USA captain, Steve Stricker, added Phil Mickelson and Charley Hoffman to his side when the captain’s picks for both sides were announced today while his counterpart in the International team, Nick Price, was perhaps less obvious with the inclusion of Argentine Emiliano Grillo and Indian Anirban Lahiri to a team which has experienced only one victory in 11 previous encounters.
For the USA, both wild cards were predictable. Mickelson’s long history in both the Ryder and Presidents Cups along with his overall standing in the game and his recent form make him a valid selection while Hoffman had only narrowly missed out on one of the automatic inclusions and had certainly done enough in 2017 for Stricker to have no other choice to include him.
Grillo stood just outside the top 10 on the International standings when they were finalised on Monday US time and his inclusion was no real shock despite some rather indifferent form for much of 2017. His better tournaments in each of the FedEx Cup Playoffs were perhaps enough to secure him Price’s nod but it was no doubt a close call.
The top 10 on the International Team standings earned automatic selection on Monday US time.
The selection of Lahiri however was a far greater surprise. Admittedly, the Indian star finished runner-up at the Memorial Tournament earlier in the season and, as Price agonised over his final selection, it may well be that finish which was the one to get Lahiri across the line because, that aside, there has not been a lot to get excited about in Lahiri’s 2017 season.
Perhaps counting in Lahiri’s favour also would be that he has already played a Presidents Cup having been part of the team that went so close in South Korea two years ago although Lahiri contributed no points in his three matches.
Unfortunaetly for Lahiri, his involvement in 2015 will mostly be remembered for the crucial putt he missed on the final hole to lose his singles match against Chris Kirk, which would have played a major role in a different outcome.
In fairness to Price, his final selection was far less clear cut than that of Stricker’s, especially with Japanese golfers Hideto Tanihara and Yuta Ikeda, who were 12th and 13th respectively in the final standings, having played well in Japan and internationally for much of this year, Tanihara finishing 4th at the WGC-Dell Match Play and 3rd at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Ikeda won two starts ago in Japan and while his season overall has not been particularly impressive he did finish 22nd at the Players Championship. Both, more especially Tanihara, could be considered unlucky.
So that leaves us with two very contrasting sides in terms of their strength on paper.
Amongst the Americans, all 12 are inside the top 30 in the world ranking, seven inside the top 20 and four in the top 10.
Compare that with the Internationals who have just six inside the top 30, four in the top 20 and only two inside the top 10.
Two of the Internationals are currently outside the top 50 while none of the Americans are outside the top 30.
Such disparities are not uncommon in Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup and even Solheim Cup encounters where the American sides typically start as the raging favourites on paper at least.
As has often been highlighted in the various match play events on the major men's and women's tours, any player capable of making it into one of those sides or events is capable of beating their opponent on any given day.
It is the strength and depth across the US side, though, that makes defeating them at home such a daunting prospect for the Internationals this year.
Admittedly, there was a very similar contrast in the respective strengths of the sides when they last clashed in Korea two years ago when, on that occasion, there would be only one point separating the sides at the completion of the event after the USA had won the opening foursomes 4-1.
So all is not lost for the Internationals despite what history and the world rankings suggest.
One thing that is important, however, is that the Internationals must find a way to follow their near miss in South Korea with another great challenge or victory. If they do so, then the Presidents Cup will still be relevant when it goes to Royal Melbourne in 2019.
If the outcome is as one-sided as the strength of the respective sides suggest, then the future of the event comes under further scrutiny.
World golf can ill afford such an outcome.
JOE MILLER: ALTER YOUR SWING PATH FOR MORE DISTANCE
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