Tour Confidential: Can the Internationals Win the Presidents Cup This Year?

October 5, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. With a roster full of rising stars like Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Danny Lee, and a new format that offers 30 instead of 34 points, is this the year that the Internationals finally take down Team USA in the Presidents Cup?

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Yes, this is the year that the Internationals get it done. The U.S. has the edge in depth and talent, but the new format, with fewer points, helps neutralize those advantages. I’m also thinking that motivation will be an issue for the Yanks. Korea is a long way to go, and acclimating won’t be easy. Moreover, the U.S. team has been so dominant in recent times, the competitive fires might be dimmed, while the Internationals should be fired up to get the W for their Captain, Nick Price, one of the game’s best-liked players and who went to the mat for his side to get the format changed.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): It could be. The new format should make it closer, anyway. The U.S. has an overall group of better putters, I think, and these things are putting contests. I’ll stick with America.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think it is, for the names cited above, but more than anything, it is easier to win a home game. Or, better said, it is harder to win on the road. And the Americans are very much on the road.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): The Internationals will win when they start to play better golf — in other words, holing more putts. It’s as simple as that.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): The tweaked format helps the internationals, as does the unfamiliar golf course and an unproven American captain. The Internationals should be plenty motivated, but team cohesiveness is always an issue with such a global crew. Still, add it all up, and I think the U.S is ripe to be upset.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): No.  

2. U.S. captain Jay Haas selected J.B. Holmes to replace an ailing Jim Furyk on the Presidents Cup roster. Was Holmes the right choice? Who would you have chosen?

VAN SICKLE: Holmes was next on points, so it’s hard to argue. He had some great flashes of play this year, as did Brooks Koepka. Somebody on the U.S. side needs to think long-term, though. Get some young guys like Koepka some team match-play experience for future Ryder Cups and Prez Cups. In other words, build up the bullpen.

PASSOV: Holmes was the perfect choice. Would Brooks Koepka, Robert Streb, or Billy Horschel have been any more compelling? Koepka’s 2015 results might marginally edge Holmes’, but Holmes can match Koepka’s length, they had the same number of wins this year and Holmes remains a great story, rebounding from brain surgery in 2011. Oh, and Holmes was 12th on the Presidents Cup points list. All other things being equal, he deserved the pick.

SHIPNUCK: Holmes should be an asset in fourballs but I would’ve gone with Koepka — he has a more polished game and the kind of personality that can be paired with anyone.

BAMBERGER: Holmes was a good and deserving choice. He is not, quote, one of the boys — he kind of marches to his own drummer — and I think that will serve him well and the team, too. Or maybe I’m reading too much into Patrick Reed’s fine play at last year’s Ryder Cup.

RITTER: I might’ve leaned slightly toward another big-hitter, Brooks Koepka, but I have no qualms with the Holmes pick. He played great on the winning ’08 Ryder Cup team, and I expect him to do well again this week.

GODICH: The PGA Tour won’t want to hear this, but the Presidents Cup truly is an exhibition. Which makes it the perfect event to develop young talent for the Ryder Cup. Nothing against Holmes, who has made a remarkable comeback from a brain injury, but I’d loved to have seen one of the young guns get a shot. Why not Brooks Koepka or Daniel Berger?


3. Jordan Spieth was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year after a 2015 season that included two major victories and a FedEx Cup Championship. Of the so-called “New Big Three” of Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, who do you think is going to have the best career?

BAMBERGER: A guess, of course. I think Rory is the most talented of the three, but I could see Jordan being the most driven. (All three are, so it is matters of degree.) I guess, right now, it’s hard to imagine Spieth getting bored by the chase or jaded to what success can bring. I guess, in a way we are asking who among these three will have the longest career as an elite golfer, and there I am inclined to say Spieth.

VAN SICKLE: If Jason Day can sustain the way he played in August and September, he could be the best of the three. But did he just have a hot month? He was impressive, combining Rory’s length with Spieth’s short game. I’ll stick with Spieth for now, but Day is intriguing. Pretty much everyone would take any of their futures.

SHIPNUCK: Day is five years older than Spieth and injury prone, so let’s eliminate him from the discussion. Jordan vs. Rory is fascinating. Spieth has already proven he can conquer firm/fast major championship setups, which still bedevil McIlroy. But Rory can overpower a course in a way Jordan can’t. Long-term, I think it comes down to desire and health. Rory does already lead 4-2 in majors, which is a big deal. After all, guys get into the Hall of Fame winning two majors in a career!

PASSOV: Spieth’s blazing competitive fires, course management skills and remarkable short game make him my pick. Rory’s talent is superior, but sometimes he seems too content, too nice to dominate for years to come. Day blends the best characteristics of both, though he has suffered through an unusual variety of physical ailments to inspire positive thoughts about his longevity. This is strictly crystal ball stuff. They’re all awesome, and I see no reason for that to change anytime soon. If my prognostication powers were really that strong, I’d be celebrating with Dave Gomes and the rest of the DraftKings fantasy football winners.

GODICH: I’ll take Spieth based solely on his ability to get the ball in the hole, but I’d prefer to sit back and watch all of the young guns go at it.

RITTER: Day is the oldest and most injury-prone, so I think it’s a coin toss between Spieth and Rory. Since Rory now has a two-major edge on Jordan, I’ll say he finishes his career with more than Spieth, but the rivalry is going to be fun — the Masters can’t get here fast enough.

4. Who do you think is going to surprise us with a breakout (or comeback) 2015-16 campaign?

GODICH: Spieth. He’s going to back up his remarkable season with another major and three more victories, including one at Colonial, where he let one slip away this year.

BAMBERGER: I think Patrick Reed will establish himself, to use a phrase, as a top-five player in the world, and a contender in majors.

PASSOV: Hideki Matsuyama. He seemed to be on the first page of the leaderboard after the first round of every major, he posted nine PGA Tour top 10s, more than anyone not named Spieth, Day, Watson or Johnson and he possesses the length and swing that could help him catapult into breakout status. And hey, he’s only 23. He’s still learning and maturing, which makes Spieth’s accomplishments all the more freakish.

VAN SICKLE: Dustin Johnson has laid the groundwork for a bust-out kind of year. Maybe next year is it. Justin Thomas and Ollie Schniederjans, too.

RITTER: This was the year of the breakout, so next year I might look at a few youthful veterans to further establish themselves. I’m surprised Brandt Snedeker faded after winning earlier this season. Russell Henley has the tools to reach the next level. Also think B. Horschel and P. Reed could take steps forward with that Ryder Cup carrot dangling in front of them all season.

SHIPNUCK: Anthony Kim.


5. The Presidents Cup still lags well behind the Ryder Cup in the pantheon of golf’s biggest events. Is there anything the powers-that-be can do to make it more exciting?

VAN SICKLE: The Prez Cup should be a qualifier for the Ryder Cup. The PC champ plays defending RC champ in the Ryder Cup. Then the PC would be do-or-die, and it’s a way to include the rest of the world in the Ryder Cup, thus making it a truly global event. I’ve been pitching this idea for at least ten years.

PASSOV: Give us the pairings we want and give them to us in advance. If Jordan Spieth and Jason Day are matched in singles, I’m glued to the tube. If the pairings are less compelling, I’ll watch, but if there’s a good NFL game going against it, my thumb will be clicking away on my remote. Frankly, what you need are closer matches and better players on the International team. A little genuine rivalry and trash-talking would make it more compelling as well. Until that happens, this competition, while still great golf for this time of year, is not must-see TV.

BAMBERGER: Play the Presidents Cup in the U.S. every two years. Make it an all-star team of American Tour players, senior players and LPGA players playing International Tour players, senior players and LPGA players.

SHIPNUCK: The format tweak was a good start. There should be a system that rewards young players — I’d be way more excited to see how Justin Thomas fares as opposed to Bill Haas. Maybe peg a couple points to a skills challenge — it would be awesome to watch a long-drive contest that factored in the outcome.

RITTER: The Internationals need to win, or at least create a little animosity.

GODICH: Sorry, but as long as the Ryder Cup is around, the Presidents Cup will always play second fiddle. It is what it is: an exhibition.  

6. Our colleague Jessica Marksbury competed in a national championship this weekend, playing in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. What’s the biggest stage on which you’ve competed, and how did it turn out?

BAMBERGER: A one-on-one match against Jessica on a good course in New Jersey. I got trounced.

PASSOV: I’ve lucked into playing rounds with a healthy number of golf’s all-time greats, but for sheer pageantry and terror, nothing touches my 2015 experience as a participant in the PGA Tour’s Humana event, played in La Quinta, California. The difference between these three rounds and the traditional one-day pro-ams is that my pros’ scores counted as their tournament scores. There was serious money, rankings points and all the rest on the line. I simply couldn’t shake off my nervousness. I wanted to enjoy and savor it all, but I also just wanted to stay out of the way and not do anything stupid. I had Roger Sloan on Day 1, Kevin Kisner on Day 2 and Harrison Frazer on Day 3. All great guys, but I so was far out of my comfort zone, I just couldn’t relax. Still, I finished at minus 9, wasn’t in the bottom five, and like the scared kid on the roller coaster, couldn’t wait to do it again after it ended, even though I was screaming the whole time.

RITTER: In 1994 I was the fifth man on the Schoolcraft High School golf team that qualified for the Michigan state finals. I remember playing poorly, but eating like a champion

VAN SICKLE: I played in two of the last four U.S. Senior Ams, and I made it to match play last year before losing my first-round match to two-time Mid-Am champ Tim Jackson, who had just turned 55. I also once made it to the U.S. Open sectional, where I missed the Open by a scant 17 strokes while playing with Larry Mize and Tom Purtzer. It’s great fun posing as a player for a few days.

SHIPNUCK: The recent First Tee Open. And I choked like a dog.

GODICH: I walked onto the University of Missouri golf team in 1977. But when school started and I told the coach I had to go to class instead of a midweek match at Kansas, my college career abruptly ended. It’s been downhill ever since, though I have had three aces. Eat your heart out, Shipnuck.