As the sun ascended over the Atlantic Ocean on a chilly Wednesday morning, fireworks decorated the sky over the Kiawah Island marshlands. It was a brilliant display ' more visually amazing than any high-priced 4th of July production, and it was loud ' really loud. It almost seemed out of place for such a low-key event.
The explosions concluded the Opening Ceremony of the fourth-annual UBS Cup. Afterwards, players for each team posed for pictures, chatted with one another, signed some autographs and joked around with members of the Citadels Summerall Guard, who led the precession, before heading off for a pro-am.
This is not the Ryder Cup, said recent Hall of Fame inductee Tom Kite.
And no one really wants it to be such.
The UBS Cup is two teams of 12, men in their 40s and beyond ' many of whom have Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup experience, competing against one another for the sake of competition. There wont be any gamesmanship, no second-guessing of captains, no negative residuals. The tension will be minimal, the smiles at a premium.
This competition will be played in the true spirit of the game, with respect, pride and camaraderie, said Gary Player.
Player is the captain of the Rest of the World team. He was the ROW foreman the first two years and gave way to Tony Jacklin a year ago so that he could focus on captaining the International team in the Presidents Cup, which was contested in his native South Africa.
His counterpart on the American side is once again Arnold Palmer.
Palmer has led the U.S. side in each of the first three editions. He was victorious in the first two and retained the Cup with a 12-12 tie a year ago at Sea Island. In fact, Palmer is undefeated as a team captain, having gone 2-0-0 as a Ryder Cup captain and 1-0-0 as the Presidents Cup leader.
Thats puts a bit of pressure on us, said Jay Haas, who is making his first UBS appearance. We want to keep the Cup in American hands, and keep (Palmers) winning streak alive.
More than that is on the line this week. Should the U.S. lose, their Cupboard will be almost bare.
The Europeans hold the Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup ' and even the Palmer Cup; Great Britain & Ireland has the Walker Cup; and the U.S. and International teams currently share the Presidents Cup.
On paper, the U.S. is the heavily favored team ' sound familiar? Playing captain Palmer will trot out Fred Couples, Fred Funk, Curtis Strange, Scott Hoch, Hal Sutton, Raymond Floyd, Jay Haas, Hale Irwin, Kite, Tom Watson and Craig Stadler.
Their 12 men have accounted for a staggering 333 victories on the PGA and Champions tours, including 28 regular tour majors.
Of course, that doesnt really bother ROW team member Bernhard Langer, who captained the Europeans to an upset win on American soil at the most recent Ryder Cup.
They are looking strong on paper again, but the good thing is we dont play on paper, he said. We still have a chance out there.
The ROW team is not comprised of a bunch of slouches. They have combined to win 14 major championships and nearly 400 times around the world.
Their team consists of playing captain Player, Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer, Barry Lane, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, John Chillas, Rodger Davis, Carl Mason, Mark McNulty, Peter Senior and Sam Torrance.
This is a wonderful event, said Langer. You have the age group and the people playing that spectators can really relate to. A lot of the spectators on TV, I would guess, would be between the age of 40 and 70, and thats the age group we have out here. They have been following these players for 20 to 40 years and they can really relate to them.
The UBS Cup features six players ages 40-49 and six 50 and over. The U.S., however, has seven players this year in the latter age division. Thats because Watson replaced Mark OMeara last week when OMeara pulled out with a wrist injury.
Watson is a fitting replacement. Not only has he competed in each of the first three competitions, he designed this weeks host venue, the Cassique Course.
Watson was originally on the team, but told tournament organizers that he would be unable to compete due to off-season surgery on his arthritic shoulder and hip. But when he opted against surgery, he asked for a reprieve, which was granted when OMeara had to back out.
As for his health, Watson said he is feeling about as good as a 55-year-old man with a bad body parts can feel.
I tried (cortisone shots) for about two weeks and now the hip is back to normal again, he said. Advil works and Vioxx really worked ' but I dont take Vioxx anymore.
The shoulder is another issue as far as the mechanical part of my shoulder. I had other issues this summer with a nerve problem in my neck which caused a weakening of my right arm. Thats gone away. Who knows, that might return. Its just like a car that has a couple hundred-thousand miles on it. Theres parts that are going to be breaking down all the time.
This is the second time that Kiawah Island has hosted the tournament. It first did so in 2001 on the Ocean Course.
This time the spotlight shines on Cassique, a 6,960-yard, par-72 links-style design. Inaugurated in 2000, the venue is replete with undulating dune land terrain, stacked sod pot bunkers, and large, rolling greens, as well as patches of live oak trees and tidal marshes.
The low dunes along Captain Sams Inlet separate the course from the Atlantic, meaning the players will have to navigate the wind to be successful ' if Mother Nature makes a prominent presence.
With the weather the way it is right now, with the way its projected to be with very little wind, youre going to see a lot of birdies made and there will be a lot of people under par. Its going to be a real sprint, you might say, out there, Watson predicted.
The format is match play. There will be six foursomes (alternate shot) matches Friday and six four-ball (better ball) matches Saturday, with 12 singles matches on Sunday.
The U.S. needs 12 points to retain the Cup, while the ROW needs 12 points to win for the first time.
The purse is $3,000,000. Each player on the winning team will pocket $150,000 per player. The losing side will net $100,000.
The U.S. won the inaugural UBS Cup, 12 -11 , on the Ocean Course in 2001. They repeated, 14 -9 , at Sea Island in 2002. And last year ended in a 12-12 tie, with the Americans keeping the Cup.