A Lob-Sided Affair
The Presidents Cup has been a one-sided affair since its inception in 1994. The American team has dominated the International sides, having lost only once at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and tied once in South Africa in 2003. For something to become a compelling competition it must first be, competitive.
The venue this year was the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon City, South Korea and marked the first time that an Asian country hosted the Presidents Cup.
The 2015 matches looked to be another stroll in the park for the U.S. whose team included 5 of the top 10 players in the world rankings: Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson. The Internationals fielded only one top 10 player in Australia’s, Jason Day, who is ranked #2 in the world.
After Thursday’s opening matches, where the U.S. claimed victory in four of the five matches, it appeared that history was repeating itself. The only win for the International team was with the South African pairing of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace.
A reversal of form and fortune happened in Friday’s matches however, when the Internationals rallied to win 3 matches and tie another, closing the overall margin to 5.5 points to 4.5. The day was highlighted by a bizarre ruling involving American superstar, Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson, partnered with Zach Johnson, changed the type of ball he was using when he teed off on the par-5, 7th hole thus violating the “one ball rule”. The one ball rule states that a player can only play the same make and model of ball for any 18 hole round. Mickelson, who plays Calloway balls, changed the type of ball he was using to maximize distance on the par-5. This rule is waived by the PGA of America in both The Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship, but was (and always has been) in effect for the Presidents Cup.
Suddenly unsure if he had violated rule, Mickelson went to the rules official and asked if he had invoked a penalty. The official replied that he had and advised Mickelson to pick up his ball (that was an incorrect ruling as Mickelson could have finished playing the hole). Playing against Jason Day and Adam Scott, they would lose the hole after Day made a birdie. With the loss of another hole for the breach of the one ball rule, the Americans lost two holes while only playing, one.
In his post-match news conference, a combative Mickelson would say: “We spotted the Internationals’ best team two holes and they still couldn’t beat us. Just sayin’.”
Saturday’s eight matches ended in a draw with the Americans and International each winning three matches and tying the remaining two. Oosthuizen and Grace finished the team matches with a perfect 4-0-0 record to lead the Internationals, while world #1 Jordan Spieth led the way for the U.S. with wins in three of his four matches.
South Korea’s Sangmoon Bae played great golf admirably in front of his home crowd compiling an unbeaten 2-0-1 record in his 3 matches. Next week he will join the South Korean army, fulfilling his obligation to serve two years in the military. From the adulation of millions to the subservience of being a private in the military is quite the dichotomy.
Heading into Sunday’s 12 singles matches, the U.S. held a 9.5 to 8.5 point advantage. A single point may seem to be a narrow margin, but that still meant that the International side would have to win 7 of a possible 12 points to be victorious.
The International team seemed to be on the verge of that remarkable comeback on Sunday winning more matches than the Americans in the early singles matches.
And then the Presidents Cup turned upside down.
India’s, Anirban Lahiri, and American Chris Kirk were tied coming down the 18th hole. Both players hit their second shots on the par-5 closing hole to the front of the green. Kirk hit his chip shot 15 feet past the hole while Lahiri played his chip shot to 4 feet giving him the decided advantage. Kirk made his putt and Lahiri missed his giving Kirk a stunning victory over a despondent Lahiri.
U.S. Captain, Jay Haas, had picked his son, Bill, with one of his two Captain’s picks. He could not have imagined the heroics that his son would provide.
Playing in the 12th and final match, Haas was 1-up over Bae as they played their final hole. If Bae could manage to win that hole, it would leave the matches all tied with each team having 15 points. Haas had to lay up on the par-5 and then hit his third shot 20 feet from the pin, while Bae hit his second shot, just short of the green. Bae then flubbed his chip and with it the hopes of the Internationals as they would fall to the U.S. team an agonizing one point short, 14.5 to 15.5.
It is the nature of events like the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup that they create pressure the likes of which a player has never experienced before. It is one thing to lose as an individual in a regular tournament, but entirely another when the fates of 11 other players and your country’s honor is at stake. Bae had played so well all week, he should be proud of how he performed, especially with the added pressure of playing in front of his countrymen. It is sad that this will be the last hole he plays for two years.
Lahiri is a very talented player who also acquitted himself admirably as his country’s first ever participant in the Presidents Cup and the hope is that he not allow this heartbreak to fester.
On the other side of those disappointments was the jubilation that overcame the American side, the center of which was the pater/filis Haas duo.
As an emotional Jay said in an interview immediately after his son’s victory it was: “A moment I’ll never forget.”
Neither will we.