PGA Tour Confidential: The Presidents Cup

PGA Tour Confidential: The Presidents Cup

U.S. captain Fred Couples made all the right moves this week, and Tiger Woods was a perfect 5-0.
Robert Beck/SI

Every week of the 2009 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: As Stevie Williams (Tiger’s New Zealand-born caddie, who lives in Oregon) would say to Greg Norman (The International team’s Australian-born captain, who lives in Florida), G’day! It’s International Night here at PGA Tour Confidential.

The Presidents Cup, although it never threatened to become a nail-biter, was really, for this typist, team golf at its best. In other global golf news, golf’s coming back to the Olympics — and we’re all going to Rio! Or not. In any event, between now and 2016, some lucky designer is going to get a plumb job: build a course that can host an Olympic event.

Let’s start with the Cup. Of all the things that happened at the Presidents Cup, Tiger and Stricks and Freddie and Ernie and all the rest, what made the biggest impression on you? For me, it was hearing Tiger talk so earnestly about Ryo Ishikawa. Woods, not one to blow smoke, said the 18-year-old golfer from Japan was way ahead of where Tiger was at that age. I take that assessment seriously. What caught your eye?

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: The play of the two headliners, Woods and Mickelson, highlighted the week for me. Probably because they play in a team event every year, it’s clear that Tiger and Lefty, and other U.S. players, are really getting the hang of the thing. Woods and Mickelson really led the American side at Harding Park.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Woods and Mickelson both played well in a team event, the first time I remember that happening. It showed how dynamic the U.S. team can be when that happens, even if a number of other guys weren’t playing their best. Steve Stricker became a certified national hero and Tiger’s permanent partner for team play. And Tim Clark has us all wondering how he’s managed to avoid winning in America. And Ishikawa: The kid can play and make clutch putts. I’m not ready to concede him the No. 1 spot in the world in a decade, like Johnny Miller did, but he’s got a chance to be pretty good. It’s an exciting future with him and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Stricker a “certified national hero”? How many cases of Wisconsin cheddar did you get for saying that?

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Ishikawa was big. I’d seen him play before but never realized he could putt like that. After that, the most striking performers for me were Stricker and Tim Clark.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: What strikes me is how much I want the 2010 season, and particularly the majors, to start today. Phil is a new man with the putter, Tiger is playing great and licking his chops at the sight of Pebble and St. Andrews on the schedule. Could be a very, very good year.

Van Sickle: I second that emotion. It’s amazing what a jolt of electricity Mickelson has brought to the game ever since the Tour Championship. We’ve been missing that the last few years with Phil’s spotty playing.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Cam, I like that you’re hopeful for a great 2010, but don’t be surprised if Tiger and Phil win everything except the majors. Look out for the likes of Sean O’Hair and Hunter Mahan at Augusta and Pebble Beach.

Lipsey: Now if Phil can just sustain it. He always seems to have these huge highs followed by disappearing lows. He’s never been able to sustain it like TW.

Herre: Phil has found something renewable in Dave Stockton. Amazing how Stockton has turned around Phil’s putting.

Bamberger: Phil told me that Stockton has him doing what he used to do.

Ryan Reiterman, producer, I thought it was interesting that Phil said the FedEx Cup might be the reason why the U.S. is doing so well. Their games stay sharp heading into team events. Somewhere Tim Finchem is smiling.

Herre: Good point, Ryan. Maybe it’s not a fluke that the U.S. has convincingly won the last three team events.

Van Sickle: Right. The unasked question was this: Why, before the FedEx, did you all put your clubs down in August when you knew the Ryder Cup was coming up? These guys may be beat after playing so much at the end of the season, but at least their games are sharper. Huge difference.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: For me, it was Steve Stricker in Saturday’s second session pouring in birdies and picking up right where Tiger left off in the first. That was goose-bump-inducing.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: As well as Stricker has played all year, Harding was one more chance for the golf world to see just how sweetly he is swinging (and putting). Not the most elegant move in the world, but man is he hitting the ball exactly where he wants to!

Morfit: Stricker is a story of a nice guy finishing first, and the fact that he’s 42 makes it even better.

Lipsey: Woods’s words about Ishikawa are nice, but titles are how we judge golfers, and right now Ryo has zero USGA titles and zero PGA Tour titles. Time will tell.

Morfit: The guy’s putting stroke is as pure as it gets.

Van Sickle: There’s more to the world than the U.S., Rick. He’s won four times in Japan and he just beat your beloved Kenny Perry. He can play.

Lipsey: No doubt, Vans, but we’ve written way too many future-star stories that end up fizzling.

David Dusek, deputy editor, I’m not ready to fully jump on the Ishikawa bandwagon, but he played wonderfully and is clearly loaded with talent. I no longer see him as an oddity or someone who got a wildcard into the Masters simply because the powers that be in Augusta wanted to grow the game in Asia. He’s a world class player who happens to still be a teenager. He’s clearly the real deal.

Herre: History shows that Ryo will likely have a hard time winning in the U.S. if he only makes cameo appearances.

Lipsey: Exactly. Until he moves here, he’ll be an outsider trying to cherry-pick, and you can’t do that in golf. Faldo is the only guy who kind of did it.

Evans: Ryo beat a 49-year old man still on a Masters hangover. Let’s not take what Tiger says as the gospel truth.

Gorant: The other interesting thing that emerged about Ishikawa this week was the pronunciation of his name. He started the year with everyone calling him Rye-Oh. Then we were told it’s Yo, same as “hello” in Philly. Then it was back to Ree-Oh, as in the Olympic host. And yesterday Dan Hicks was trying to say it should actually be pronounced with a slightly rolled L sound at the beginning, as in JLo. Who can keep up?

Lipsey: Here’s one major takeaway from this week: Match play, when guys care, is awesome. They cared last week.

Dusek: I think they cared, but the intensity level was several notches below a Ryder Cup. I’m not saying that one is better or worse than the other, but this week at Harding Park felt nothing like Valhalla. The first U-S-A chant I heard all week was walking from the 8th green to the 9th tee with Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang on Sunday. It felt a lot more like a good exhibition.

Van Sickle: Let’s not be too hard on the crowd. They’re Californians. Galleries were huge and enthusiastic and loud, just not terribly jingo-istic. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Herre: I thought the crowds were just right — except for the yahoo who gave Geoff Ogilvy the Noonan treatment and cellphonegate.

Friedman: From the telecast, David is right. Guys were joking and fraternizing, for heaven’s sake! The Ryder Cup is Ohio State-Michigan. This is Ohio State-Minnesota.

Morfit: Yes, but even the Ryder Cup is getting chummier all the time with bff’s Tiger and Henrik Stenson and other cozy-but-conflicting alliances. The edginess of the Ryder is less real and more media-generated with each successive one.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The crowds were a little jumpy all week but you had to love the enthusiasm. It was three-deep on every hole, and not just the ones Tiger and Phil were playing. I formally nominate Harding as the permanent home of the Presidents Cup, and only partly because I can drive to it from my house.

Dusek: San Francisco is an “event” town and clearly the crowd supported both the American and International teams. Ernie Els got huge roars on the range all week, and Yang had sign-carrying fans following him today in his match with Tiger.

Shipnuck: Behind the eighth tee there were two dozen Canucks wearing red t-shirts emblazoned with “Yes, Weir Canadians!” They were falling-down drunk by 11 a.m. So, yes, plenty of people do love the Prez Cup, even if it gets small TV ratings.

Dusek: I talked with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom while following Tiger’s match against Yang today. He wants a PGA Tour event in San Francisco every year. It would require a major overhaul of the West Coast Swing, but could be interesting.

Van Sickle: I’m in favor of a San Francisco-based tour event. Also in favor of making Harding Park the U.S. home of the Presidents Cup. Except for the three-hour time difference that hurts the East Coast news outlets, it’s a great setup. It beats the daylights out of the RT Jones Club.

Gorant: Michael Jordan as an assistant captain also made an impression. It was both cool and ridiculous, and you’d never see that at the Ryder Cup. That says everything about why the Presidents Cup is both better and worse.

Shipnuck: Barf. Jordan was a circus sideshow, nothing more.

Van Sickle: Couldn’t agree more, Alan. Honestly, what’s this guy really doing hanging around with pros? Get a day job.

Lipsey: He has a day job: counting money, smoking cigars, chillin’ in Vegas and playing golf with Tiger and his pals.

Lipsey: Loved Johnny Miller calling Yang 'Y.A.' and then correcting himself a few minutes later.

Friedman: That can be forgiven of a San Francisco 49ers fan of a certain age. Also loved Saturday’s photo flashback to the 12-year-old Johnny playing Bay Area baseball great Lefty O’Doul, then 62, in the San Francisco City Championship.

Bamberger: Can you all weigh in on your favorite Freddie Couples moment? I liked when he tried to kiss Anthony Kim — and got literal push-back.

Van Sickle: Best Fred-event was when he flipped his hands in the air to copy Tiger’s pose after his big 3-iron shot into the 18th to seal the win in Saturday’s foursome match. Pretty good imitation.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, That was a moment where you could tell how much Tiger cared. I’ve never seen him or any golfer make such a confident pose while the ball was still in the air from more than 230 yards. A striking moment.

Van Sickle: It is unbecoming when Tiger poses like that, which is quite rare. Only other time I saw him do that was when he stuck out his tongue at Bay Hill this year because he thought he’d stiffed it at the 17th hole — and then the shot buried in the front bunker. I love Tiger’s theatrics, which reveal his drive. Those are the only two negatives in 12 years. He doesn’t need to pose.

Hanger: Didn’t bother me. I appreciated the signal from Tiger that, even for him, this shot was going to be something special.

Herre: It was funny on Saturday when, between sessions, Freddie admitted that he couldn’t remember the pairings he had just made.

Gorant: Also loved Friday when they asked him if he was nervous and he said: “Honestly? No.”

Friedman: Clearly, Freddie was using the “roll the ball out there and let ’em play” approach of folksy old-time hoops coach Abe Lemons.

Bamberger: Did any of you catch Jim Gray’s Golf Channel interview with Bill Clinton? I was amazed at how much Clinton knew about the history of the game and the modern game. History will likely judge him as being right behind Ike in terms of presidential golfing enthusiasm. The Presidents Cup really needs presidents to give the thing some gravitas, and I can see a second act for Clinton here, much like W. becoming the next baseball commissioner. Oh, this is better: how about Clinton for LPGA commish?

Van Sickle: That’s just asking for trouble.

Herre: I’d certainly like to see Obama get on the golf bandwagon a little more publicly. Maybe after he’s been in office a few years — or when his handicap is down to 10. He seems to play every Sunday.

Bamberger: The USGA is trying to figure out how to connect with Obama, and if they could what a home run that could be.

Evans: Obama is supposed to be the Basketball President. It’s funny how he campaigned on an urban, completely accessible sport like hoops, but now is an unabashed golf nut.

Gorant: It’s hard to run the fast break with four guys in suits jogging next to you.

Bamberger: In other international golfing news, we now can say, officially, that golf will be an Olympic sport again when the Summer Games go to Rio in 2016. Angel Cabrera was saying last week that there’s not a course there that is suitable for an Olympic golf competition. Who are you going to hire and what are you going to tell them? I’m inclined to hire Crenshaw and ask him for something wide and bumpy, par-70, with two drivable par 4s and one unreachable par 5 and one risk/reward par 5 and no trees and ruthless traps. Who do you ask? What do you want from the course?

Gorant: Think it would be nice if they found someone from that part of the world to design and build it.

Shipnuck: Just give the course numerous views of the beach and I’ll be happy.

Evans: The 2010 Olympic golf event will be a nice exhibition no matter where they play it. But no one should dare try to make the venue another TPC-style course with long carries and gigantic greens. I would love to see them play a replica of the world’s most famous 18 holes. Anybody could build that.

Herre: First, I’d want South Americans heading the project. Second, great care must be taken when selecting the location of the venue. I’d fear over-commercialization.

Bamberger: Good point, Jim. You could see Trump coming in here big.

Herre: The who, where and when on the building of the course will be THE Olympic golf story in the years ahead, more so even than who will be playing.

Lipsey: They should have Tiger design the course and make it a pubic facility with a Tiger Woods learning center. That would create monster buzz and get Tiger intimately involved in the whole Olympic golf thing.

Shipnuck: Rick, that’s the best idea that has ever come out of Confidential.

Bamberger: Are people excited about golf in the Olympics? As GVS says, it’s all in the details, but I’m amazed at what a turnaround I’ve had on it. I think it’s going to great for the game and for the players, as well as for us spectators and reporters.

Gorant: Like most, I’d like to see a different format, but otherwise I can’t see the bad in it.

Lipsey: In the best Olympic moments, you have a hero like Michael Phelps, whom you never see except in the Olympics, battling somebody you’ve never heard of from France. Golf will be like a WGC event — entertaining, and fun to see big names, but devoid of true Olympic fervor.

Friedman: I’m excited about the Olympics. Kind of. The way I was about tennis. Winning a gold is great. But if I’m a player, I’d rather win the U.S. Open. That said, you KNOW Tiger is gonna want that first gold, just like he wanted the first FedEx Cup!

Van Sickle: I’ll get behind Olympic golf when it gets a better format. The current one, which will limit the field to 60 players, and only about 25 good ones, is unacceptable and hurts the tournament’s credibility.

Bamberger: I think they’re going to figure out that 60 is way too few golfers.

Herre: I think all the criticism about the format is silly, can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of stuff. It will be fun for us to watch the development of Olympic golf.

Van Sickle: I don’t think the criticism is silly at all. It’s totally valid. Might as well just cut the field to 25, since that’s already effectively done by bringing in players ranked outside the top 300 in the world. If this is supposed to be a world-class event, it should have a world-class field. But it won’t, and it won’t even come close. There’s still plenty of time to address this and correct it.

Herre: If the format doesn’t work, it will be changed. The bottom line is that there would be no Olympic golf without the blessing of Tiger Woods and possibly Phil Mickelson, and this is the format they want to play. We go forward from there.

Gorant: Agree with the realpolitik involved, but they do have to guard against a clunker of a competition, either because it’s boring or a farce. Golf was only approved for 2016 and 2020, and even 2020 is subject to review in 2017. If the tournament stinks, they may not get a chance to fix it.

Bamberger: The sun is always rising somewhere in the GGE (great golfing empire). I find it thrilling, our international flavor tonight. I think Greg Norman did a wonderful job of trying to make such a global collection of players a team-for-a-week. It’s dinner-time here in Philadelphia, but somewhere somebody is mowing a green.