The Presidents Cup is no Ryder Cup….I stand corrected.
But the Presidents Cup does have one element that we don’t often get in the Ryder Cup – an introduction of emerging stars. Sure the Euros throw a few names at us every few years, but when was the last time you heard anything about Jarmo Sandalin? Less than a decade ago the Euros beat the U.S. 16½ to 11½ with Pierre Fulke and Nicholas Price joining international superstars Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley. Sure, that 2002 team had Sergio, Padraig and Colin Montgomerie, but they were joined by players with much lower profiles.
I will grant you that there have been a few Presidents Cuppers that have managed to fly completely under the radar for their entire careers. In the inaugural event in 1994, there was a player on the International team named Tsukasa Watanabe from Japan that managed to play three less major championships in his career than me. Obviously that selection was a mistake that hasn’t really been repeated since.
We already knew that Ryo Ishikawa is a terrific young Japanese player. At 20, he is mature beyond his years and showed once again this week that a great putter will always find a way to be competitive. He found a partner in Ernie Els and was more than competitive. But it wasn’t Ishikawa that stole the show, it was K.T. Kim, the 25-year-old from South Korea who has been in the top 25 in the world for most of the year. Kim has had most of his success in the Far East with four wins on the Japanese Tour. And, yes, far too much respect is given to the Japanese Tour when it comes to the Official World Golf Rankings, but they got this one right. Can Kim compete with the best players in the world? Yes, and he proved that this week.
Greg Norman sent the young Korean out first in the singles in what had to be the most important point of the matches if the International Team was going to make a move. Kim rolled in birdies on Webb Simpson and gave the Internationals hope by putting an International flag on the board early and keeping it there all day. Kim seemed like a curious selection to lead the charge in the singles, especially considering how well Simpson had played all week. But Kim was coming off a four-ball victory for the Internationals over Tiger and Dustin Johnson and clearly had a lot of confidence.
In 2005, Trevor Immelman used these matches to not only become a member of the PGA Tour, but to become a winner and eventual major champion. There was certainly some controversy when Gary Player selected Immelman to his team. Part of the controversy stemmed from the fact that a player on International team was invited to join the PGA Tour the next year if they were not already a member. In Immelman’s case, he took the invitation and won the Western Open the next year – solidifying his spot in the game. Two years later, he added a green jacket to his wardrobe and proved that when healthy he is a top-10 player in the world.
On that same team was another International player that hadn’t garnered a lot of attention in the U.S. although he had been a successful globe trotter for years. Angel Cabrera had won four times in Europe and dozens of times around the world when he got the call in 2005. In the matches he was 1-1-3, winning 2 ½ points for the International team. He admitted that making that team gave him the confidence that he could play anywhere in the world. In 2007, he held off a charging Tiger Woods at Oakmont to win the U.S. Open. Two years later, he was a Masters champion as well.
Obviously it is quite premature to suggest that Ishikawa or Kim will do what Immelman and Cabrera have accomplished in their careers. But, if they do, the Presidents Cup will have played a major factor in convincing them that they belong among the game’s elite. Now if they could just manage to play on teams that are competitive we would really be on to something with the Presidents Cup.