here.