Presidents wins day

Event no longer pales in comparison with the Ryder Cup


Gainesville, Va. -- The Presidents Cup, like the winning U.S. team, is finally getting its props.

It took 11 years and more than a few tweaks to the format for an event that has often been referred to as the Ryder Cup Lite to register with a larger audience than just golf's cognoscenti.

It took two scintillating competitions, the first two years ago in South Africa that ended in a tie and the one that concluded with Sunday's 18 1/2 -15 1/2 victory for the Americans at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, for the Presidents Cup to get recognition and respect for what it has become - an international event with more talent and less gamesmanship than the Ryder Cup.

"I like that there's a genuine respect for both teams and it's more about the game of golf and not necessarily somebody being ugly and somebody not being ugly," said American Chris DiMarco. "I think the players pretty much on both teams, whether it's Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, have a mutual respect for everybody."

So what's the difference?

"I think the media makes it, unfortunately for Ryder Cup, hateful," DiMarco said.

But DiMarco, who led the U.S. team back from an early deficit with his extraordinary and emotionally uplifting performance, then secured the clinching point with a 15-foot birdie putt to beat Stuart Appleby of Australia in the penultimate singles match Sunday, said the format lends itself to a more meaningful result.

"I like the fact that there's 34 matches and you can't hide anybody," said DiMarco, the only American player and only one of two, along with two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa, to go unbeaten (4-0-1). "Most guys are playing four matches. I think that's great."

Just as DiMarco and others in the past have blamed the media for whipping fans at the Ryder Cup - played between the United States and a team from Europe - into a jingoistic frenzy, Fred Funk said the perception of the Presidents Cup is dependent on the media as well.

"I think it's up to you guys [reporters]," said Funk, the former Maryland golf coach who has played on the past two Presidents Cup teams as well as the Ryder Cup team that lost at Oakland Hills last year. "What happened in South Africa and what happened here shows how good the International team is. I think they're better than the European team."

This year's Presidents Cup teams featured 20 players ranked among the top 26 in the world, and would have had 21 of 27 had Ernie Els of South Africa not been forced to sit out after knee surgery.

Given that many European Ryder Cup players don't play the PGA Tour and all of the International team members at this year's Presidents Cup do, it's understandable that the level of golf is better and there is more camaraderie.

But there is another reason, at least for the Americans: They play better at the Presidents Cup than they do at the Ryder Cup.

"Our team tends to be a little bit more loose," Jim Furyk said before the competition began. "We have a little bit more fun during the weeks of the Presidents Cup. I think we tend to play better during the Presidents Cup."

It also helps having a captain in Jack Nicklaus whose legacy won't change regardless of what happens.

In his two Presidents Cup captaincies, Nicklaus has been more diplomatic than dictatorial, acting more as Ben Crenshaw did on the last winning U.S. team in the Ryder Cup (at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., in 1999) than recent losing Ryder Cup captains Curtis Strange and Hal Sutton were during their watch.

Because of the players' respect for Nicklaus, in particular Tiger Woods', the egos that divided Ryder Cup teams at Oakland Hills and The Belfry were not visible here or in South Africa. Nor did Nicklaus try to force his two stars, longtime rivals Phil Mickelson and Woods, to play together, as Sutton did last year with disastrous results.

"I have not had one problem in two captaincies in the Presidents Cup with any individual or wife or anything, no issues, zero," Nicklaus said Saturday night. "And they have all been pumped, enthusiastic, supportive right through."

Unlike Oakland Hills or The Belfry, unlike Oak Hill in 1995 or Valderrama in 1997, where the U.S. players left with glum looks and bad memories, the Americans departed here Sunday night with a much different feeling.

It wasn't just the result of the competition, though that certainly helped, but the spirit of the competition as well.

"It's a memory that we'll have a lifetime, and we'll never forget," Mickelson said. "It's not just winning. It's the sharing of the week, it's the process of each match, it's the shots throughout the match, the things that were said, the camaraderie that is felt, and it's amazing how these relationships last through our careers."

One more thing: The Presidents Cup is no longer the Ryder Cup Lite.

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