Presidents Cup theatre
Here is why it is easy to like the way the Presidents Cup goes about its business: Ryo Ishikawa, the 18-year-old Japanese coming star, makes his first of what should be many appearances in this event and who does he get? Tiger Woods.
Just like that, it's welcome aboard, kid. But imagine how nutty the golf fans are going in Japan, where they love the game. Their new pride and joy not only gets named to the team as a teenager, he and teammate Geoff Ogilvy draw the world's best player, partnered with Steve Stricker, in their opening-round alternate-shot match.
There's a great little bit of theatre to the captain's procedure at the Presidents Cup. They sit at a table across from each other and nominate teams in rotating order. Fred Couples had the honour and deferred, which makes sense, because he would rather have the last card to play in Sunday's singles matches.
So Greg Norman threw out Mike Weir and Tom Clark, his two shortest hitters, mostly because Weir had asked to bat leadoff. The Canadian knows the Internationals have been getting clobbered in the alternate-shot portion of these events – the foursomes score is 31 ½ - 11 ½ for the U.S. in the past four Cups – and he wants to take the responsibility on himself to turn that around. Couples countered with Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim and Weir probably didn't mind hearing that. In six career matches against Mickelson in these things, he is 4-1-1.
There are Canadian golf fans who don't like Weir, for whatever reason, but he is always front and centre in these things, takes them seriously, and really gears up for the Cup when it comes along. It is no coincidence that his 11-7-1 record is the best percentage of any of the dozen International players. Even those who dislike Weir will remember the way he stood up at Royal Montreal, as a captain's pick on home soil facing more pressure than anyone in the competition, and went 3-1-1 to be the leading point-getter. He also beat Woods in their singles match, albeit in a losing cause.
Beyond Weir, it's fascinating to watch the process in action. Alas, we in the press room are denied the privilege of hearing the transaction. We have always watched on closed-circuit TV, but the sound was shut off a couple of years ago after a few pointed comments were traded between a couple of earlier captains and they were, quite properly, reported. So in the Presidents Cup style – which means to avoid all possible controversy, however insignificant it might seem – the microphones were turned off.
As both captains confirmed, in the foursomes and four-ball competitions, it's more about finding the right partner in the team games than worrying about the opposition. Nobody asks to face anyone at this stage of the competition, but by Sunday's singles matches there will be grudges to be settled.
"I didn't look at Tim Clark and wonder, 'Who gets under his skin?' These guys tell me where they want to play,'' Couples said. "Anthony Kim and Phil wanted to play early and set a tone as best they can. And Tiger wanted to go in the middle.''
"It's interesting what Freddie said about Anthony and Phil, because Mike and Tim wanted to get out in that first group and Mike definitely wanted to be the leader of the pack,'' Norman said. "He feels good about that. He wants to be out there going forward and keep going forward. So here our mindsets are exactly the same. The one pairing on each of the respective teams both wanted to go.''
Both captains made the point that, as Norman said, "You could put 24 names in a hat and pull them out and have great matches.'' That's probably true, but there is some science to it; never forget Hal Sutton and his stubborn streak at the 2004 Ryder Cup, pairing and re-pairing Woods and Mickelson, even though their games and their temperaments, more at the time then now, were certainly not suited to each other. That experiment had disastrous results.
Nothing similar is likely to happen again, but as Couples said, it's still easy to make mistakes.
"I played with Jay (Haas) in the Ryder Cup. Why, I don't know. I drove it all over the lot and he's never been in the rough in his life. And I've never hit 4-irons into par-fours.''