On the eve of the 11th President Cup matches in South Korea, the International Team hopes that the new format adopted in August will usher in a new era of competitiveness. If so, captain Nick Price and his team members have PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem to thank for finally breaking an impasse after years of debate.
Under the old format, there were 34 total points: 22 points from four-ball and foursomes (alternate shot) matches, and 12 points from singles matches. On Thursday and Friday, there were six four-ball and six foursomes matches.
Under the new format, the Thursday and Friday schedule will be reduced to five matches per day, bringing the total points for the competition down to 30. Each player will be required to play in two of the first four sessions. (Previously they were required to compete in three.) On Saturday, there will continue to be four four-ball and four foursomes matches.
The twelve singles matches are played on Sunday. Another significant change is that if singles matches are all square after 18 holes, they will be a draw with a half point awarded to each team. Previously, extra holes were played to determine the winner.
The International team has a dismal record in the Presidents Cup, having won only one of ten competitions (1998). (The teams tied in 2003.) The International team has long lobbied for a reduction of matches. Price explained that fewer points gives the stronger team less of an advantage as weaker players do not have to compete as often. He noted that the old format was “a huge difference” from the Ryder Cup, which has 28 total points. “The 22 points in the team matches make it very easy for one team to get so far ahead it takes all the excitement out of the Sunday singles.”
Under the Presidents Cup rules, changes must be agreed to by the team captains. Not surprisingly, the format change was resisted on this side of the Atlantic, resulting in a stalemate. Finchem, who conceived the Presidents Cup in 1994, took it upon himself to implement the change.
“After numerous meetings and discussions, it was apparent that both captains [Price and Jay Haas] felt passionate about their respective positions, as did their potential team members,” said Finchem. “But with no clear consensus between the two sides, it was up to me to make a decision that would be best for the event overall.”
Price is optimistic that the format change will produce healthier competition. “I think all of us on the team feel that a points change would really make it more exciting and more competitive. I think win, lose or draw we all want to see it come down to the final match on Sunday instead of being done with eight matches left on the golf course on Sunday. That’s a big deal.”
Price has a point, but Jay Haas might have a different perspective on the format change. To a team captain, a boring win is preferable to an exciting loss.