Time for a miracle or maybe a Kim Jong il

The whispers that have surrounded The Presidents Cup for years now – well, to be exact, since 1998 – will grow to a crescendo if the United States is again victorious against the Internationals in the 2015 edition of the cup that starts in South Korea tomorrow.

Yes, the question will be asked: Does the cup have any relevance in the world of golf?

And, just what is its future? Does The PGA Tour – and its Commissioner Almighty Tim Finchem – continue to flog a dead horse or accept the sad fact that The Presidents Cup will never achieve the mighty success of the biennial Ryder Cup clash between the US and the Europeans.

As parochial as an Australian can be whilst wrapping one self in the collective flags of Australia, South Korea, South Africa, Thailand, India, Japan and New Zealand – for the 12 International players who are drawn on world rankings from those seven countries – it would be a fool easily parted with his money to have a flutter on the Internationals.

All 12 American players are ranked in the top 28 in the world; the Internationals have six players outside the top 30.

Five of the Americans are in the top 10 headed by No 1 Jordan Spieth (winner of the Masters and US Open this year) along with Bubba Watson (No 4), Rickie Fowler (No 5), Dustin Johnson (No 8) and 2015 British Open winner Zach Johnson (top 10).

By stark contrast, the Internationals have just one top 10 player – Jason Day, who won this year’s PGA Championship at No 2 – while the next highest ranked are former British Open champion South African Louis Oosthuizen at No 13 and former Masters winner Australian Adam Scott at 14th.

Yes, it is a formidable task confronting International captain Nick Price against his American counterpart Fred Couples who is in his fourth successive stint as captain.

Couples’ two captain’s picks are Bill Haas and Phil Mickelson who has played every Presidents Cup since its inception (read brainchild of Tim Finchem) in 1994.

Oh that Kim Jong il (father of North Korean’s current leader) were still alive.

Instead of Australian Stephen Bowditch and South African Charl Schwartzel as his two captain’s picks, Price could have ignored one of them for Kim.

Yes, just make a pleading a telephone call to ask the North Korean leader/dictator to venture across the border into enemy territory to display his immense skills as a golfer and lead the Internationals to a great and glorious victory.

Back in the early 1990s, the state-owned (isn’t everything in North Korea) news agency, unquestioningly reported to the world that Kim Jong il shot a 28-under par 34 around the country’s only golf course at Pyongyang, a round that included an extraordinary 11 aces.

Kim’s 17 security guards who accompanied him their Supreme Leader around the course, yes the great man had indeed shot 34 – and it was the first time he’d ever picked up a golf club.

So much for the capitalistic game! One fact beyond dispute about Kim was that he did have an enormous capacity/love of Hennessey cognac that retailed at the time for more than $600 a bottle and he was reputedly the biggest single customer of that drop of the deadener over a decade.

Just to let the ludicrous, yet fun, imagination run a touch rampant, another captain’s pick for Price could have been the Sultan of Johor or, to give him his full title – Al-Mutawakkil Alallah Sultan Iskander Ibni Almarhum Sultan Ismail Al-Khakidl.

Let’s just call him Iskander.

In the early 1990s, I covered two tournaments in Malaysia that were then co-sanctioned by the Australasian PGA Tour – the Perak Masters and the Malaysian Open – and discovered the legend of Iskander as a golfer.

From 1984 to 1989, he was Supreme King, or High King, of Malaysia and spent much of his time playing golf. Always he was accompanied by a couple of extra caddies, not to carry his bag of clubs, but rather chain saws to remove trees on the spot should their boss find them an impediment to his swing.

But caddying for Islander, also had its perils. In 1987, a caddie died by Iskander’s hands – using a golf club – after he laughed when the Supreme King missed a putt.

And, we all thought Rob Allenby has been tough on his caddies through the years.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia, indeed the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman (and old golfing buddy of our former PM Bob Hawke) ruled Iskander could not be prosecuted because of his lofty position.

But, let’s get back to reality.

Price surely must invoke the spirit captain Peter Thomson engendered in his International team of 1998 (the third of the Presidents Cups) when, despite the odds, they triumphed, 20.5-11.5, over the Americans. That remains the biggest winning margin in the short history of the event.

There were eskies of beer on the bus back from Royal Melbourne after each day was done and jokes were told. What happened on the bus has always stayed on the bus through the years.

Following a tip-off from one of the Australian members of the International team, I wrote a story in the Sydney Morning Herald that also was printed in the Fairfax sister paper, The Age in Melbourne, that there was disquiet among the American team about Jack Nicklaus’ captaincy of the team.

Mutiny is a strong word, but apparently it was close, as Nicklaus apparently hadn’t been entirely forthcoming about his pairings for the all-important foursomes and four ball events. Basically the players were being left in the dark until the very last moment.

The Internationals, though, were given no chance of victory. After all, the Americans had five of the world’s top 10 in their midst. The Internationals had just three – Ernie Els, Price and Vijay Singh.  Greg Norman was outside the top 10 for the first time since rankings were introduced in 1986 after a six-month layoff because of shoulder surgery.

Three of their players were outside the top 50 – Craig Parry (53rd), Frank Nobilo (60th) and Greg Turner (70th).

Yet, it was a flogging. The Americans were stunned, almost into silence, which is tough for any American.

Mark Calcavecchia said: “It never dawned on me that we would lose. We all played okay, but I don’t think anybody did their best out there for the team. Did the International team want it more? Maybe they did. The amazing thing is it wasn’t even close. That’s probably the worst part.”

Nicklaus was gracious in defeat, saying, “These guys played great. To have these guys from all over the world come together as a group … It is easy for us. We all come from the one place. To take a squad like Peter (Thomson) had and put them together, to fight for each other and root for each other and win is really special. I’m sure Peter is very, very proud.”

He was, humble as always.

So, there it is. Ten Presidents Cup so far played, eight won by the Americans, one by the Internationals and one tied, in South Africa in 2003, where a sudden-death playoff between Tiger Woods and Els could not be separated after three holes as darkness descended.

Back in the late 1970s, the Ryder Cup between the US and Great Britain was also plummeting into irrelevance with 10 series passing without a GB victory so the decision was made to include add continental Europe to the British players beginning in 1979.

Now, it is a fierce passionate affair, at times bordering on the unsporting. But it has become a must-watch occasion for all golf fans, even here in Australia.

Oh, that the Presidents Cup could become a real contest. Maybe this time round, over the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon City, South Korea, a course designed by the great man, but that’s the urging of the heart, rather than the brain.

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