Americans May Be Underdogs

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Increasingly, in the days ahead, you will be hearing more and more about the Presidents Cup matches scheduled to be played at Fancourts Links Golf Course in South Africa. One of the themes in the pre-Cup build-up will focus on trying to figure out which team'the Americans captained by Jack Nicklaus or the Internationals captained by Gary Player--is the favorite to win.
 
And isnt that a novel idea?
 
The Americans are always favored. Arent they?
 
Its been a little bit of a drought for the U.S. in these Cups, says Jeff Sluman, who will serve as a special assistant to Nicklaus in South Africa. They might even be favored.
 
It has been more than a little bit of a drought for the U.S. Our country lost the last Ryder Cup, the last Solheim Cup, the last Walker Cup and the last Palmer Cup. Moreover, the world ranking status of the Presidents Cup participants on the International side rivals that of the Americans.
 
Seventeen of the top ranked 21 players in the current official world golf rankings will be at Fancourt. Nine of those 17 will be playing for Player. Our team is a lot stronger than it has been, said Zimbabwe native Nick Price. But to say were favoredI dont know.
 
Nobody wants to be favored in these things anymore. The Euros found out the benefit of being underdogs in the Ryder Cup more than a decade ago. It breeds team unity. Dont think for a minute Sluman doesnt believe the Americans have the best team. But hes smart enough not to declare that in public.
 
On the subject of Sluman, his presence will be invaluable to Nicklaus. Nicklaus captained the American squad at the Presidents Cup in Australia in 1998. And the Internationals massacred his team 20 to 11 . Nicklaus critics said he should have been more hands-on. His special assistant that year was his son, Jackie.
 
And Jackie Nicklaus is one of the nicest people in golf. He is not without knowledge of the game. But he doesnt know the ins and outs of tour players like Sluman who, by the way, will make a superb sub if another American pulls out at the last minute.
 
I know the players personally as friends and professionally, Sluman says. And I know exactly whats going on with them. I can funnel that to Jack. I think there will be more camaraderie within the team and I dont just mean laughing and giggling.
 
OK, then. We now know the Presidents Cup will be more than a hit-and-giggle for the Americans. For the Internationals, the Presidents Cup has always been their version of the Ryder Cup, an event that still commands more interest worldwide even though its geographic parameters are narrower.
 
This will be the biggest event in South Africa since the Rugby World Cup, says South African Retief Goosen. In 1995 South Africa won the first Rugby World Cup ever staged on its soil.
 
The matches are going to be close, Goosen says. Yes, Id like to say were the favorites. And a Tiger-Ernie singles match on the last day to decide the Cup would be great. But well have to see.
 
Price, too, would love to see a Woods-Els singles match-up. What he wouldnt like, at age 46, is the deciding match being his. No, he said. My nerves are too frayed.
 
Well have to see about that, too.
 
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