By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by David Vier
LAKE MANASSAS, VA – It’s been five long years, but the world’s come back to Virginia. The United States and International teams have arrived at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club to compete in the Presidents Cup, and it looks to be an exciting four days – following up the ‘halved’ matches from two years ago in South Africa.
Many golf observers see the Presidents Cup as the little sibling to the Ryder Cup, but there’s no questioning that there’s much riding on the US team’s performance this year. Looking briefly into its history, the 2005 version of the Presidents Cup will ‘only’ be the sixth time the matches have been held, with the United States winning all three competitions on American soil, and the International team coming away the victors in 1998 (in Melbourne, Australia). As noted above, the teams agreed to ‘share’ the victory in 2003 (in South Africa), when the matches ended in a 17-17 tie, and they couldn’t resolve it through a brief three hole playoff between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.
The players simply ran out of daylight. Four days, 34 golf matches between 24 players and three extra holes, and it was dead even.
Team captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player weighed the options – to come back the next day and finish a one-man-per-side playoff between Woods and Els; to play an additional complete round of singles matches the next day with all 12 players taking part for each side; declaring the United States the ‘winner’ because the Internationals failed to win a majority of the points, and the US had won already won the Cup in 2000; or ‘share’ the trophy, with each side claiming neither a victory or a loss.
Nicklaus and Player chose the ‘share’ option, and perhaps because of it, they were once again named Captains for the 2005 matches. Many of the same players will also be competing again for their respective teams, with the most notable absence being that of Ernie Els for the Internationals, who’s out due to injury.
Rather than provide a statistical preview of the 2005 competition, we thought we’d offer something a bit different, almost an ‘insider’s’ view – thoughts and impressions of a man who played in three Presidents Cups, who would not only offer his own predictions into what may happen this year, but also shed some light into what the matches mean to the players themselves.
|Fred Couples may have been a bit of a surprise Captain's pick, but he's created magic in the past at RTJ, and very well could again.|
Much has been written about how the players (for both teams) don’t really take the Presidents Cup seriously – they don’t get paid, most of them compete together regularly on Tour, etc…, that there simply isn’t the same motivation to win as with the Ryder Cup.
Not so says the Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo.
Nobilo is from New Zealand, and turned professional in 1979, at the age of 19. He’s played a lot of golf internationally, and knows all the players from both sides, having become a full-time member of the US PGA Tour in the mid-90’s. He’s recently been sidelined due to injury, and he’s used the ‘down’ time to establish himself as a credible voice on the Golf Channel’s broadcasts – both inside the ropes for telecasts of the Champions Tour, and also in the booth, commenting on important tournaments.
We caught up with Frank recently, and he was certainly willing to provide an ‘inside’ look to this week’s Presidents Cup matches:
GTMA: What are the themes going into the 2005 President’s Cup?
Nobilo: A lot is going to depend on how the International side accepts the fact that Ernie Els will not be playing.
With no disrespect to the US side, when you look at the top players on the International team, with the likes of Vijay Singh, and obviously Ernie, and Retief Goosen, Adam Scott and players like (Stuart) Appleby, and Michael Campbell, with the way he’s played -- the first five or six players are incredibly strong.
I think they match up very well against the Americans, where you obviously start with Tiger Woods. But then, when you take an Ernie Els out of either side, it makes a huge difference – because you’re basically replacing him with the 13th best player you have available to you. That’s just stating the obvious.
|With Ernie Els out of the lineup, the top South African is definitely Retief Goosen.|
When everybody has to move up a spot, it really evens those matches up, and whether the International side is able to step up, with the likes of Mark Hensby or Trevor Immelman… it makes for a really interesting match. I would’ve liked to have seen Steve Elkington in there for that very reason (because Els is missing), because he’s got so much experience.
GTMA: How about the Americans?
Nobilo: I think the American team will actually go in as slight underdogs. And in the Presidents Cup format, I think that suits them. In the Ryder Cup, they’re always the favorites, and they’ve almost got to play it by Queensbury Rules, so to speak.
The way it stands at the moment, I think they can just go out and play, and because of that, you might see some of the Americans play their best golf.
GTMA: Why do you think the Americans are underdogs – is it because of their world rankings or because of their recent performances in the Ryder Cup?
Nobilo: First off, I don’t think their showings in the recent Ryder Cups were necessarily poor performances. I think you have to understand the way the Ryder Cup works, where you only play four matches in the morning and four matches in the afternoon the first two days.
So you can hide players, and the Europeans have traditionally done a tremendous job of doing just that through the first couple of days -- almost playing their best players until they’re dead, so to speak.
|Nicklaus's other Captain's pick, Justin Leonard, is best known for sinking the clinching putt in the '99 Ryder Cup. A good season in 2005 justified his selection.|
In contrast, the Americans have always had the attitude, ‘if you make the Ryder Cup, you play.’ So they’re disadvantaged by their own system, because normally they’re deeper from spots 1-12 on the roster.
And also, in the previous Ryder Cups, the Americans have been outstanding favorites.
GTMA: If the American team is deeper individually, why doesn’t that turn into victories in a team format?
Nobilo: As I said earlier, it’s almost like they’ve got to play by ‘Queensbury Rules.’
Playing in a team competition isn’t like trying to win a major championship where you’ve got to play it a day at a time. And it’s not even really like trying to win a tournament, in that a lot of the underdogs have the opportunity to win a point – and these guys are all good players, so if they get in front after seven or eight holes, they’ve just basically got to see it through for another nine holes.
There’s tremendous motivation when you’re playing some of the best players in the world when they are American. And when they win that point, they’ve got nothing to defend tomorrow, they can start up again, or in the afternoon or on the next day with the same attitude.
You look at the Americans, as favorites -- if they’re not winning 3-1 by the end of the first round’s matches, it’s like ‘what’s wrong?’ They’re always answering that question, and it’s a tough environment to play in. So I don’t think that bodes well for the American side.
GTMA: Wouldn’t that also be true for the Presidents Cup?
|Angel Cabrera represents South America in this year's Presidents Cup. Simply put, this guy crushes the ball -- just watch him. He's a Presidents Cup rookie, so let's see how he holds up.|
Nobilo: On paper the teams are far more equal, so the Americans are almost like ‘well, if we were to lose, we lose to a very strong side -- a side that would beat Europe as well.’ I think it’s different, because on paper, there isn’t as much pressure to win.
GTMA: In the Ryder Cup, most of the guys on the European team play regularly on the European Tour, so it’s almost a rivalry between two Tours. For the Presidents Cup, most of the International players play full-time on the US PGA Tour, so there isn’t that sense of ‘rivalry’ of the Tours. Do you see the International Team as being as ‘close’ as the Europeans are when they’re grouped together in a competition?
Nobilo: Yes I do. It’s the same potential pitfall for the International side as it is for the Americans. The reason I say that is that America is such a big land mass that it’s just as hard for someone from the west coast to gravitate towards someone from the east coast as it is for players on the International team to gravitate towards each other.
The biggest difference -- and I played on three Presidents Cup teams -- is that when you’re overwhelming underdogs, it’s easy to get close together, because that’s who you’ve got to rely on. And I’ll never forget the second President’s Cup I played in, it’s probably the best team event that I ever took part in (when David Graham was deposed as Captain of the International side – very controversial).
I don’t really want to bring that up again, but the team felt, because of what happened, that the only person you could trust on that team was your teammate. Because the Europeans quite often go into the Ryder Cup as underdogs -- that’s why they have that close-knit chemistry.
GTMA: Is it more than chemistry? A different type of golf?
Nobilo: Certainly. It’s also the type of golf you play when you’re growing up.
|Chris DiMarco will add some spark to the US side -- a guy who always seems to appreciate representing the country and his teammates.|
Europeans play a lot more team golf. You play a lot of foursomes and four-balls in your younger days over there, so the players are used to playing in those types of formats.
Take a look at Paula Creamer in the Solheim Cup a few weeks ago. The reason why she did so well is because she’s literally fresh out of college, playing that type of golf. It’s a much more natural adjustment when you’re used to being in it.
In a nutshell, I don’t think the International players will have problems jelling together – they never have in the three that I’ve played, and I don’t think they ever have since, either.
GTMA: How would you respond to the comment that the Presidents Cup was basically a group of Americans playing against a bunch of guys (the International team) who live in Orlando?
Nobilo: I think it sounds good, but it’s not true. You could say the same about the Ryder Cup – that it never really had the same importance as it does now. You’ve only got to tune the dial back to just prior to 1987, when the Europeans first won on American soil at Muirfield Village.
You turn the clock back there (prior to 1987), and you almost have this token match where you’ve got America going over to Europe every couple of years and trying to sort of spread the game -- against you know, some hand-picked Europeans, because the system they had didn’t really work.
It wasn’t until they involved Europe, and guys like Seve (Ballesteros) came along -- that that event was ever heavily contested. Then, TV and media – we’ve all jumped into it, and the Ryder Cup is now the biggest thing since sliced bread.
The Presidents Cup is still so young. You can level the same criticism on any event when it’s in its infancy. But, like I said, as an international player, it’s the only thing that these guys have got to play in that’s up in the same sort of stature as the Ryder Cup.
|How much does the Presidents Cup mean to the players? David Toms was rushed to the hospital last Thursday, yet insisted he would compete at Robert Trent Jones GC. This guy's a competitor, and a role model in every sense of the word.|
And the Ryder Cup was not nearly as big 20 years ago as it is today. So, the International players are saying, just give it a chance to grow. You look at those 24 players on the list and you name me one tournament promoter who wouldn’t want to have those guys in their field.
Sure, a lot of them do have residences in the Florida area, but you can start to say that about the European side, too. I can name 3 or 4 guys on the Ryder Cup side who’ve also got places in Orlando. So it’s not strictly a ‘US versus Europe, or the ‘US versus the World.’ These are truly quality players from all over the world.
GTMA: Would you say the President’s Cup means as much to the guys on the International Team as the Ryder Cup does to the European team?
Nobilo: Right now, no, for the same reasons – because the event hasn’t had the same huge status where everybody else buys into it and they’re looking forward to it.
As soon as that last putt’s made in the Ryder Cup, players are looking forward to two years’ time to either win it back, or defend it, whatever the case may be. I think the Americans have always, not to try and give them a bow out – but the hardest thing for them is they have to play one of these things every year.
GTMA: That’s true, and many have said that the novelty of team competition wears off on the Americans, because they’re ‘forced’ to play every year – though it seems many crave the opportunity.
Nobilo: The way for this thing to work long term is to make the Ryder Cup ‘the’ cup, right?
|There will be a few relatively unknown faces this week at the Presidents Cup, yet all of the Interational players can really compete. Nick O'Hern beat Tiger Woods at this year's Accenture Match Play Championship. The best player you never heard of? You tell me.|
Only it should be contested by the Europeans, the Internationals or the Americans, every two years. The winner would earn a leave pass for a year -- and the challenger series would be the Presidents Cup. So the loser of the Ryder Cup would play in the Presidents Cup the following year, then the winner of that match would compete against the previous year’s Ryder Cup winner, and so on.
It would work because it would only take a year to get the thing up and going.
Then you’ve got motivation for the Americans to win, in the sense that they’ll get a year off, and you’ve got motivation from the European side or the International side to win the Presidents Cup – so both events would be bigger for it.
People always disagree with it right now, but I think it would work in perhaps another decade or so.
GTMA: Sounds like an interesting proposal. Turning to the Americans’ past performances in the Ryder and Presidents Cups, do you think the American team has recently performed better in the Presidents Cup because there’s less pressure on them to win, or because the format is more favorable to them – with more matches?
Nobilo: I think it’s a combination of both. I think both teams are extremely good. With the International team, it only took us three tries to win the thing. The second one was extremely close -- it was only lost by a point.
So I think the International players got up to speed quicker. But yeah, when you play more matches, and the American players can feel that they’ve got a fair crack at the whip, then they can just play.
That’s where those limitations in the Ryder Cup into play.
|Phil Mickelson's match play record isn't stellar, yet he'll be a crucial part of the US Team's effort to defend at RTJ.|
There’s yet to be a side that Europe has produced, on paper, that’s stronger. And if you’re a betting man in Vegas, you wouldn’t have taken one European side over the last 10 or 15 Ryder Cups sides. You wouldn’t have once taken a European side over an American side – yet they’ve still been extremely successful.
But, as I said, that’s the beauty of the competition, because it’s only played once. It’s only that week really that counts.
GTMA: Do you think there’s going to be any kind of a ‘carryover’ in the sense that the Presidents Cup was halved a couple years ago – and also the fact that Nicklaus is captaining the Americans again and Player the Internationals?
Nobilo: I don’t think so, and in fact, I’d like it not to.
I was talking to Gary Koch about the Presidents Cup and both of us sort of referred to the recent PGA, where they made the same mistake. (Ed Note: Nobilo is referring to the fact that the PGA had to carry into Monday because they hadn’t left enough time to account for rain delays – and the Presidents Cup in 2003 was called because of darkness.) There was no intention to halve the Presidents Cup, under the rules.
They just teed off too late, but nobody anticipated a playoff would be necessary after all those matches. And if Davis Love III had gotten it up and down on the 18th hole, the match would’ve been over.
Then to have the playoff go three holes between two of the best players in the world, and it looked like it was going to keep going… So, it was just one of those things. They’d made a nice addition to the rules, to make it different from the Ryder Cup, in the fact that it wouldn’t be shared, by having a playoff system.
|Vijay Singh stirred things up in 2000 with his 'Tiger Who?' incident, but his steady play ever since has brought him to the top of the world.|
I just think, no. I disagree with the change of the rule (to ‘share’ the Cup), I think there should be a winner in this event. These matches -- it’s the same as the Ryder Cup, there shouldn’t be a halved match. I’ve wasted long and hard about that. The public felt cheated as well.
GTMA: You played a couple of your Presidents Cups here at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. Do you have any thoughts on the golf course itself? What do think of it being a venue for an important event?
Nobilo: It’s a good match play venue, and people say ‘what on earth does that mean?’
It’s a course that you can get unlucky on, which can make the difference on some holes. For example fourteen, the par five over water – you can get this big swing in match play, where if you hit it long enough you have a crack at it. In stroke play you’d play the hole differently.
There’re a lot of holes at RTJ that set up very well for match play -- that if I’m just playing you or you’re just playing me, they’re worthy of a shot or an aggressive tactic.
Stroke play? No… it wouldn’t be as keen to see a stroke play event there.
GTMA: What are your favorite holes on the course?
Nobilo: Once you get into the back nine, then it becomes extremely exciting. I think it’s very easy to halve a lot of the holes on the front nine, because they’re more restrictive on how you can play them.
|Tiger Woods has gone through a few changes in 2005 -- he's got his new swing working for him, and he no longer has facial hair. Oh yeah, he's changed his world ranking position back to where he's been for most of the last eight years, too.|
You’ve pretty much got to play a lot of the holes the same (on the front nine), unless you’re long enough to get on the par fives in two. I remember Robert Allenby and I played Jim Gallagher and Davis Love – and none of us could reach those holes. I mean it was ridiculous -- we played foursomes, and these guys were lobbing on those par fives, it was a joke.
The par fours are quite difficult, and the easy holes are obvious and the hard holes are also obvious.
But once you get to the back nine, after you play the par three over water, I think it sets up really well. You’ve got some really good driving holes, you’ve got a par five with the ravine on the left. Yeah, I’d say the last seven or eight holes are really good match play finishing holes where you could pretty much win or lose every hole.
GTMA: Are you glad to see it come back to RTJ, or would you like to see the Presidents Cup moved around, like the Ryder Cup?
Nobilo: I’d rather see it moved around. That’s one reason why the Ryder Cup got bigger and bigger, along with the expansion of the European team to include players from continental Europe.
I think the Americans have done a good job by going to some great venues. But strangely enough, you could level the same criticism on the Europeans by repeatedly going back to the Belfry way too often.
For a great event like that, you need a great stage.
|Fred Funk comes back to the DC area to take part in the Presidents Cup. The 2005 Players Champion set making the team as a goal, and he made it with room to spare.|
The 2000 Presidents Cup matches didn’t really need a great ‘stage,’ as the United States team left little in doubt on the way to an easy victory (the US won 21 ½ to 10 ½). There wasn’t a whole lot of drama, but it was fun to see the big names grouped together, up close.
The Presidents Cup makes for great TV, but it also showcases the Washington DC region as a great place to play golf.
Here’s hoping for a well played 2005 Presidents Cup, chock full of highlights all its own.
The Presidents Cup
September 22-25, 2005
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
Link for ticket information: http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/presidentscup/information/tickets
International Team: Gary Player
International: Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Tim Clark, Michael Campbell, Stuart Appleby, Mike Weir, Nick O’Hern, Mark Hensby, Peter Lonard and Trevor Immelman.
For more information: http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/presidentscup
Our thanks to Frank Nobilo for lending his time and thoughts to GolfTheMidAtlantic.com’s 2005 Presidents Cup preview.
|Related Links||Comments on this article?|
Maryland National Golf Club
Hollow Creek Golf Club
Rocky Gap Resort
PB Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville
Whiskey Creek Golf Club
E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor: