x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Americans take flight for the Presidents Cup

The players from the United States were once reluctant to travel. Not anymore.

One thing already can be said for this Presidents Cup. The Americans have come a long way.

Only it has nothing to do with the time zones they crossed to get to Australia.

Nor is progress measured by the outcome, for the Americans have lost this event only once since it began in 1994.

It is all about their willingness to travel amid the changing landscape in golf.

The Presidents Cup returns to Royal Melbourne for the first time in 13 years, and just think how differently golf looked back then from an American perspective. It was late in the season - some six weeks after the Tour Championship. Hardly anyone was playing meaningful golf. Even fewer felt like going all the way to Australia.

The International team handed the United States their worst loss in any team competition. The score, 20-11, was such a blowout that the cup was secured when Nick Price beat David Duval in the second of 12 singles matches on the final day.

"Got beat and still had time to eat breakfast," Duval said with a laugh.

That was the year before the World Golf Championships began, a series of tournaments for players around the world, and originally designed to be played around the world.

But in the first year, a half-dozen Americans from the top 50 in the world chose not to go to Spain at the end of the season. And when the Match Play Championship went to Australia two years later, so many players stayed away - most of them Americans - that the tournament went down to No 104 in the ranking (Greg Kraft) to fill the 64-man field.

That led to Stuart Appleby's famous line about Americans.

"They're like a bag of prawns on a hot Sunday," he once said. "They don't travel well."

Now those passport pages are filling up quickly.

Fred Couples, the US captain, wanted his two captain's picks to play the week before in the Australian Open, and was pleased that six other players joined them. Some of them started even earlier.

Jim Furyk, Bill Haas, Hunter Mahan, David Toms and Nick Watney were in Shanghai the week before at the HSBC Champions. Furyk and Mahan were in China even earlier, playing the Shanghai Masters. Phil Mickelson was in Singapore last week. After the Presidents Cup, Matt Kuchar is headed to China for the World Cup.

They worry less about the destination and more about what time the plane leaves.

"I think it's fantastic the way Americans have embraced the way global golf is played nowadays," Greg Norman, the International captain, said.

While Ernie Els said: "These American boys are starting to travel a bit more," he said. "And it's good to see."