2000: Presidents Cup - A very civil war

Gainesville, Va.

Post-mortem theory suggests the fourth Presidents Cup overfloweth with the specter of one contraction. That would be couldn’t. In case one couldn’t notice that heretofore, a thematic spin through a week of high-level-though-friendly international golf is provided here.

For starters, one couldn’t beat the shadow of Washington, D.C., for politico star-gazing. During Saturday matches, cart driver Tim Finchem gave former President Bush a ride to the clubhouse. Just then, White House adviser and Robert Trent Jones Golf Club president Vernon Jordan passed by, standing on the back of another cart on the way to meet his friend President Clinton on the course.

The Presidents Cup gets Vernon Jordan, the Ryder Cup gets Michael Jordan.

Before, during and after, one couldn’t hear a coarse word, on or off course. The Americans won in a rout, answering the 201⁄2 -111⁄2 Blunder Down Under two years ago with a 211⁄2 -101⁄2 Massacre at Manassas, but one PC (Presidents Cup) was clearly marked by another (political correctness).

All involved couldn’t help reminding, roughly every half-hour, that the gathering reflected sportsmanship cubed, a not-so-subtle reference to Ryder Cups past. “The spirit of the competition was phenomenal,” Greg Norman said, echoing everyone’s24⁄7 view. This not only was bereft of Ryder-style ill will – the gallery was polite – but also one couldn’t find more warm-fuzziness at a blanket bingo party or hit-and-giggle corporate scramble.

“I bow to the superiority of the American team,” International captain Peter Thomson said. “I’m conceding we lost to a better team.”

Look all day, but you couldn’t find that quote in, say, a Mark James book.

A couple of times, you almost couldn’t tell which was the home team. “I can’t tell you how many fans pulled for me and Ernie (Els),” Nick Price said.

Listen all week, but visiting ears couldn’t hear such at, say, The Belfry.

“We need the fans at the Ryder Cup to act like the fans at the Presidents Cup,” said Davis Love III, one of three unbeaten players. It follows that the “electricity” at the PC didn’t have the high voltage of recent Ryders. “The Ryder Cup is too much pressure,” Love said. “It’s nice to see how you hold up, but it’s so intense.”

The only semblance of controversy came in an intense Tiger Woods-Vijay Singh singles match after the Americans virtually had cemented victory with a 14-6 advantage through team play. Singh’s caddie, Paul Tesori, wore a cap with “Tiger who?” stitched on the back, which might help explain why Woods made Singh putt a 16-incher on No. 4.

“I saw (the cap) on the practice tee and said, ‘Why not?’ ” Singh said. “I didn’t care about it.” Tiger, whose cage is the wrong one to rattle, said he was motivated by that headgear and by his loss in a doubles match to Singh the day before. “Oh, yeah,” said Woods, who finished 3-2 after beating the Fijian, 2 and 1. “I wanted him, and I know he wanted me.” Afterward, the two didn’t talk. “No need to,” Woods said. “Two and one.”

As if you couldn’t tell, the United States won handily for myriad reasons. Most important, the Internationals couldn’t handle the Yanks in foursomes, the format Thomson labeled “goofy,” “outdated” and more.

“It’s a bloody English invention,” said the Australian Thomson, “It’s for old ladies at golf clubs. Husbands and wives don’t like it.” The five-time British Open champion says he would prefer a change to two days each of four-ball and singles.

Whatever, the Internationals couldn’t overcome a 9-1 disadvantage in alternate shot. American teams had been criticized for historically failing in that format. In the last two PCs, for example, the Internationals were 13 1/2-6 1/2 in foursomes. This time, though, the United States out-birdied the opponent 21-12 in the first alternate-shot session and led 26-18 in subpar holes in the second.

“Nine and one,” emotional U.S. captain Ken Venturi said, “is absolutely phenomenal.”

He couldn’t ignore Cup rookies Kirk Triplett and Stewart Cink. And the Internationals couldn’t beat them in doubles. Relying on Triplett’s driving and putting and Cink’s iron shots, the duo made an amazing 14 birdies in two foursomes victories and tacked on a best-ball point for a 3-0 record together. Cink (4-0) and Triplett (3-0-1) joined Love (4-0) among the undefeated.

The International stars, oddly, couldn’t keep up with the three U.S. rookies. Postseason newcomers Notay Begay III, Cink and Triplett combined for 10 1/2 points. That’s 6 1/2 more than Ernie Els, Nick Price, Singh and Norman totaled. The losing side got its best golf from Canada’s Mike Weir, the only International with a winning record, 3-2; and Paraguay’s Carlos Franco (2-3), whose long, flowing swing produced a double-eagle on the 505-yard 12th in a 6-and-5 singles blowout of Hal Sutton.

“Every time we threw something at them, they had something to counter with,” Price said.

“The chipping and putting stuff – I don’t know where it comes from – but that’s what wins matches, wins tournaments, wins golf everything,” Thomson said, explaining the U.S. dominance. “If one knew how to drum it up, well, I guess you’d be the champion’s champion. It has something to do with everything around you, the golf course, the gallery attitude, the coffee in the morning, all that sort of stuff. It’s very mysterious.”

Again, the visitors couldn’t get started at RTJ. The Americans’ 5-0 lead after the first day continued a trend. The United States is 14-1 in the opening five-match sessions in the three Cups in Prince William County. “When you get behind 5-0, you’re not free-wheeling it anymore,” Love said. “I think their whole team was a little tight.”

Els, ranked No. 2 in the world, couldn’t have had a worse week. He went 0-5. The disappointed South African putted poorly early, lost confidence and wasn’t helped by Singh, his partner in three losses. His 4-and-3 defeat to Love in the fifth singles match ensured the minimum 161⁄2 points the United States needed to reclaim the Cup. The drama ended early, 2:28 p.m. EDT.

“My game didn’t arrive,” Els said. “The harder I tried to play better, it went the other way.”

Singh simply couldn’t make putts, especially when paired with Els. A TNT cable summary of his misses from short range smacked of a horrifying yips video.

The Internationals couldn’t sustain their one rally. They went 4-1 in four-ball the morning of the second day, pulling to 6-4, but then the Americans went 4-1 in afternoon foursomes for a 10-5 lead and 4-1 in Saturday four-ball for a 14-6 bulge.

Afterward, of course, Venturi, 69, couldn’t contain his emotion with a bucket. “I had tears on the stage,” he said. “I shed some with Paul (assistant Marchand) and I shed tears with people who know me well and who know how much this meant to me.” In doing all that a year after Ben Crenshaw broke down at Brookline, Venturi demonstrated he’s the second-straight winning U.S. captain likely to get misty-eyed when a new supermarket opens in town.

What ended with crying began with battle-crying oratory. This couldn’t be D.C. without at least a speech or sermonette every few minutes, and the Presidents Cup did its part humorously and dramatically.

First Capt. Thommo playfully referred to Weir as his team’s “mascot” in addressing the PC’s black-tie gala on Tuesday night. The next afternoon, usually soft-spoken Jim Furyk lectured a news conference, saying, “I’m tired of hearing that as Americans we aren’t together as a team. I’m pretty fed up with that.”

Sutton, likewise, preached the team-unity angle at subsequent press briefing, perhaps forgetting that just last fall America recognized that the U.S. team pulled together for a stunning Ryder comeback victory.

“All we listen to is how we’re all individuals and we can’t come together and play as a team,” Sutton said. “We just wonder how much we’ve got to do in order to convince everybody we certainly are a team. We certainly believe in one another. We lean on one another. We ask advice of one another. We actually care for one another. How many different ways can I describe this?”

Before he and Furyk began Saturday’s four-ball matches by making nine birdies in 13 holes of a 6-and-5 victory over Greg Norman and Michael Campbell, Sutton couldn’t resist taking the pulpit again. “Jim said this was a very Southern remark, but I made the statement, ‘We’re going to start the fire and everybody else is going to throw some gasoline in it.’ ”

“Everything Hal says,” Furyk said, “is a Southern remark.”

Sutton’s most-inspirational speech, though, was to his team on Cup eve. In that fire-and-brimstone spiel, he told his mates to not worry about making mistakes, that they didn’t get to where they are by being careful. “Let’s put two oars in the water,” he told them, “and paddle as fast as we can.”

The Opening Ceremonies, naturally, couldn’t exist without oratory on the big stage. President Clinton declared the PC a “no-mulligan zone.” Venturi forgot to introduce Cink and Begay. Thomson jokingly asked the 5-foot-9 Weir, already standing, to stand. Soon after pomp and circumstance, an armed presidential security man hiding in the bushes lectured a radio reporter walking the course with a simple go-away wave of the hand. Apparently the golden throat was getting too close to Clinton’s helicopter.

The Internationals, meanwhile, couldn’t respond after their own motivational tactics. Michael Campbell did the Haka, a Maori tribal war dance, just before his team opened 0-5. That night, cold beer in hand, Els got up front on the bus ride back to the hotel and, in so many words, said he was thinking about winning, not frustration.

Nothing worked.

Lastly, any Cup couldn’t be a Cup without the pot-stirring of NBC’s Johnny Miller. The man who bruised U.S. egos last year in Brookline favored the Internationals in a pre-PC show. Venturi said one of the reasons his team performed so well was because Miller had picked it to lose.

“Sometimes,” Sutton said, “I wonder if he’s American or if he’s something else.”

Johnny Miller, foreign sympathizer? Unpatriotic traitor? International spy?

Couldn’t be.

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