JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Nick Price played in the third match back in 1994 when the PGA Tour’s experiment with a match-play team event was launched.
Price lost that first fourball Presidents Cup match to Davis Love III and Fred Couples. Twenty-three years later he’s still facing Boom-Boom and DL3, both assistants for the U.S., with painfully similar results.
For Price, who turned in his scorecard for a captain’s golf cart in 2013 at the biennial bout between the U.S. and International teams, it’s been a definition of insanity deal ever since.
To put Price’s history with the Presidents Cup in context, the last time his International side won the event he was ranked No. 6 in the world, and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas were 5 years old.
Although there will be non-stop chatter about how evenly matched the teams are and how competitive this edition will be, on this the Presidents Cup is what its record says it is – a 1-9-1 International rout.
It’s not as though Price isn’t aware of the competitive swoon his side faces, it’s just that his options are limited.
Even before Price’s first turn as captain at the ’13 matches he’d made his plea to anyone who would listen at the Tour that change was needed if the Presidents Cup was going to be competitive.
For Price and the other members of the International side, there was nothing wrong with the Presidents Cup that some new math couldn’t fix. Specifically, he wanted the matches to follow the same format as the Ryder Cup, which features just 28 points up for grabs compared with 34 at the ’13 Presidents Cup.
The Tour balked, the Internationals lost by three points.
Two years later, Price made another run at the Tour to adjust the points to mirror the format used at the Ryder Cup, which is the undisputed pinnacle of team golf.
Price and others contend that reducing the points would allow the International team, which is not as deep as the U.S. squad, to be more competitive, and prior to the ’15 matches the Tour agreed, to a point, and reduced the number of available points to 30.
The result was the closest match in a decade, with the cup decided on the final green by the final match when Bill Haas defeated Sangmoon Bae to secure a 15 1/2 to 14/ 1/2 U.S. victory.
On Tuesday at Liberty National, Price was asked if he made another run at the Tour and new commissioner Jay Monahan to further reduce the amount of points to 28.
“No, I didn’t. It would be very hard to go and push after what happened in South Korea,” Price said. “If you were commissioner and I came to you and said I want to reduce another two points, you’d say what was wrong with South Korea. I wouldn’t have had a strong leg to stand on with that argument, so I didn’t touch it.”
Perhaps this is the new normal. Maybe the matches are entering a long-awaited era of parity like that enjoyed at the Ryder Cup, which has been decided in recent years by the slimmest of margins. On paper, however, Price should ready himself for more of the same.
The average world ranking of the U.S. team is 15th and captain Steve Stricker’s crew won a combined 17 events this season on Tour, including three of the four major championships. That modern day Murder’s Row will face an International team with an average world ranking of 32nd and just eight combined victories this year on Tour.
These events aren’t won on paper, but you can’t hide talent. Or, more to the point, Price can’t hide mediocrity.
In ’15 in South Korea, Price had the benefit of a breakout performance from Branden Grace, who went 5-0 teamed with Louis Oosthuizen. Asked on Tuesday who this week’s “Grace” would be, he rattled off a list of potential leaders that included Anirban Lahiri.
Lahiri is one of the game’s most thoughtful and endearing players, but he has just two top-10 finishes this year on Tour and he failed to earn even a half point two years ago in South Korea. Perhaps it’s simply optimism, be it hopeless or otherwise, but under the current points structure it’s Price’s only option if his team is going to win the event for the first time since 1998.
“The next few we’ll see,” Price reasoned. “Maybe this is the optimum, maybe 30 is the right number. I don’t know. It’s just that the Ryder Cup has been proven over the last 30, 40 years, so maybe this is the better way to go. Time will tell.”
Perhaps, but how much time does the event have until it loses any semblance of competitive relevance?
In 2015, Price talked about the need to simply have a close match, a competitive match, something his players could see as progress; but the time for moral victories is over.
Anything short of an absolute sea change for the International side and it will be time for Price and Co. to make another plea for a points change, and time for the Tour to finally take action.