A Chicken or Egg Question

Phil Mickelson and Scott Verplank celebrated the U.S. team's win Sunday.
Robert Beck/SI

The leader of an American team took the day off Sunday, letting someone else commit rocket science by filling out the lineup card. You know, just for giggles. And guess what? The loose, happy bunch still won easily.

The team in question was the New York Yankees, which thumped Baltimore 10-4 under the direction of catcher Jorge Posada, but it may as well have been the U.S. Presidents Cup team under the direction of Barbara Nicklaus.

It was Mrs. Nicklaus who asked Woody Austin to don swimming goggles Sunday on the 14th hole where he'd earlier fallen into the lake. (If you somehow missed the splashdown highlight on TV, welcome back from your spelunking fantasy camp.)

Someone commented that you'd never see the goggles in the Ryder Cup, aside from the kind used to keep champagne out of the eyes of the Europeans. But you can pretty much say that about the Americans' entire easy, breezy, 19 1/2 to 14 1/2 victory over the International team at the Presidents Cup.

Not since the 1999 Ryder Cup have we seen so many hole-outs from on and off the green and such joyful camaraderie among the Americans.

In Montreal on Sunday, in the afterglow of a U.S. team winning on foreign soil for the first time in 14 years, some began to float the idea that the PGA of America appoint Jack Nicklaus as Captain America for the Ryder Cup.

He keeps everyone loose, the argument goes. Nicklaus reportedly said last week that if he were asked to captain another Ryder squad, he would.

But a Nicklaus captaincy comes with no guarantees. He's good at maintaining perspective, a scarce commodity at the Ryder Cup. What really keeps guys loose, though, is winning 5 1/2 points out of a possible 6 on day one or going five-for-five in foursomes play Saturday, as the U.S. did last week.

If levity was such a reliable predictor of golf scores, the PGA of America would just hire Larry David as U.S. captain in perpetuity, along with his two assistants Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen, and be done with it.

(While we're on the subject, the PGA might consider moving the '08 Ryder to Royal Montreal and nudge it up a bit on the schedule. Tomorrow would work.)

Everyone from Jimmy Roberts on down is talking about the Americans winning because they were happier, but it's really not that simple. More to the point is that they were happier because they were winning.

Why they were winning is a little more complicated. Among the reasons:

The FedEx Cup

Yes, it was supposed to hurt the biennial team competitions like the Presidents Cup, but in a perverse way, it helped.

Let's face it: While the FedEx got Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods together for probably the best tournament of the year in Boston, it was also a slog. Most everyone is pleased to be done with this relentlessly hyped, four-week mathematical proof, especially the players. After all of the fretting over deferred compensation, movement up and down the points standings and who's taking what week off, the P-Cup was a breath of fresh air.

No one was getting prize money, deferred or not. If you got tired you could take the afternoon off, and the greens weren't made of congealed oatmeal. Combined with copious Ping-Pong and the mellow captaincies of Nicklaus and Gary Player, the American pros were better able to see the P-Cup as they ought to see the R-Cup, as a glorified exhibition.

FedEx Cup II

For whatever else it was, the FedEx was competitive fuel to Steve Stricker (won the Barclays), Mickelson (won the Deutsche Bank) and Austin (T11 at Tour Championship), providing confidence and momentum for Montreal.

Mickelson's wrist

He said that after missing time over the summer with an injured left wrist he was fresher than ever for the fall. It showed in Canada. Phil is usually in fully daddy mode at this point in the season, as has been woefully apparent in his play in the Ryder Cup (0-4-1 last year), but he earned three points at the Royal Montreal Golf Club, including a 5&4 drubbing of Vijay Singh.

Maybe 2008 Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger could book Philly Mick a space tourism holiday next summer just to keep him fresh for Valhalla.

The media

Canadian press notwithstanding, the Fourth Estate didn't take much of an interest in this thing, especially relative to the Ryder Cup, when the world stops and Euro headline writers go into a tizzy.

The U.S. players have had no choice but to buy into the Ryder hype, and have played not to lose, which works about as well as football's "prevent defense."

There's nothing Azinger or anyone else can do about the frenzied coverage of the Ryder Cup, but the U.S. players, with an assist from their captain and the PGA of America, could do a better job of blocking it out.


The singles matches make for more compelling theater, but these P-Cup, R-Cup affairs are won or lost in the best-ball and alternate-shot matches.

Simply put, you'd better be able to play together. For reasons too numerous to go into here, many Europeans, primarily Sergio Garcia, play better for a team than for themselves. They make the Americans look like 12 guys thrown together for jury duty.

At the Presidents Cup it's the International team that lacks unity. With the exception of Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini, who seem to enjoy playing as a team, it's hard to make blood brothers out of a gang from South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Japan, Canada and Fiji. The fact that most of them now live in Florida, or Texas doesn't matter.

Diamonds in the rough

Presidents Cup rookies Austin, Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan won at least two points apiece, with Aquaman copping two and a half. Stricker, who had not played in a Presidents Cup since 1996, finished with three points.

The days of Fred Couples, Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Corey Pavin and Hal Sutton playing in these things have come and gone. Although it's taken the U.S. a while to figure out how to restock the cupboard, the aforementioned players, plus J.J. Henry, give Azinger enough proven young talents and wily veterans to make four solid captain's picks next year.

It's a good thing. The way things have been going in the Ryder Cup, he's going to need all the help he can get.