x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 October 2017

International team need to work as a collective to have any chance against US at Presidents Cup 

With home advantage, a lower average ranking, more PGA Tour wins this season and the past three major champions, the USA are understandably heavy favourites.

Hideki Matsuyama, left, is the highest ranked player in the International team at No 3. Charl Schwartzel, right, is ranked No 27. Bill Streicher / Reuters
Hideki Matsuyama, left, is the highest ranked player in the International team at No 3. Charl Schwartzel, right, is ranked No 27. Bill Streicher / Reuters

TEAMS

US Team
Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth
Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger
Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler
Kevin Kisner, Patrick Reed
Matt Kuchar, Kevin Chappell
Charley Hoffman*, Phil Mickelson*

International Team
Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day 
Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen
Marc Leishman, Charl Schwartzel
Branden Grace, Si Woo Kim
Jhonattan Vegas, Adam Hadwin
Emiliano Grillo*, Anirban Lahiri*

denotes captain's picks

 

 

The numbers are definitive, if not a little distressing.

In 11 previous editions of the Presidents Cup, the United States have won nine times against the Internationals and drawn once. They have triumphed in the past six, a run stretching back more than a decade. So a match-up that in theory pits the 12 best players from America against the 12 best from the rest of the world excluding Europe has traditionally had only one outcome.

The International team won once before, back when Bill Clinton led the Free World and long before the build-up was punctuated by politics and issues of race. It was 1998. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas were five years old.

This week, at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, a US side with Spieth and Thomas at its head takes on the 2017 Internationals. Once more, the statistics favour the hosts.

Captained by Steve Stricker, the US have an average world ranking of 15. Their players have combined this year for 17 victories on the PGA Tour alone, including the three most recent major championships. The Internationals', meanwhile, average rank is 32. They have combined for eight wins.

Indeed, the odds are against them, much as they have been for the past two decades. Last month, Nick Price, the Zimbabwean who captains the Internationals for the third time, conceded: “We’re tired of losing. There’s no doubt about that.”

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Price understands that sinking feeling more than most. Between 1994 and 2003, he competed in five Presidents Cups, losing three times. As a non-playing captain in Ohio in 2013, and in South Korea two years ago, he failed to inspire the Internationals to victory.

Yet last time out, it was close. Really close. The final match decided the outcome on the final green, when Bill Haas defeated home hope Bae Sang-moon. The US won by a point, their slenderest margin since the tie in 2003.

It convinced Price to try again, to return as captain, that the third time may in fact prove a charm. He has spoken about building this week on the emotion of that loss in Incheon, and the togetherness it ultimately engendered.

For the Internationals, that has always represented a significant obstacle. A diverse group of professional golfers, one that this year numbers eight different nationalities and spans five different continents, brings with it its own particular issues.

Perhaps it is becoming a moot point - for the first time in 10 years all the Internationals are PGA Tour members - but there is no one common language. There is no singular cause to unite around, like the US have, or the Europeans have in the Ryder Cup. As Europe has displayed for the best part of 20 years, and as the US exhibited at Hazeltine 12 months ago, in team golf camaraderie and competitive companionship are integral. They can be decisive.

It can exist within the International team. It can also feel less natural, more forced. It is why the Presidents Cup can never truly rival the Ryder Cup, the sport's standout event.

It was not always like that, though. The biennial contest between the Unites States and Europe used to be as heavily one-sided, if not more. After its first 25 editions, the Americans record read: won 21, lost three, drawn one. Time fostered a platform to parity. The Ryder Cup is 90 years old. The Presidents Cup was launched in 1994.

It has also begun to garner interest in new markets. Two years ago, Asia hosted the event for the first time. With Anirban Lahiri participating then and now, it has resonated in India.

However, to build on that momentum, to underline the event as genuinely competitive and to increase its appeal, the Internationals need to again push the US close. Or better still, defeat their higher-ranking rivals.

The numbers can be distressing, but 2015 suggested the Internationals are becoming more comfortable in their collective skin.