December 17, 2019

The Internationals are getting closer

The President's Cup is a poor first cousin to the Ryder Cup. It lacks the historic background and competitiveness that now surrounds the Ryder Cup. After this week's comeback win by the US squad, the matches now stand at a lopsided 11 wins, 1 loss, and 1 tie. But last week's contest was everything you wanted in a serious rivalry. Ernie Els prepared his team for this challenge for 18 months. He modeled his approach on the team building success of the European team in the Ryder Cup. His players were passionate in following his plan. In the end, however, he was one player short and the superior talent finally prevailed.

Tiger Woods blended his duties as Captain and player beautifully. Most of his players are 15 to 20 years his junior. Now they were going to be lead into competition by the greatest player in their lifetime. Only Ben Hogan, when he captained the 1967 Ryder Cup squad, would command the same utmost respect as Tiger. I think each player felt privileged to be mentored and guided into battle with Tiger as the leader. Tiger for his part took his duties seriously and had a personal relationship with each player. You knew it meant a lot to him to see him jumping for joy and bear-hugging all his players after the US clinched the winning point.

Ernie Els almost pulled off a major upset. He had his team well prepared and they bought into being committed to the team concept and his strategy. It almost worked. However when Jason Day had to withdraw because of back problems, he lost a great player and team leader. He was replaced with Haotong Li of China, who just wasn't up to the challenge in the two matches that Ernie allowed him to play. If Day had played the outcome might have been different. A pivotal turning point happened during the second day in the Foursome matches. With the International team leading 4 to 1 after the first day, the Internationals were at one point leading in all five matches playing the back nine. Two matches were runaway wins, but the others were close. Had the Americans lost the other three matches, the lead would have been too great to overcome. Fortunately they rallied and all three teams won the critical 18th hole to garner 2 ½ points. If not for the heroics on the last hole that day, the International team would have won.

Patrick Reed was a cause of distraction. The Australian fans needled him constantly. Something he probably deserved. He partnered with Webb Simpson in the first three matches and was soundly beaten in each match, much to the delight of the hometown crowd. He didn't apologize for his actions of the week before and seemed to relish the hostility. Yet his play was very substandard, which bubbled over when his caddy had had enough of the heckling and pushed a drunken spectator. The caddy was suspended for the final match. Reed overcame that and won a crucial point in the individual match the last day. Reed was part of the US team, but he was more put up with than embraced. In future team events, he better qualify on merit, because he will never again be a captain's pick.

The Australian spectators fully embraced the competition and it had the feel of a Ryder Cup event. With the International team starting fast and building a lead, the intensity and excitement built every day. The US team came back and rallied to win, but it was a hard fought battle. This one could've gone either way. The final score was 16 to 14. Turn two matches around and you have a different outcome. Think of Jason Day up against Dustin Johnson in singles match, instead of Haotong Li who was totally overmatched and really didn't put up a fight. The Internationals are closing the talent gap. With dedicated leadership like Ernie Els and improving players, the US dominance could come to an end soon. But this comeback win was sweet and well earned!


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