Dublin Villager

Overview

International Team looks for luck in Dublin

Enlarge Image Buy This Photo
FRED SQUILLANTE/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
U.S. Team captain Fred Couples (left), PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and International Team captain Nick Price answer questions during a news conference. It's the third time Couples has been captain and the first for Price.
By

Less than an hour after the venerable green jacket was first slipped onto Adam Scott's shoulders last April, the first-time major winner cited one of the main reasons he became the 2013 Masters Tournament champion.

It started at the 2009 Presidents Cup.

The Presidents Cup, which pits 12 golfers from the United States against 12 International golfers -- excluding European countries -- will be played for the 10th time when it arrives at Muirfield Village Golf Club from Oct. 1-6.

In the four years since 2009, Scott has gone from a captain's pick to the Masters champion and top-ranked player on the International Team. He is one of the team's veterans, having played this event six times. But none was as special as 2009.

"My game was in a bit of a rut, and I wasn't enjoying it," said Scott, in the pressroom at Augusta National last spring. "(International Team captain) Greg (Norman) had a lot of faith in me and he gave me a pick. I didn't want to disappoint him.

"He automatically put me into world-class situation of playing. There's no hiding in a Presidents Cup. You have to go out there and you're playing against the best players in the world. I used that as a real motivator."

The International Team could use some motivation. In the previous nine Presidents Cups, the Americans have won seven times (1994, '96, 2000, '05, '07, '09, '11), the International Team won once ('98) and there was a tie ('03).

Nick Price, 56, is a three-time major winner and a five-time International Team member.

The native Zimbabwean has taken over for Australian Greg Norman as the International Team captain. Norman was captain the previous two Presidents Cups, both won by the Americans.

"The great thing about the Presidents Cup is that there's no money on the line," Price said. "This is pure golf. This is pride. We want to compete and we want to try to win the Cup.

"We've kind of had a tough time so I'm trying to figure out how we turn that tide."

Thanks to the consistent success of the U.S. Team, there has been little change to its leadership. Fred Couples, 53, won the 1992 Masters and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier this year. He has guided the Americans to their last two Presidents Cup victories.

Unlike the International Team, the American team is quite acquainted with team play. The Ryder Cup dates back to 1927 and places the Americans against a team from Europe. Last year, the Europeans overtook U.S. Team and its 10-6 lead on the final day in what has been described one of the greatest comebacks in Ryder Cup history.

"The Presidents Cup is different, and I don't know if there is anything for us to prove to try to regain due to our lost Ryder Cup," U.S. Team member Matt Kuchar said. "Nobody likes losing. We want to continue our winning tradition the U.S. has had in the Presidents Cup."

Kuchar is one of nine players on this year's Presidents Cup team that also played in last year's Ryder Cup. The others are Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.

"I like the Presidents Cup format better," Kuchar said. "More guys get to play, it is over four days instead of three and 10 of the 12 guys play each session instead of four guys sitting each session.

"It is more fun to have more guys out there playing and competing. I'm very excited to be apart of this team again. I expect there to be a lot of great support from the folks in central Ohio."

Event takes turn at Jack's place

Muirfield Village Golf Club was announced as the host of the 2013 Presidents Cup on June 3, 2010. It is the only course in the world to host a Ryder Cup (1987), a Solheim Cup (1998) and now a Presidents Cup.

Almost immediately, course founder and designer Jack Nicklaus set to work to improve hole No. 16, the driving range and the clubhouse.

First, in 2010, the par-3 16th was completely redone. A large pond now guards the length of the green on the left and the putting surface was turned more horizontally to the teeing ground. It has quickly become one of the more difficult holes during the annual Memorial Tournament.

"I always felt No. 16 wasn't a bad golf hole, but just a way to get from 15 green to 17 tee," Nicklaus said. "I just felt like it was a bland hole.

"We figured holes Nos. 15, 16 and 17 are where most of the matches are going to be. There was a method to our madness."

Next, the driving range was redesigned to help its drainage and extend it to a maximum length of 288 yards to more than 300 yards.

"The drainage was so bad," Nicklaus said. "We found golf balls back from the Solheim Cup and even balls with my name on it."

Finally, the clubhouse was re-done just before the start of the Memorial last June in an effort to improve the experience for fans and players. Nicklaus' goal was to provide a sanctuary for the players, players' guests, club members and sponsors.

Traditionally, Nicklaus has focused on catering to the players and as a result, the Memorial Tournament is one of the more popular stops on the PGA Tour calendar and always boasts a strong field.

"(Nicklaus) wanted to have a dramatic finish, which worked out OK for me last year," said Woods, who chipped in on No. 16 en route to his record fifth Memorial Tournament victory in 2012. "This is a great venue. The fans are absolutely incredible, and they come out in droves."

"Ohio golf fans and Ohio sports fans have always welcomed the PGA Tour with open arms," Price said. "I have great memories playing in Ohio. (Muirfield Village) is a wonderful venue and a great fit for a Presidents Cup. Jack has done a phenomenal job to that golf course. Over the years, all the guys just love playing in the Memorial."

Of the 24 competitors in this year's Presidents Cup only one -- Hideki Matsuyama of the International Team -- has not played in at least one Memorial Tournament.

Woods' five wins at Muirfield Village is followed by teammates Kuchar, who won the event last June, and Stricker, who won it in 2011. International Team member Ernie Els won the Memorial in 2004.

"I really enjoy the course," said Kuchar, who has five top-10 finishes in eight appearances at the Memorial. "This course just fits my eye really well. It tests every club in your bag and the greens are some of the quickest we play all year on the PGA Tour."

Challenge for the International Team

The challenge for Price is the same as the previous four captains.

How does he get players from places like South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Canada, Japan, South Africa and Zimbabwe to bond?

Experience in a team setting is limited for members of the International Team, which is comprised of five South Africans, three Australians and one player each from Argentina, Canada, Japan and Zimbabwe.

Graham DeLaet (Canada), Brendon de Jonge (Zimbabwe), Branden Grace (South Africa), Marc Leishman (Australia), Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa), Hideki Matsuyama (Japan) and Richard Sterne (South Africa) are all making their first appearance.

"I'm happy with our team," Price said.

"What we lack in experience, we make up for in enthusiasm."

In order to begin team bonding, Price met with a group of International players last June at the Memorial. Scott, who at that point was secured of making his sixth Presidents Cup appearance, talked to a group of players about what it is like to play in this event.

"(DeLaet) was so fired up after listening to Adam," Price said. "He said he was determined to make the team and he's matured and learned how to play the game so well. It's so infectious to the team.

"With all the youngsters, we won't be too short of the enthusiasm."

The International Team's only win came in 1998 when the event was held at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia.

"We play 95 percent of our golf outside of our home country," Price said. "There's going to be some bias toward American players, but us international players we're used that in many respect.

"It's going to be a fabulous week. Ohio and Columbus golf fans are going to be treated to some wonderful golf."

Comments