Presidents Cup math: Addition by subtraction

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It was the last question Nick Price was asked, which seemed apropos if not perfectly planned.

In April Price was named the International Presidents Cup team captain for the third time. As he and U.S. captain Steve Stricker were wrapping up a one-year-out news conference last October the conversation predictably turned to the Zimbabwean’s ongoing debate with the PGA Tour to reduce the total number of points in the biennial matches from 30 to 28, which is the same number used for the Ryder Cup.

“Last year [2015], I think it was very, very close. If it continues to be close, we may not need to change, but I honestly believe down the road, we'll probably change it to 28,” Price figured.

Prior to the ’15 matches, which the International team lost by a single point, Price & Co. had persuaded then-Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to reduce the number of available points from 34 to 30, a compromise that – at least from a competitive point of view – seemed to inject new life into the matches.

After fighting for so long to reach that 28-point threshold, which seems to work so well at the Ryder Cup, Price likely based his theory on an eventual shift to fewer points on the fact that Finchem stepped down this year and was replaced by Jay Monahan, who by most accounts is more of a consensus builder than his predecessor.

Asked about the possibility of reducing the number of matches last week at The Players, Monahan certainly didn’t seem opposed to the idea.

“We will look at everything. What happened in Korea put the Presidents Cup in a great spot,” said Monahan, who added that he studies the International team’s standings every Monday morning. “I think [Price] had it right and we all got it right in Korea and that’s an example of talking, discussing, collaborating. That will continue to be a part of everything that we do.”

The ’15 matches were close and compelling, at least for those on the right side of the international dateline, with the cup decided by the final singles match on Sunday when Bill Haas defeated South Korea’s Sangmoon Bae.


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For his part, Adam Scott – the undisputed leader of the International team, having played in the last seven matches – said he’s comfortable with the current point structure, but that doesn’t mean he likes it.

Scott doesn’t necessarily want to win a Presidents Cup - that’s happened just once (1998) since the matches began in 1994 - but like Price he has a passionate desire to assure it’s competitive.

“It was getting to that point of frustration - what are we doing this for? This is not enjoyable. I’ve heard it’s a cycle of strong and weak teams, but this is a long time now,” Scott said. “The decision was up to the Tour and they did what they thought was best and we have to accept it now. But certainly we need to see a competitive match and that was my argument, why wouldn’t you assure yourself a competitive event.”

For Scott and the other members of the International team it’s really a question of diminishing returns and a wildly lopsided event that was becoming increasingly difficult to enjoy.

In 2013 the U.S. team won by three points, four in ’11 and five in ’09. You get the idea.

Scott is one of the game’s most thoughtful and reasonable voices, and he understands better than most that changes to the Presidents Cup format can’t be made in a bubble.

“We can’t just have it our way; there’s another 12 guys on the U.S. team who may not want it different. I’m not saying we’re right and they are wrong, because they play the Ryder Cup as well, but a lot is made of Ryder Cup heroes, whether it’s Patrick Reed who plays amazing or Ian Poulter,” Scott said. “Yet no one on our teams is thought about as a match player. It’s a bit overlooked because the Ryder Cup is such a big deal.”

To Scott’s point, Branden Grace went 5-0-0 at the ’15 matches paired with Louis Oosthuizen, a week that included four-ball victories over Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes. Yet no one compares his record to the likes of Reed and Poulter.

Would an International victory in October change that narrative? Maybe not, but it’s certainly not going to diminish his stature if he were to blaze a winning trail for the rest of the world.

In sports, you are what your record says you are, and the Internationals have largely been the Washington Generals to the U.S. side’s Harlem Globetrotters. But if that could change with some simple math and two fewer matches, which the ’15 outcome suggests could, wouldn’t that be best for everyone involved?

“It’s all long-term stuff, it’s not about whether I ever win a Presidents Cup, we’re looking at it from a longevity point of view,” Scott said. “But the last few [matches] for me, guys are just going through the motions and that’s a shame.”

The Tour will likely wait to see how competitive this year’s matches are before any potential changes, but given the likelihood of a more competitive event and a more amenable man in the commissioner’s office Price’s optimism is understandable.