Internationals look to restore parity in the Prez Cup

By Rex HoggardOctober 2, 2013, 4:29 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – There is no more authoritative voice in golf than Jack Nicklaus, 18 major championships being the ultimate benchmark and all. But even the Golden Bear sensed the urgency that has beset the Presidents Cup.

“The International team is a lot better than you think it is,” said Nicklaus, although this week’s host sounded like he was making his pitch for parity more so than stating fact.

Or maybe Nicklaus was just lowering expectations, because the Internationals can’t be any worse than the record indicates.

With apologies to this week’s dozen, you are what your record says you are.

The Rest of the World hasn’t hoisted the cup since 1998. Truth is they haven’t made it a game since 2003, when darkness and some loose interpretations of the rules led to the match’s only tie.

The average margin of defeat for the Internationals has been 4 ¼ points the last four outings. More importantly they haven’t won a foursomes session since Day 1 in 2003, and have only taken a lead into the Sunday singles session twice.

International captain Nick Price, along with former captain Greg Norman and future captain Ernie Els, pitched a format change that would have reduced the number of team matches to four from six for each session, allowing, the thinking goes, the Internationals to hide some of the weak links in the lineup. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem rejected that idea.

If the U.S. side cruises to its fifth consecutive victory this week, as many predict, maybe the commish should consider letting Price & Co. annex Florida – the Sunshine State is, after all, home to the same number of International members as U.S. players (two).

For the blue-and-gold crowd, their best hope may rest with a shockingly inexperienced team (the International side includes seven rookies) and Price’s fresh perspective.

Based on Tuesday’s practice pairings, it seems Price is utilizing a version of 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger’s pods system to take advantage of the natural pairings of six South Africans and three Australians.

Price also seems to have plucked a page from U.S. captain Fred Couples’ book, a hands-free, laidback approach to what is always an intense week, particularly off the golf course.

“Two years ago (in Australia), we had a lot of dinners and it was very exhausting, especially after matches,” said Jason Day, who is a member at Muirfield Village. “Because when you go out with the team, you're going out for two to three hours at most and you're sitting there talking to people. ... So we are having maybe two dinners and that's about it. We are not really doing too much (this week). We're having dinners inside the hotel and that's it.”

That, however, will do little to solve the International’s woeful foursomes play. The margin of victory two years ago at Royal Melbourne was four points and the U.S. dominated the alternate-shot portion of the competition to the tune of 8-3.You do the math.

But then the foursomes problem is nothing new. Two years ago, then-captain Greg Norman tried to have his team arrive as early as possible in Australia to build familiarity, which is crucial to the alternate-shot format.

“If you look at the European side, talking to Colin Montgomerie a few years ago, he was told he was playing with (Nick) Faldo and he was sent a version of Faldo’s golf ball well before. Tiger is going to play with (Jason) Dufner and (Matt) Kuchar, so they only need to worry about two or three different kinds of golf balls,” said Frank Noblio, Norman’s assistant captain the last two cups.

“On the International side a lot of the guys don’t know each other and they don’t play a lot of golf together. Foursomes are an awkward one. You try to get the team to gel together. They don’t have a lot of experience in it.”

It was the elephant in the International team room when players arrived on Monday and Price set the tone early. When he sent his players out on Tuesday he had them compete in a modified alternate-shot format for their own money.

If there is any reason for International optimism it is a schedule adjustment for this year’s matches. For the first time since 1996, Thursday’s opening session will be fourball play. Think of it as a soft opening that should, in theory, allow the rookies to ease their way into the arena.

But that will mean little if the International side digs itself an early hole, like it has done every match since 1998. Nor does it help that, at least on paper, the Americans are an overwhelming favorite, with seven of the top 11 players in the world ranking sporting red, white and blue this week.

Even the potential American weaknesses seem mitigated by competitive reality. Jordan Spieth, a captain’s pick at 20 years old, has been the most consistent player regardless of nationality the last two months; and Steve Stricker, who failed to earn a point at last year’s Ryder Cup and played a limited schedule in 2013, sounded like he was ready to play another decade of team competitions on Tuesday.

“I would still like to think I've got a shot at making the Ryder Cup next year, especially the way I'm playing, and if I can continue to play the way I've been playing. And I would like to be a part of that again,” he said. “The way we left Medinah (site of last year’s Ryder Cup) was not a great feeling. So it would be nice to get one more crack at that.”

But if the Internationals are in need of a motivational tale they could find it at this year’s Solheim Cup. With a mixture of rookies and scarred veterans, the European team has won the last two matches after going 2-8-0 to start the series.

Sound familiar?

“We are the clear underdogs,” Day said. “It would mean a whole lot, not just to myself, but just to the whole team and to the rest of the world that follow the Presidents Cup. We are winning it for the rest of the world.”

Compared to Nicklaus’ take, Day’s optimism is downright effusive. Whether it is misplaced or not remains to be seen.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.