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Monday, November 21, 2011

The Limerick Summary: 2011 Presidents Cup

Winner: The US Team

Around the wider world of golf: Yes, there was other golf being played around the globe besides the Presidents Cup. The Euro Tour had 2 events going on: Garth Mulroy got his first ET win at the "official" stop, the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa, and Joost Luiten got his first ET win at the Asian Tour co-sponsored rain-shortened Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia. And among the women, Ji-Hee Lee won a playoff at the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies on the JLPGA (the Constructivist has the details) and Hee Young Park got her first LPGA win at the CME Titleholders Championship.

Fred and Co. hoist the trophy

Royal Melbourne once again proved itself to be a great golf venue. The good folks down in Australia once again proved what wonderful hosts they are. And the International team once again proved that the future of golf is in good hands.

But the American team proved once again that it's never a good idea to underestimate the American will to succeed.

May I take a moment to share a personal thought? Back in 2001 I was taking an online writing course with fantasy writer and teacher Holly Lisle. Our class had participants from all over the world, one of whom was from Australia. James and I continued to correspond after the class ended -- until the time difference and life changes made it impractical -- and we shared quite a bit during the 9-11 catastrophe. What I discovered was just how many parallels there are between America and Australia, which may partially explain why Americans and Australians get along so well. Despite literally being a world apart, our histories and cultures make us closer than you might first expect.

Those similarities really showed up in this Presidents Cup. Even the verbal jabs exchanged before the matches sounded more like best friends competing to see who could do the best trash talking than actual animosity. You'd often see players joking with each other as they walked down the fairways during their matches. After each match finished on Sunday you saw Fred and Greg greeting the other team members as much as their own. And yet, neither team showed any hesitation when they had the chance to grind their opponent into the dirt.

In Presidents Cup competition, nobody seems to lose sight of one fact: As much as we each want to win, it's still just a game. And the best games are contested between best friends, when each side knows there's nothing personal and you're free to play your best just for the fun of competing. This time the American team came out on top, but you can trace that to one bad session -- the Saturday morning alternate shot matches. (Everybody talks about the opening session, but Saturday was when the big gap opened. Eliminate that session and Sunday might have turned out differently.)

A few players on both sides deserve some special mention:
  • Jim Furyk went 5-0-0, only the 4th player on either team to have ever done so. He and his partner Phil Mickelson went 3-0-0 in their team play, both on the strength of good driving and putting. If these two have rediscovered their form, as it appears they may have, 2012 could be a good year for both.
  • Ryo Ishikawa finally showed what he's capable of outside of Japan. His play in the Sunday singles was impressive, and may be what he needed to get his international career kickstarted. The same could be said of Kyung-tae Kim. Again, 2012 could be a breakout year for these youngsters.
  • Likewise, the two players they beat in singles, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, showed themselves to be a juggernaut in team play. This bodes well for the US going foreward.
  • And I have to mention Adam Scott and Tiger Woods. It wasn't just their play that stood out -- Adam is clearly the new leader of the International team and Tiger made even his critics stand up and take notice as he scored the winning point in a nearly flawless performance. Both of these players (and their teams) could have been derailed with the firestorm Steve Williams ignited a couple of weeks ago, but these two calmly and decisively defused the controversy... and showed a lot of class in the process. Kudos to both of them!
I won't pick on the players who struggled during this competition. No matter how good you are, the desire to prove yourself can make "your fingers feel like sausages," as one announcer put it. (I think it was Gary Koch.)  But I do have one more observation -- this time about the apparent depth of the teams.

A few years ago the American Ryder Cup team always looked good on paper but couldn't seem to match up to the Euro team. That's partly because the rankings didn't fairly gauge how players were improving overseas, but also because the Euros were seeing a new infusion of talent from young players like Kaymer, McIlroy, and the like. They had the chance to develop "under the radar," as it were. The new young American players were still "in the pipeline," on the way but not here yet.

This is where the International team finds themselves now. Their expected "local knowledge" advantage wasn't enough to overcome that. The next American wave -- players like Simpson and Watson, for example -- have finally hit the scene, complete with some high-profile victories under their belts. The International team's "new breed" are just starting to enter the world's spotlight, and it's going to take them a little time to get their footing... but it won't be long. The 2013 Presidents Cup may shake up everybody's expectations once again.

But in the meantime, I'm going to join the American celebration with this week's Limerick Summary:
The first jabs were verbal—some snarky—
But match play cuts through that malarkey.
Greg thought, "Now we've got 'em!"
But viewed top to bottom
Fred's team had the stronger hierarchy.
The original photo came from PGATOUR.com, but I copied it and trimmed it down a bit. The original credit simply says "Rooney/Getty Images."

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