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A new Presidents Cup?

Branden Grace’s success in 2012 has been well documented, and three consecutive top-10 finishes in the last three weeks proved that last year was no fluke. It now leaves the 24 year old with the mouth-watering prospect of competing in his first Masters, the other three majors and the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2013.

Yet speaking to him at the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban three weeks ago, I was fascinated to hear which event he is looking forward to most: the 2013 Presidents Cup.

“The main thing for me is the Presidents Cup which has been on my mind for half a season now. We’ve got half a season to go and hopefully I will have done enough by then. It’s a dream to be in there, not just for South Africans but for players from the rest of the world too, so I really want to be in that side,” Grace said.

For a guy who is rolling in the dough and knocking over records on a near weekly basis, it seems surprising that a tournament with no remuneration that has lived in the shadow of the Ryder Cup since its inaugural event in 1994, could rank so highly on his list of priorities.

And yet he is not alone. Thomas Aiken, Louis Oosthuizen and George Coetzee have all intimated how much it would mean to them to be in Nick Price’s side at Muirfield Village in October, and it is clearly the draw of a team event that appeals to these accomplished professionals.

The International team earned a convincing victory in Australia in 1998, and who could forget the dramatic scenes at the Fancourt Links in 2003 when the playoff between Ernie Els and Tiger Woods was halted by bad light and the trophy was shared. But, other than these two memorable showpieces, the Internationals have failed to consistently challenge the Americans, and the one-sidedness of the event has left it a distant second in terms of prestige to the Ryder Cup.

What makes the lack of success for the Internationals slightly mystifying is that they have never had top-ranked players in short supply, and South Africa in particular has consistently provided them with a stream of golfers inside the world’s top 50. Unfortunately, they simply haven’t been able to pose a significant threat to the men from the States, and the event’s development has thus stagnated since the exciting platform that was laid in 2003.

Of course, the Internationals have to bridge cultural gaps far greater than their American opponents. This certainly doesn’t make it easy for players to gel in formats such as foursomes and betterball, and team spirit could possibly be affected by such vast differences and language barriers.

But perhaps a bigger reason for their mediocre performances is that for 24 months in between each Presidents Cup, these players have no team events available to them and thus very little reason to interact with potential teammates during this time. The Americans on the other hand play the Ryder Cup every alternate year, and are annually assembled as a team.

Even at amateur level, Americans and Great Britain have the Walker Cup to breed the excitement of a continental battle in their players, while those outside have no such equivalent. Such pride and patriotism is at the heart of the success of the Ryder Cup, and it keeps their players inspired, motivated and determined to make their respective team and lift their game to dizzy heights on the day.

My solution is simple: create an event where the Internationals compete against Europe. Two years is simply too much time apart for these fine golfers from “the rest of the world” to establish a team culture, and more frequent competition would surely do wonders in developing them as a competitive unit.

Some might argue that the Europeans would be too strong for them given their dominance of the Ryder Cup in the last decade. But a look at recent history shows that the previous two Ryder Cups have been nerve-wrackingly close, while the event in 2008 at Valhalla was dominated by the Americans. It thus seems to follow that the Europeans, while being formidable, would not be unbeatable.

Scheduling would no doubt be an issue, but a way around this has to be found. Let us not forget that the Ryder Cup was under threat of extinction in the 60s and 70s, with the then Great Britain outfit being soundly beaten by the Americans at each time of asking. The decision to include continental golfers in the European team from 1979 well and truly rescued it, and is largely responsible for it growing into the special contest that it is today.

I love the Ryder Cup as much as anyone, but without any patriotic ties to either team, I find it difficult to passionately support one or the other. The Presidents Cup is our chance to get behind “our team”, and something needs to be done to enhance this potentially fantastic event.

An International versus European match would increase the frequency with which these golfers get together, and it seems logical that team cohesion would naturally improve. The ripple effect of this would be a more competitive Presidents Cup – not to mention the potential to establish a world-class event in its own right.

It may seem a long way off now, but it should be remembered that the Ryder Cup took 86 years to become as popular as it is now. These things take time, so let’s give it a chance. It certainly seems like the players wouldn’t object.

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