Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How to improve the Presidents Cup? Bring on the women

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — No need for the Coast Guard to respond to the SOS from the luxury liner, captained by Steve Stricker and Nick Price, that ran aground Sunday along the Hudson River, in the shadows of Lady Liberty. The Presidents Cup, a poorly constructed idea manufactured by the PGA Tour to make boatloads of money, has been listing ever since the United States posted an 8-point victory in the inaugural event in 1994.

This year's competition was threatening to be the most lopsided of the biennial event's 12 editions, with the U.S. nearly clinching Saturday night before any of the 12 singles matches had been put down on paper — much less played out at Liberty National Golf Course.

The U.S. entered Sunday needing one full point to clinch. In the first match, Kevin Chappell and Marc Leishman played to a draw, so each earned one-half point. In the fourth match, Daniel Berger clinched at least a half point, securing the overall victory, on the 15th hole of his eventual 2 and 1 over Si Woo Kim. By the end of the day, the U.S. had secured its 10th victory in this event, 19-11.

Berger, 24, was one of six U.S. team members under 29 — the others were Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler. The six had a combined 14-2-4 record heading into Sunday's anticlimactic singles matches. It is hard to imagine this "juggernaut of an American team" — as Price, the International team's captain, described it — becoming less formidable any time soon.

Price's squad featured three players under 29 (Kim, Emiliano Grillo and Hideki Matsuyama). Although there are more youngsters in the pipeline — 20-year-old Marty Dou, for example, recently became one of the first Chinese-born players to earn his PGA Tour playing privileges — the Presidents Cup is in need of some radical rethinking to salvage it from the shiftless waters lapping its hull.

The obvious solution was there for all to see on the eve of the competition when In-Kyung Kim, the reigning Women's British Open champion from South Korea, visited Liberty National. Kim walked with her compatriot Si Woo Kim during a Wednesday practice round. She took a few swings with his clubs and asked him questions about the course.

In-Kyung Kim spent some time with Spieth, as well. She was not the only LPGA player, nor the only 2017 event winner, on the grounds that day. Cristie Kerr, a two-time major winner who is a member at Liberty National, paid a visit, and she, too, ran into Spieth. As she recalled, he asked her playfully if she could teach the American men "a thing or two about these team competitions."

Here's an even better idea: Make the Presidents Cup a combined-gender event in which the top six men and the top six women from the United States square off against their International counterparts. No need to change the format of foursomes, four-ball and singles.

Kerr, 39, a member of the U.S. team that scored a 5-point victory over a European squad in this year's Solheim Cup, has been clamoring for a mixed-gender event for some time.

"Anything we can do that would give us the type of exposure that the Presidents Cup has is a good thing," said Kerr, who marveled at the corporate tent city built on the course for the event. She added: "We would certainly like to tap into some of that."

A combined-gender Presidents Cup would help resolve the issue that Juli Inkster, the U.S. captain for the Solheim Cup, gave voice to after that event in August, which featured sublime golf by both sides. Inkster lamented that the women too seldom receive the respect they deserve.

"I just think as women golfers we always get shortchanged, and it irks me," Inkster told reporters at Des Moines Golf and Country Club after the final day of the competition. She added, "From the PGA Tour down, I just don't think we get the respect we deserve. And I just think, hopefully, as it goes on, hopefully things start to change, especially in sponsorships."

Inkster threw down the gauntlet. Will the PGA Tour, which has the power to effect change — and, since it formed a strategic alliance with the LPGA last year, the mandate — respond? It's not as if combined-gender events are unheard-of in golf. From 1960 to 1966, and again from 1976 through 1999, the PGA and LPGA tours sponsored a mixed team event in the fall.

Combined team events would be nothing new to the millennials, either. In 2008, Lexi Thompson, 22, now the top-ranked American in the women's rankings at No. 3, and Spieth represented the U.S. as teenagers in a mixed four-ball match at the Junior Ryder Cup. Last year Spieth recalled that Thompson carried the pair, describing her as "almost unbeatable."

The best women golfers in the world routinely tell stories about their male amateur partners gallantly offering to show them how to hit a slice or expressing surprise when they outdrive them. What grander way to promote the sport and dispel sexist presumptions than through a combined-gender Presidents Cup?

Of the top 10 women in the world rankings, including the world No. 1, So Yeon Ryu of South Korea, eight would be eligible to compete for the International team. The LPGA schedule would have to be adjusted, and logistical allowances made, but wouldn't it be worth it to watch Si Woo Kim consulting with In-Kyung Kim about how to play a course?

The PGA Tour runs the Presidents Cup, and they did not totally overlook the women. Before the event started, wives and girlfriends of several of the players from both teams squared off in a cooking competition.

As society changes, the PGA and LPGA Tours need to work together to anchor the Presidents Cup. The time for women to perform as equals alongside men on one of the grander stages in golf is now.

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Published: 09/04/18