In the first in a series of great golf arguments, we’ve asked Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle to debate the merits of the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup. After reading their arguments, tell us what you think in our forum.
The Ryder Cup is so 20th century. If you have a long memory, you may recall some of the classics: the War by the Shore, Choke Hill, the Battle at Brookline. Those clashes featured nerve-jangling golf between the battle-hardened, flag-waving, camo-wearing Yankees and a powerhouse European team stocked with Hall of Famers. But the Ryder Cup appears to be the only known victim of the Y2K bug. An event once defined by drama has turned into a joke, with deathly boring matches on often inferior golf courses between the lifeless, puckered Americans and an obnoxious European team full of players who under-achieve during the 103 weeks between Cups.
Meanwhile, the Presidents Cup has of late become nail-biting, must-see TV. In 2003 there was the epic Tiger Woods-Ernie Els playoff in the South African twilight. Last time around the match was a dead-heat heading into the singles, and the outcome hinged on thee matches that went to 18: Phil Mickelson birdied the last hole to halve his match with Angel Cabrera in a heavyweight slugfest, Fred Couples birdied the last hole to take down Vijay Singh in a win that rallied the Yanks around their emotional leader, and Chris DiMarco wrapped things up with his own birdie at the last. Star power and great golf, all at the same time.
What makes the Presidents Cup so superior to the Ryder Cup? For starters, right now the best foreign players hail not from Europe but from Australia and South Africa, with exotic outliers by way of South America, Fiji, and New Zealand. The Presidents Cup also has a superior format, as it’s spread over four days instead of three, allowing more players to play in more matches, which seems to raise the overall level of the competition. In the Ryder Cup, the weaker sticks are often forced to hide in the team room, and then their confidence is shaken when they’re finally called upon.
The golf courses are another factor. When the Presidents Cup has left the U.S., it’s gone to classy, classic layouts like Royal Melbourne and now Royal Montreal. The Ryder Cup goes to dogtracks like the Belfry and the K Club strictly for financial reasons.
But the biggest reason I prefer the Prez Cup is because it’s fun. The players are relaxed and enjoying themselves, which leads to great golf and palpable team spirit. The Ryder Cup has become so overhyped and overwrought that the competitors — or, more to the point, the Americans — are playing not to screw up, which they inevitably do. In this debate Ryder Cup boosters reflexively point to its history and tradition, but the 1990’s are over. The Ryder Cup as we know it exists only in Golf Channel highlight packages. For compelling team action, right now the Presidents Cup is the only way to go.