SAN FRANCISCO — Things to remember about the 2009 Presidents Cup, not counting the snow globe of the Golden Gate bridge that you took home as a souvenir:
We’re used to seeing Steve Stricker play well, what with three victories this year, but his performance when paired with Tiger Woods was stunning. The only hump he’s never gotten over is handling the back nine in a major championship when he has a chance to win. Watching him last week makes you think he might be ready to clear that hurdle after all.
Charlie Brown’s kite-eating tree has nothing on the ball-eating cypress trees at Harding Park. The trees just right of the 13th green swallowed up three tee shots that disappeared into the high branches on Saturday. NBC announcer Johnny Miller dubbed it “Willie Mays’ glove.” That’s nothing unusual, according to Harding Park pro Rodney Wilson. The last time a big storm went through, he said, they found 600 golf balls on the course the next morning. So if Phil Mickelson wants his ball back from the 13th, he should swing by Tuesday morning. A heavy rainstorm is in the forecast.
The highlight of the Presidents Cup concession stands menu: Greg Norman wine, $6.50 a glass. It was just a coincidence, of course, that Norman was captain of the International squad.
The star of the International team for the week was Tim Clark, the diminutive South African who wields a long putter. He went on a birdie spree to beat Zach Johnson in singles, and he played phenomenally in foursomes and fourballs, although he walked away with only a 2-2-1 record. He and Mike Weir were victims of the Stricker-Woods reversal in Saturday’s foursomes match that swung the event’s momentum. Clark is clearly the best player who hasn’t won yet on the PGA Tour, and his showing last week earned him a lot of respect. You’ve also got to rank him pretty high on the list of best players who haven’t won a major.
Harding Park was a slam dunk as host site for the Presidents Cup. The players liked the course, and the setup wasn’t out of control. Birdies and eagles were possible, and the rough wasn’t ferocious. Enthusiastic fans turned out in huge numbers and provided an exciting atmosphere. I can’t think of any reason to return to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Manassas, Va., site of the first few Presidents Cups. After the event goes to Australia in two years, it ought to return to Harding Park in 2013.
The stupid media question of the week came during PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem’s press conference regarding golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro: “The availability of world-class golf courses in Argentina?” It doesn’t matter because Rio is in Brazil. Guess who isn’t smarter than a fifth-grader?
The inconsiderate media moment of the week came during the International team’s post-loss press conference when a nationally known columnist seated in the second row took a cell phone call while an International player was answering a question. Guess who’s got fewer manners than a fifth-grader?
Ryo Ishikawa of Japan proved to be a terrific wild-card selection by captain Greg Norman. Ishikawa beat Kenny Perry three times, including Sunday’s singles match. “He drove me into retirement,” Perry joked. Woods and Norman were among many who offered high praise of his ability and poise, which were on display during his Saturday four-ball match. Ishikawa and Y.E. Yang were 6 down with six holes to play against Woods and Stricker when Ishikawa holed a couple of big putts to extend the match. He seems to be an outstanding putter, the first requirement to reaching elite-player status. You have to be impressed. It’ll be interesting to see how soon he begins playing the U.S. tour full-time.
There was a rumor at Harding Park that Norman has already been offered another turn as captain in 2011 at Royal Melbourne, where he’s a member, and that he’s already accepted. During Sunday’s press conference, Norman denied that he’d been asked but said he’d do it if the job were offered. American captain Fred Couples also said he’d happily agree to an encore. It’ll be an incredible upset if Norman and Couples aren’t captains again in two years.
One more thing about Couples: His very successful captaincy answered any questions about how focused he can be. When Phil Mickelson talked about how impressed the team was that Fred was on top of every detail, that should have been a light-bulb moment for the PGA of America. Couples should be invited to captain the 2012 Ryder Cup team, too. He’s that good. He could rival Paul Azinger, the new benchmark of American Ryder Cup leadership.
Two players to watch in 2010 may be Sean O’Hair and Robert Allenby. O’Hair got some putting help from Mickelson that sparked his big singles win. Allenby, one of the better ballstrikers on any tour, is getting a handle on the claw grip, which he began using at the Barclays. If these guys start making putts regularly, they’re going to be dangerous.
Tim Finchem, who rarely tries to crack a joke, delivered the line of the week. After learning of golf’s successful inclusion in the 2016 Olympics, he spoke on the phone to Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. Finchem recalled the conversation during a press conference on Friday. “I said, ‘Peter, let me understand this — Europe felt bad about America not getting the Olympics in Chicago, so they gave President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize as consolation.”