Tales of dominance, hope as Presidents Cup readies

By Rex HoggardOctober 7, 2015, 9:01 am

INCHEON, South Korea – The last time an International team celebrated a victory on a Sunday at a Presidents Cup Jason Day was 11 years old, two-time captain Nick Price led the way with a 2-1-2 record and the first vestiges of Europe’s dominance in the Ryder Cup were just taking root, with the Continent on a two-match winning streak in an event that had been largely dominated by the Americans.

While some things have changed dramatically (most notably Europe’s Ryder Cup fate), others have become far too familiar.

In the wake of that lone victory at the 1998 Presidents Cup is a legacy of loss during which the International side has found all manner of ways to fail.

Other than a surreal tie in the South African gloom in 2003, the Internationals have lost six of the last seven matches by an average score of more than five points, including the U.S. side’s three-point boat race two years ago at Muirfield Village.

With a monsoon of respect to the rest of the world, the simplest competitive comparison would be the American Globetrotters over the hapless International Generals. But then at least the exhibitions on the hardwood were entertaining.

The same can’t be said for the Presidents Cup in recent years.

With the lone exception of the ’05 matches – that began the final day knotted at 11 points apiece – Sundays have largely been a formality at what has become a biennial blowout.

“It would be nice to finally get that win against the Americans,” said Day, who begins this week as the International team’s on-course leader at No. 2 in the world. “Everyone's kind of fed up with it; that we have been losing for a while now. I think more so Adam Scott is fed up with it because he's been on his seventh team now and hasn't won one.”

That sense of competitive frustration is a key theme in this year’s International team room. While Captain Price has assorted pictures from that 1998 triumph hanging about, he’s clearly not shied away from full disclosure this week.

“We've seen in the past that the Presidents Cup needs more excitement. It needs to be more closely contested,” Price said. “Certainly most of us on the International team feel that that hasn't been the case the last five or six Presidents Cups.”

It’s why Price has spent the last two years working feverishly behind the scenes to change the International side’s fortunes. After months of give and take, the PGA Tour agreed to reduce the total number of points from 34 to 30 for this year’s event.

Price’s argument went that by reducing the number of matches – his pitch was actually for 28 points but that’s a battle for another day – it would allow the International team to field its best possible team.

“Some people think that you're hiding your weakest players, but in actual fact what you're doing is putting your strongest team forward,” Price said. “It's glass half-full or glass half-empty, depends which way you look at it.”

It’s actually a question of depth, which the International team has always lacked relative to the American side. Consider that three players from that 2005 International team – Mark Hensby, Peter Lonard and Nick O’Hern – currently have no status on the PGA Tour, and Price’s point appears valid, although if more points truly do favor the deeper team then the Ryder Cup task force should have started the conversation for change there.

But in practical terms this week, it’s led to a profound dichotomy in team room philosophy.

Price has made it clear to his dozen that this week’s event is pivotal to the future of the matches, while his counterpart Jay Haas has done his best Fred Couples impersonation in an attempt to keep things loose.

“Certainly it's not my way or the highway; I hope I haven't projected that,” Haas said when asked his captaining philosophy.

It’s a telling juxtaposition between captains considering that most U.S. players will tell you that the difference between the Presidents Cup, which the red, white and blue has owned, and the Ryder Cup, which the American side can’t even seem to sublet, is how things are much more relaxed in the odd-year duels.

“We make the Ryder Cup a bigger deal than it needs to be,” Zach Johnson said.

Even Jordan Spieth, who is playing his second Presidents Cup this week, has picked up on the not-so-subtle differences between the two matches.

“Last year's Ryder Cup there was just a little too much thought to go in the rounds ahead, the practice rounds ahead were almost tryouts, there weren't as many smiles in the practice leading up to it,” Spieth said.

That hasn’t been an issue at the Presidents Cup, where the United States has become adept at keeping things in perspective when it comes to the biennial bout with the rest of the world.

Although it started long before Couples took over the team in 2009, that seemingly detached demeanor was perfected by the three-time Presidents Cup captain, so much so that Mark McNulty, one of Price’s assistant captains, referred to it as the “Freddie vibe.”

“People like to be with Fred because he's cool. He doesn't wear an earpiece, never; he doesn't know what's going on because Fred's cool,” McNulty said.

 While the International team may be short their own version of Couples, they are aware that what’s not cool is losing. It’s a culture that’s been engrained into the rest of the world for the better part of a decade and a half and a trend Price has worked tirelessly to change.

Price was there, after all, in 1998 the last time the Internationals celebrated and watched as the Europeans began to change their fortunes in an event that had become equally as lopsided, so he knows it can be done.

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.