Presidents Cup Leaving Its Mark

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GEORGE, South Africa -- The only black man in the bleachers behind the 15th green scampered down the steps when Vijay Singh passed below. He leaned over the railing and clapped furiously to cheer the Fijian on.
 
A few days earlier, a 21-year-old caddie from the Xhosa tribe talked excitedly about the Presidents Cup, the biggest golf event ever to come to South Africa.
 
'I hear Tiger Woods is already in Cape Town,' said the caddie, Leonard, his smile growing. 'He's the man. I'm telling you, he's the man!'
 
The face of golf, long considered a white, elitist sport, is slowly changing in a country that is only a dozen years removed from apartheid. And having Singh and Woods here for the Presidents Cup could be the catalyst to speed things along.
 
'Young kids sitting in Soweto and villages in South Africa, most of them have got a TV set somehow or another,' said Gary Player, the International team captain and South Africa's greatest player. 'When they can see the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world are both black, it's an awful big dream. It's a dream that can be fulfilled.'
 
Player believes the Presidents Cup will deliver a powerful message, regardless of the outcome.
 
There are already junior programs in place, and more black men who have advanced into the corporate ranks are playing golf.
 
'History shows that people pick up the game because they follow professional players,' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday. 'When Tiger came on the scene, the percentage of African-American kids' interest in the game went up dramatically. With the amount of focus on this event, to some degree it will have the same impact.'
 
The matches begin Thursday on the Links Course at Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate, with Phil Mickelson and David Toms playing the first of six alternate-shot matches against Nick Price and Mike Weir.
 
Singh is paired with Retief Goosen in the second match. Woods and Charles Howell III are in the last match.
 
Ten team matches are scheduled Friday, six on Saturday and 12 singles matches Sunday will decide who wins the cup.
 
The competition is expected to be strong, particularly since the U.S. and International teams feature 15 of the top 20 players in the world ranking.
 
'It's very important that this is closely contested,' Price said. 'Everybody wants to see it come down to one game, one shot on Sunday. If that happens, then there will be a lot of interest in the event.'
 
Interest already is high.
 
The Presidents Cup is a sellout, with crowds of more than 20,000 expected all four days. Former President Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid, was to speak during opening ceremonies Thursday.
 
'We want to really see this be a great example to millions of young people that are watching golf, how it should be played, in the true spirit,' Player said. 'I'm delighted the way things are going.'
 
The real impact might be after the Presidents Cup is over.
 
The Sunshine Tour in South Africa has about a dozen black players at most tournaments. They are largely unknown compared to the country's biggest stars, such as three-time major winner Ernie Els and Goosen, a U.S. Open champion.
 
'Our tour in South Africa is small, so they don't see a lot of golf,' Els said. 'But they know what's happening in the world.'
 
They know Woods has dominated the game, winning 46 times in eight countries. They know Singh won the PGA Tour money list this year, and that he and Woods own green jackets from winning the Masters.
 
And they know there aren't many other stars in golf who look like them.
 
'We're 1 and 2 in the world, but we're the only two out there,' Woods said. 'You would think that there would be more players of color on tour by now, but it's going to take time for the junior golf programs to kick in.'
 
Player remains optimistic.
 
He has seen scores of black youth at Fancourt who are in junior golf programs. Some are working as volunteers, carrying rakes to smooth the bunkers. Others are simply watching, wide-eyed when Woods walks by.
 
'In time to come, I really believe that we will produce our own black Tiger Woods,' Player said. 'That would be fantastic because I want to tell you, we have got some wonderful young athletes in South Africa that are starting to play golf.'
 
Related Links:
  • Meet the Teams
  • Full Coverage - The Presidents Cup
     
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