PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Nick Price joked last week that he’s the International Presidents Cup team’s task force of one.
It turns out he’s actually one of just two people needed to blaze a new trail for the Presidents Cup.
Last week at Doral, commissioner Tim Finchem confirmed the PGA Tour is looking at ways to make the Presidents Cup, which has been won by the U.S. side the last six times, more competitive.
Essentially, for Price and the other international players less is more.
The International team has lost the last six matches by an average of four points. By comparison, the U.S. has lost three of the last four Ryder Cup matches by an average of 2.3 points.
The International team's competitive swoon has led Price - and Greg Norman before him - to lobby the Tour to reduce the number of team matches in the competition. At the Ryder Cup teams play just 16 team matches compared to 22 at the Presidents Cup, essentially keeping captains like Price from being able to hide their weaker players.
These types of decision, it turns out, are up to each captain.
“This is not a decision I make. It's not a decision that the [policy board] makes,” the commissioner explained.
“This is, at least thus far, a decision that we listen to all the input. We put out the options that can be looked at. We try to narrow those options down. If we are having differences of opinion, we make a recommendation. But at the end of the day, it’s up to the captains to make that agreement.”
When the matches were first played in 1994 there was a desire to distinguish the Presidents Cup from its big brother, the Ryder Cup. Part of that philosophy led to five matches in each of the four team sessions, compared to just four team matches per session at the Ryder Cup.
In 2003, the Presidents Cup expanded to 22 team matches, playing all 12 players in a foursome and four-ball session as a result of the event going from three days to four.
It’s this desire to distance the Presidents Cup from the Ryder Cup - call it a sibling rivalry - that has at least partially fueled a reluctance to change the format.
“Obviously when we started the Presidents Cup, everybody was looking at the Ryder Cup,” Finchem said. “Those two captains [Hale Irwin and David Graham at the 1994 matches] felt strongly that there should be certain things that differentiate from the Ryder Cup and a number of those things were incorporated.”
But many of those differences, argues the International side’s leadership, have led to a wildly lopsided competition, with the International team winning just one of the 10 matches.
“I hope they look closely at it for our sake. We’re not a deep enough team to play for all those points. Hopefully the American guys see it that way,” said Ernie Els, who has played on every International team since 1996 and is a consensus future captain. “We’re trying to do it the way they helped Europe out years ago [in 1979 the Ryder Cup expanded the Great Britain and Ireland team to include all of Europe to help make the matches more competitive].”
Els is confident, however, that Finchem and U.S. captain Jay Haas will meet the International’s request at least halfway.
“I don’t think we’ll play for 28 points [the number of points available in the Ryder Cup], but I think we’ll play for 32 points, which will be a help,” he said. “Whether [Price] gets it, I don’t know, but it would be a big help for us.”
After years of reluctance by American captains to change the structure of the matches, Finchem provided a ray of hope for the International side when he spoke on Sunday at Doral.
“There's a frustration there,” he conceded. “It's really a question of in a situation where it could be competitive, are we recognizing that the United States is probably deeper, at least at this period of time? Is there a way you can tighten it up a little bit?”
Some take the long view when it comes to a potential overhaul of the Presidents Cup format, pointing to the ebb and flow of the Ryder Cup as a competitive roadmap to parity. Matches like this year’s Presidents Cup, which will be played in South Korea, will only grow the game internationally, giving young players a reason to improve that will, in theory, make future matches more competitive.
Price, however, hopes that future is now and Finchem and Haas level the playing field in time for this year’s matches.