MELBOURNE, Australia – In the rush to congratulate and console late Sunday at Royal Melbourne Greg Norman was asked if he would submit a review of his two turns as the International team captain in the coming weeks.
“I'm going to give you two right now so I don't forget,” Norman informed the PGA Tour minion.
There is no secret to the International side’s swoon in this biennial bout that has now tipped toward the Americans in seven of nine meetings. The rest of the world can’t play foursome golf. Well, they can, just not well.
In nine matches the U.S. has won 14 and tied one of the 18 foursome sessions, has outscored the Internationals 25 ½ to 7 ½ in foursomes in the last three Presidents Cups and nearly swept this week’s play, losing only two of the 11 games. Considering the four-point final margin of victory for the United States one doesn’t need to be clairvoyant to figure out what was atop the “Shark’s” postgame to-do list.
The last seven Presidents Cups began with a foursome session, which – given the Internationals' pedestrian play in the format – would explain why they regularly have to play catch-up on the weekend.
“We do get our cage rattled a little bit in the foursome match. And it does rattle us because we don't like getting beaten; so maybe just getting our confidence level up will help,” said Norman, who will suggest the “host nation” decide if the event begins with a foursome or fourball session, like the Ryder Cup.
Ernie Els, a captain-in-waiting, echoed Norman’s thoughts on Sunday: “I think we are so bad at it . . . why don't we start with something different, you know? Let's start with fourball matches, maybe that's the answer.”
No, it’s not an answer. It’s just swapping problem solving for procrastination. Pushing the start of foursome play until Day 2 will likely only delay the inevitable.
The Internationals' problems in alternate shot seem to be twofold. Many of the U.S. players are exposed to the format each year at the Ryder and Presidents Cups, while the Internationals get just one shot at it every two calendars.
Diversity, of all things, is the other issue for the Internationals. Last week Norman’s team played under four flags. Assistant captain Frank Nobilo would like to see that change to a single standard in future Cups.
“I wish we didn’t put the flags in the program, “ Nobilo said. “You’d like to get each one of the 12 feeling like part of the 12, that’s why you don’t really want to just put two Korean players to the side, two Australians or whatever. That’s something that we’ve always had to deal with.”
In a snapshot the Internationals' plight could be summed up as the team took to the podium for the final press conference of the week late Sunday, complete with three different interpreters, whereas the U.S. side needed just a single translator for those perplexed by Bubba Watson’s deep Southern drawl.
“The (Ryder Cup) expanded to be competitive. Maybe the (Presidents Cup) should shrink,” 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger tweeted only half jokingly.
For many reasons Norman’s second loss as a captain was worse. This time he and his assistants thought they had an answer to the foursome enigma. This time his pairings and players were ready, but the result remained unchanged.
Even more concerning is the problem seems to be genetic, passing from the previous generation to the newcomers. Adam Scott is the only active player with a winning record in alternate shot (5-4-1), while Geoff Ogilvy, a Cup staple and the emotional heart of the International side, is a confounding 0-4-1.
By contrast, the Internationals have a 10-4-4 advantage in fourball play and have won or tied the singles session on four occasions.
Some have suggested adding another biennial match-play team event to the schedule – perhaps the Northern Hemisphere versus the Southern – that would be played in even years and give the Internationals some much-needed foursome experience.
Norman also plans to suggest the Tour expand the number of wild-card picks an International captain has from two to four, which, in theory, would give him more flexibility to create favorable matchups.
“We just really cannot handle ourselves in the foursome format,” Norman said. “(Nobilo) and I from 2009 to now have thought about it long and hard. I truly believe it's the comfort level of the players who have played or haven't played it. When you have played in alternate shot, when you have played with somebody who has not played alternate shot, you can actually hold them by the hand and take them through the process a little bit easier.”
Whatever is on the “Shark’s” wish list, what is clear after last week’s painful foursomes play is that there are no silver bullets for the Internationals. Norman’s alternate-shot lineup was his best hand, and the Americans handed him another loss.
“The Ryder Cup started in 1927; the first 24 times it was played Great Britain and Ireland only won (three times). I think our team is very competitive and I think we’re closer than what they were,” he said. “We’re learning it.”
There’s little doubt the lessons continue, or that some are more painful than others.