14 Apr 2022 | Professional golf |

Comment: Why the Presidents Cup is important for Australian golf

by Martin Blake

Tiger Woods, Ernie Els image 2019
Tiger Woods and Ernie Els put on an incredible contest in 2019. Photo: Getty

The Presidents Cup is good, really good. That’s why it’s important to the future of Australian golf now that it’s coming back in 2028.

For geographical and financial reasons, we don’t often get fields of that quality for tournament golf in this country. It’s relatively rare for golf to be front and centre here, but in Presidents Cup weeks, that can happen unquestionably.

The concept works, in a funny way, perhaps because it’s team matchplay, so simple to gauge for any fan.

The atmosphere is awesome, more like a celebration of the game than anything, and less combative than, say, the Ryder Cup has become.

And while the idea is technically flawed in the sense that the US generally wins, somehow it doesn’t seem to matter that much to people. I mean, the US has won 11 of 13 competitions since this started in 1994, the International team won just once, in 1998 under Peter Thomson, and they tied once, memorably at Fancourt in South Africa in 2003 when darkness halted an epic playoff between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

It’s lopsided, and the US gets the advantage of the team galvanising as one nation as opposed to the rainbow colours of the International team, which is drawn from all other nations bar European countries.

But somehow, it succeeds, perhaps because as they say, it is what it is. A bunch of the best golfers in the world picking teams and playing against each other head-to head. And they don’t even get paid prizemoney!

For it to continue working you need the Internationals to stay competitive, and 2019 at Royal Melbourne was a great example. There, under Els’ captaincy and with 10-deep galleries, the Internationals led for most of the event only to be reeled in deep on the final day.

When Cameron Smith, playing in the third-last singles match, made birdie to beat Justin Thomas, the contest was still alive. Alas, a few minutes later Matt Kuchar sealed it for the US by extracting a guarantee of at least half a point against Louis Oosthuizen.

But this was gripping sport.

A narrative has found its way through for this contest, and it’s this: people are fascinated by the challenge of the underdog. In 2019 the US had five of the top 10 players in the world on its team; the Internationals did not have anyone inside Adam Scott’s No. 18 rank, yet they were highly competitive, almost pulling off the upset.

Tiger Woods was at his awesome best and Royal Melbourne was another star of that week, and it seems the likely venue for 2028. Under the notion of ‘ain’t broken, don’t fix’, there is no real need for the organisers to take it anywhere else. Royal Melbourne is a national treasure.

Some people will argue for a change, but the truth is that with space required for parking, a television compound, an entertainment precinct and merchandise marquees, most clubs in Melbourne are ruled out. Royal Melbourne has two courses and plenty of space, not to mention Sandy Links over the road, and the composite course (created from 12 holes on the west and six on the east) may well be the best course in the world for a golf tournament.

The only other club that I can think of with a shout would be Peninsula Kingswood Country Club, a little farther out but similarly, boasting two courses, meaning that space would not be an issue. The North course, where a Presidents Cup would be played, is amazing as well, and the event would certainly work at PKCC. But it already works at RM, and we know that, so whichever way they go they cannot lose.

Actually it more than works. It’s an amazing opportunity for Australian golf and it’s tantalising to think who might be a star six years’ hence. Elvis Smylie in International colours? Min Woo Lee as the gun for captain Adam Scott’s team?

Walking out of Royal Melbourne that last Sunday in December, 2019, it occurred to me: “This thing is coming back one day.”

I just wasn’t sure how long that would take, and now I probably have my answer.

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