U.S. Takes Grudge to Presidents Cup

GAINESVILLE, Virginia -- The best thing that ever happened to the Presidents Cup was the United States losing the Ryder Cup. And the Walker Cup. And the Curtis Cup.

There is nothing like not having something to make Americans want it. And even though the U.S. team won the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994, they have had a rough time of it the last two years.

That makes the International Team unwitting targets for American golf frustration after losing the Ryder Cup to a team of professionals from Europe, and the Walker Cup to male amateurs from Britain and Ireland, and the Curtis Cup to female amateurs from the same countries.

This has turned into a grudge match even though there is no grudge against the International team, professionals from those countries not eligible for the Ryder Cup -- Asia, Australia, Africa and Latin America.

There is one problem for the Americans on a mission: The International team is good -- very, very good.

We're talking Greg Norman good. And Ernie Els. And Nick Price. And Steve Elkington. And Vijay Singh. And Frank Nobilo.

Phil Mickelson, Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman, Davis Love III and Fred Couples will have their hands full when things begin Friday at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.

The Presidents Cup will be an event well worth the watch.

The next best thing that happened to the Presidents Cup was the exciting final in the U.S. Amateur Championship, when Tiger Woods had to go 38 holes of match play to defeat Steve Scott.

Once again, golf fans saw the beauty of match play, the format that will be used in contesting the 32 points at stake in the Presidents Cup. Match play -- where each hole is contested as a separate entity -- encourages go-for-broke golf and the use of shrewd strategy.

If a player misses a fairway, you'll see gambles for the miracle shot that can save a hole. Or you will see the kind of gutsy, strategic layup Nick Faldo used to win the final hole of his match against Curtis Strange in the Ryder Cup last year.

Match play demands skill, smarts and courage, both on the first two days, when the intriguing formats of alternating shot and better-ball play are used, and on Sunday, when the players go head-to-head in singles play.

And remember, unlike the Ryder Cup, no singles match will be halved. All will be played to a sudden-death finish.

And, unlike the Ryder Cup, the U.S. team can't keep the cup on Sunday by playing for a tie. If it ends 16-16, one player from each side (chosen in advance by each captain) will play sudden death.

The third best thing that ever happened to the President Cup was the rebellion by the International players to bounce their captain -- David Graham -- in favor of Peter Thomson.

That not only grabbed some pre-event hype for the Presidents Cup, but it also proved how much the International team wants to win. Norman and Price in particular and all the other members of the team resent that the Ryder Cup determines worldwide golf supremacy.

They want to prove the golf world extends far beyond Britain and the United States.

And there is another guy who wants to win very much -- the captain of the U.S. team -- Arnold Palmer.

Way back in January, at the season-opening Mercedes Championship, Palmer was told by Norman that the International team had better players and would win the Presidents Cup.

"I won't tell you what he said," Palmer said at the time. "But I'll tell my players at a time when it will matter."

That time will come this week.