x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

All the President's men

The cynics on one side of the Atlantic used to say that the President's Cup was introduced to give the Americans a chance of winning a team event after Europe began to dominate the Ryder Cup.

Tiger Woods of the USA lines up a shot during practice for the President's Cup at the Harding Park Golf course in San Francisco.
Tiger Woods of the USA lines up a shot during practice for the President's Cup at the Harding Park Golf course in San Francisco.

The cynics on one side of the Atlantic used to say that the President's Cup was introduced to give the Americans a chance of winning a team event after Europe began to dominate the Ryder Cup. That was nonsense of course, and while the US have largely ruled the event since it was launched in 1994, the main beneficiaries have been the game's best players from the rest of the world. I have always thought international team matchplay events were good for golf because they take the game to a wider audience and heighten excitement compared with strokeplay tournaments.

It was a shame when the Alfred Dunhill Cup, which was tremendously popular with the players, was replaced in 2001 with the Links Championship Pro-Am event carrying the same sponsor's name. Simon Dyson would not agree after becoming the latest winner at St Andrews on Monday. The victory lifted him inside the top 50 of the world rankings, took him to eighth position in the Race to Dubai and put him top of the European Ryder Cup standings.

He will be relishing the prospect of being in Colin Montgomerie's team to take on the US at Celtic Manor next year and will have one eye on the President's Cup getting under way today at the Harding Park course in San Francisco. The former US and British Open champion Johnny Miller grew up playing golf there, and the captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman will have had no trouble motivating their teams.

The international team have won just once in seven attempts, avoiding defeat on only one other occasion, in South Africa six years ago, in unforgettable circumstances. After the teams had tied over four days, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els could not be separated in a breathtaking sudden death play-off which was halted by darkness. Again the US start as favourites, headed by the world's top two players, Woods and Phil Mickelson, and featuring the in-form Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry, as well as 2009 major winners Stewart Cink and Lucas Glover.

Norman will need big performances from US PGA champion Yang Yong-Eun and Masters winner Angel Cabrera, and from his other major winners, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Geoff Ogilvy and Mike Weir. He has taken a risk by naming teenage Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa as one of his captain's picks, but it could be a master stroke. Ishikawa, who turned 18 last month and is the youngest player in President's Cup history, has a great future ahead of him and his fearless approach means he will enjoy being thrown in at the deep end.

With all four reigning major champions in action in San Francisco, European golf is, for the time being, overshadowed and crying out for a kingpin. Europe has probably never had so many players capable of winning at the highest level, but lacks a superstar with the ability to rise to the top in the way that Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam did in the 1980s and 1990s. While Padraig Harrington has three major victories to his name, I have never seen him as Europe's best golfer.

Sergio Garcia is the most gifted of the present crop, standing alongside Woods, Mickelson and Els as one of the game's top four talents. For all his skill, Sergio continues to struggle with putts within 10ft. He may need to follow Mickelson's recent example, stop being mechanical, go back to his most natural technique and just think about holing putts again. A number of other Europeans are prevented from going to the next level only by a lack of confidence, or a weakness in one part of their game. Lee Westwood would go all the way if he could find the chipping and putting magic to match his brilliant tee-to-green play.

Paul Casey got to No 3 in world and looked set to prove he was Europe's best before being sidelined by a rib injury. Henrik Stenson looked a world beater in winning this year's Players' Championship, but a lack of consistency means you do not know what you will get from him week in, week out. Last year's European No 1, Robert Karlsson, is back after his eye problems but will need time to find his form, as will Martin Kaymer, still out after breaking a toe. Another member of the walking wounded, Luke Donald, is still to recapture his best form after being out for six months with a wrist injury.

Rory McIlroy, who found golf so easy early in the season when he won in Dubai, again showed his great potential in Scotland last week. If McIlroy and the Europeans need inspiration from anyone, there is no one better than Montgomerie who topped the money list eight times and would have claimed the world No 1 spot had he spent more time in the US. Monty succeeded largely because he did the basics well. He kept the ball in play off the tee and went with whatever shot he had at the time.

For most of the time he played with a slight fade. But one year, after a long winter lay-off, he developed a draw so he played with that all season and won the money list again. He was incredibly good at distance control, and while later on he struggled on the greens, for a spell he was the best putter on Tour. Monty's biggest asset was his confidence and self belief. When he first came on Tour he would walk up and down the practice range, see what the competition was like, and convince himself he had only a handful of players to beat. It worked.

Former Tour player Philip Parkin is now a member of the TV commentary team with the BBC in the UK and Golf Channel in the US. pparkin@thenational.ae