From an opening day crisis to a thrilling finale, the Presidents Cup, says Simon Plumb, may have just rediscovered its global relevance.
Yes, the International team lost (again).
Yes, a weekend hacker would have holed more putts than Adam Scott.
But after arguably the best Presidents Cup ever has the event turned its biggest corner? Have we just seen the Presidents Cup turn into a genuine contest?
Jason Day and his band of merry men were tipped by many to roll the Americans this year – for what would have been just the second time the international team had won since the event began in 1994. It was a golden opportunity to put an end to the unfortunate, but inescapable, sense of predictability which has hounded the cup for 21 years.
But that optimism had the crap beaten out of it on the opening day, with a 4-1 assualt from the Americans condemning the internationals, and apparently another Presidents Cup, to an all-too-familiar fate. ‘Not another whitewash…’ they grumbled.
Hole the phone! The internationals fought back, to the extent it was all still in the balance right up to the final two matches, and that made The Presidents Cup, remarkably, one of the best viewing events all year.
The thing is, the Presidents Cup is an important cog in the machine that keeps this entire sport relevant (as if being the last bastion of honest, integral sport wasn’t enough). For years now, the golfing industry has had a very serious problem on its hands: As modern society and the generational cycle has evolved worldwide, newer, faster and more “extreme” things have captured the psyche.
The X-Games and Freestyle Motocross are competing for youth dollars while BMX has become an Olympic sport – as even the Lords of the Rings try to stay relevant. That’s the extent of the challenge golf faces.
You only have to look at the expensive and elaborate production that went into this year’s opening ceremony of the Presidents Cup – and the fact this was the first time the event had ever been hosted in Asia – to see how important a focus on market-widening is to the game.
But unlike the PGA Tour, which is arguably in it’s best position ever with so many young stars like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler pushing it to new audiences and new heights, the Presidents Cup has kept struggling at the very first hurdle – to be truly competitive.
It was getting to the point where most wanted to know how long it would be before wholesale changes were made – how many new people are going to want to watch a one-sided event? At what point would something have to give?
Because that is exactly what has happened to the Ryder Cup. Twice.
The Presidents Cup is unashamedly modelled on the Ryder Cup, the big daddy matchplay event in which Europe takes on America. It’s such a successful format that even those who actively dislike golf seem to enjoy the football-esque atmosphere – the cheering, the hollering and the novelty of golf getting just a little bit gnarly – for three whole days.
What allows the Ryder Cup to be all that is something very simple: it is fiercely competitive. But it wasn’t always like that.
The Ryder Cup began as Great Britain taking on America, but the Brits kept getting walloped so they made it Great Britain and Ireland – and they still kept getting walloped. Then they made it Europe – and almost immediately, it started getting much, much more competitive.
With an international team (basically everyone who isn’t American or European), it’s obviously impossible to widen the scope of a side which basically represents ‘the rest of the world’.
But other tweaks were being thrown around in an attempt to make it fairer: to dumb it down, to handicap an already out-of-form American team, just to make it interesting.
Nobody wants that.
But how many more defeats can the internationals take before changes become a necessity, rather than a choice? Who can say for sure.
Mind you, if future losses are as thrilling as the one the international side suffered in this year’s event, they may have just bought the current Presidents Cup format at least two more years.