The game's totally global now, and it's in real time. Get used to it, my fellow Americans. Yes, we'll always have Augusta, with its charming Sunday-evening race-against-sunset finish. But the rest of the world is not catering to us anymore, not in trade, not in warfare, not in Presidents Cup golf.
As last Friday night turned into Saturday morning, I tried to stay with Golf Channel's live coverage of the Presidents Cup. Maybe you were doing the same thing. I live in Philadelphia, and at 1:56 a.m. on Saturday, I (and anybody else watching) knew that the outcome of the Presidents Cup rested on a single match. Jim Furyk and Nick Watney, representing (as Furyk sometimes puts it) the Stars and Stripes, were playing a sparkly International team, Adam Scott of Australia and Ernie Els of . . . well, Jupiter, Fla., really. But for purposes of choosing sides for this friendly sporting event, Els is listed as a South African.
The Americans were 1 up through 16 holes in the Saturday-afternoon better-ball session. Better-ball is four-ball in official PC parlance, but have you ever heard any pull-cart-pushing, Top-Flite-slugging American use that term? We're sticking with American English here, damn it. Two in the morning on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard is six at night in Melbourne, Australia, where summer was burgeoning last week. All the other matches were done, and the score, through nearly three full days of play, was U.S. 12, Internationals 9. If Els and Scott could somehow go crazy on the final two holes and win the match, the tally would be 12–10. A two-point deficit is surmountable, with 12 points available in the Sunday singles. A four-point deficit really isn't: 13–9 is game over, unless you're Ben Crenshaw channeling Francis Ouimet.
I did some reverse sheep counting: “Stay up, stay up, stay up.” I lost the battle and fell asleep with the day's protagonists walking to the 17th tee. The three newspapers sitting on our walkway on Saturday morning, of course, had no news about the outcome of the match. But the Internet (equally of course) did. Furyk and Watney won, 1 up. (Furyk went 5–0 for the week.) Two a.m. is a lousy time to be watching meaningful, live golf on TV, but while I was fighting my eyelids, it was 12:30 p.m. in Delhi, 3 p.m. in Shanghai and 11 a.m. in Moscow. Good times for them, anyway. All together now: Hello, world.
You can track a golf tournament on the World Wide Web, at least to a point. There was some weird and interesting Presidents Cup stuff floating around last week with a shelf life of forever. Did you know that Greg Norman, the International team captain and mad hatter, is married? He is. My source is a caption I read on a GOLF.com photo gallery showing the various PC WAGs, including the new Mrs. Greg Norman, Kirsten Kutner.
There were also snaps of Bubba Watson cuddling with a wombat, dancing with an Australian chanteuse (Delta Goodrem) and bumping his new BFF, Webb Simpson. It made you wonder: What ever happened to Bubba's old buddy Boo Weekley, a Ryder Cup star at Valhalla not that long ago? This year he was 180th (according to PGATOUR.com) on the money list despite playing in 23 events.
Golf's in hyperspeed these days. Anthony Kim didn't play in this year's Presidents Cup—Vijay Singh and Camilo Villegas didn't either—but 25-year-old K.T. Kim of South Korea did. He finished 2–2 and beat Simpson in the leadoff singles match on Sunday morning. Webb Simpson. The best American golfer, according to that old measuring stick, the PGA Tour money list. Had you heard of Kim before last week?
Still, Webb had a fine week. He and Bubba, two PC rookies, asked Fred Couples, the U.S. captain, if they could play together and go off in the leadoff spot in each of the four play-with-a-partner sessions. Couples, a true players' manager, obliged them. The duo won three matches and lost one. They did some good better-balling, and Couples did some good hunching.
Fred's big bet was to give Tiger Woods a spot on his team, which he did a month before the deadline. By 12:20 on Sunday morning, according to the inch-tall red digital numbers on the Sony Dream Machine on my nightstand, it looked like a genius call. That's when Woods's 4-and-3 thumping of Aaron Baddeley in the Day IV singles secured a team victory for the U.S. (The final score was 19–15.) The greens at the fantabulous Royal Melbourne were absolutely wicked, and for the first three days Tiger made nothing. But his swing, over all four days, looked truly alive, and the shots he played were athletic and exciting and confident. The best thing, though, was his demeanor. He looked as if he was thoroughly enjoying playing for Couples, having teammates, being with the guys. Maybe—maybe—last week's golf can be the start of Tiger's new-and-improved Second Act, in which “the best player in the world forever,” as Fred memorably put it, will recognize that he makes a handsome living playing a great game in beautiful places in front of an adoring public. What's not to like? That attitude has served Arnold Palmer well forever.
Arnold was a founder of Golf Channel, back in 1995. He once said that watching a channel devoted to golf late at night, before going to bed, would be a pleasant way to call it a day. He offered the old Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, as a model.
But over the past 15 years or so—the Tiger era—coverage of the old gentleman's game has become noisy and quarrelsome. In the weeks leading up to the Presidents Cup, Norman dissed Fred's decision to make Tiger a captain's pick. (Woods went 2–3.) Couples dissed Norman's selection of Robert Allenby. (The Aussie went 0–4.) Steve Williams dissed . . . let's not even revisit it, it's so repulsive. Then, blessedly, the games began, the noise dissipated, and in its place, right there on Channel 84 for me, were four days of inconsequential, pleasant, interesting live golf. The tonight show.
SI had a man on the ground at Royal Melbourne, Mark Hayes, who told me (by way of e-mail) about walking the course with Simpson's vivacious wife, Dowd, as she rooted vocally for her husband and Bubba. Hayes told her that in Australia she was not rooting for the Americans, but barracking for them. In Australian English, to root, the reporter delicately explained to the wife/actress/new mother, is to have sex. Dowd got a kick out of that and spent the rest of the week barracking for her boys. I just googled the phrase “barracking at the Presidents Cup.” It didn't produce a single hit. Google doesn't know everything.
All in all, you'd have to say that Hayes had a far better gig than I last week. While I was watching Roger Maltbie on Golf Channel, he was walking Royal Melbourne with Dowd Simpson. I was tethered to screens for four days in a chaotic effort to keep up with the Presidents Cup. All Hayes needed was a notebook, a pen and a map.
The U.S. captain needed less than that. Couples, who still relies on the newspaper for his baseball box scores, got 12 talented golfers to a course 16,000 kilometers (9,800 miles) away from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., stepped out of the way and let them play. And that was plenty.