Win-Win Situation for Americans

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 25, 2005, 4:00 pm
Sportswriters can be a stubborn sort, but I like to think of myself as open-minded ' when I force myself to be so. So applying such force, I elected to put past grievances aside and give the Presidents Cup a chance to earn my favor.
 
Ive never been a big fan of this particular competition. Ive thought it to be too contrived, too congenial.
 
David Toms, Chris DiMarco and Tiger Woods
David Toms, Chris DiMarco and Tiger Woods celebrate the U.S. victory.
For me, this event was a phony facsimile of the Ryder Cup, concocted by the PGA Tour because they werent reaping any of the benefits of that biennial cash cow.
 
What bothered me the most, however, was that many of the American players seemed like they would rather pass a kidney stone than have to play this event ' especially if they had to cross national lines.
 
I figured it simple: if they didnt care, neither should I. Apathy is unwatchable ' particularly when football is just one channel change away.
 
But after watching these past four days, my opinion has changed about the event and about its American participants.
 
Captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player have long promoted the idea that civility can produce a good rivalry. I never really bought into this, because Ive always believed that a bit of animosity helped heighten interest.
 
But again, these past four days have changed my mind.
 
There were a few instances this week that would have sparked great controversy had this been the Ryder Cup. There were a couple of minor spats between the two captains, there was the coin flap between Davis Love III and Mike Weir Saturday morning, there the incident when Chris DiMarcos and Phil Mickelsons drivers accidentally collided and created a ping in the middle of Angel Cabreras backswing, there was the pace of play issue that frustrated Vijay Singh, and there were times when the home crowd was a little too partisan.
 
But, because of the atmosphere helped created years ago by Nicklaus and Player, all of these moments were handled professionally and without fuss.
 
Everything trivial remained so, and was not allowed to explode with hyperbole. Nothing was allowed to take away from the competition.
 
The Presidents Cup is not the Ryder Cup, nor should they draw a comparison. One is steeped in tradition; the other is still setting an historical foundation. One is fueled with enmity and emotional fire; the other wants to be considered a casual, friendly affair.
 
The two are separate and unequal.
 
One of my biggest reservations concerning the Presidents Cup was that it was too friendly, too casual. That there was no impending desire to win ' at least on the American side.
 
That was not the case this year.
 
For the first time in a long time ' perhaps not since Sunday at Brookline, the Americans actually seemed to care. Im not saying that they, as a team, havent wanted to win the last few Presidents Cups or Ryder Cups; Im saying it never really translated that way. They appeared to be either too tense (Ryder) or too relaxed (Presidents). Their body language betrayed their desire. Add in the fact that their last team victory was in 2000, and U.S. teams appeared almost aloof when it came to these competitions.
 
But this time the desire was evident; it was showcased externally. From Chris DiMarcos innumerable fist pumps to Jim Furyks facial contortions to Fred Couples' victorious exaltation to the heavens, there was no question that they wanted to win.
 
And there was no question that they were a cohesive unit.
 
Over recent years the U.S. side has been crucified by fans and press that they are always 12 individuals competing against teams of 12.
 
But win they did this time; and win they did as a team.
 
The notion that U.S.A. is actually U.S.I. in team golf has grown exponentially over recent years ' coincidently or not, it boomed about the time of Tiger Woods arrival.
 
In my opinion, Woods has caused a polarizing effect on past U.S. teams. Ever since his first Ryder Cup in 1997, theres always been the debate as to with whom he should be paired. His being singled out helped create the concept of individualism.
 
Theres also the fact that Woods has publicly acknowledged that his success in team competition is but a footnote to the rest of his professional accomplishments.
 
As the No. 1 player in the world, he sets an example for the rest of his teammates whether or not he wants to. And when he decides to embrace certain team members and distance himself from others, chemistry has no chance.
 
Ive never really faulted Tiger for being this way. Hes creating an individual legacy. And as he famously pointed out in his pre-tournament press conference at the 2004 Ryder Cup, everyone knows Nicklaus numbers in the majors, but who can tell you his Ryder Cup record?
 
Before, I think he was afraid to create any kind of emotional attachment to players over whom he might have held a psychological advantage.
 
But in just one short year, he seems to have altered his attitude.
 
He reportedly set the team tone in the team room by taking on Mickelson in table tennis. He even gave the lumbering left-hander a hug after he won a match. After losing his Day 1 foursomes match with Fred Couples, Woods didnt sulk. He followed around and supported his teammates still in action. He did the same Sunday after a disappointing singles defeat.
 
You could really see the difference in his face. He had his Major face on ' the one full of intensity and focus. He did not want to lose. And he was pissed when he did.
 
The same can be said for his mates.

Certainly they had all the fun that they said theyd have. They joked and laughed plenty with their friends-turned-adversaries. But in all the frivolities, they were quite serious about winning.
 
This U.S. team had many of the same team members that competed in last years Oakland Hills debacle. But this team bore no resemblance to its predecessor whatsoever. If anything they looked more like the most recent U.S. Solheim Cup team ' just a lot hairier and a lot older.
 
This was an important week for the U.S. ' on and off the course. They needed to finally win one of these things. But more importantly, they needed to finally show that they understood the importance of being a TEAM.
 
It was also an important week for the event itself. Player and Nicklaus tried in vain to make everyone believe that the 2003 tie in South Africa was the best thing possible for this contest. It wasnt. This was; even though it almost ended with the same result.
 
This years edition was not only entertaining and emotional, but it actually had a victor.
 
The final score read 18 -15 . The U.S. won. But even had the Internationals prevailed on Sunday, this still would have been a very successful endeavor for all involved.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
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