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Morri: Bright Side Of The Presidents Cup

Si Woo Kim proved he was invested in the event by 'shushing' the American crowds Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)
If you live under a rock and/or take no interest in the professional game, you may not be aware there has been a lot of hand-wringing about the recent Presidents Cup.

To bring you up to speed, the Internationals last week played Team USA for the 12th time and got flogged. Really flogged.

They weren’t ‘soundly beaten’. The US victory wasn’t ‘comfortable’. The result was an out and out, good old fashioned, humiliating, thrashing.

Results such as the one in New Jersey are, from time to time, inevitable in sport but we in the media need something to write and talk about so the post mortem of this Presidents Cup has focused predominantly on ways to ‘fix’ the event.

(Not ‘fix’ in the way tennis and cricket matches are apparently sometimes ‘fixed’ but ‘fix’ as in make the biennial competition more – what’s the word? - competitive.)

While the suggested solutions have included some bold and intriguing concepts (such as the mixed event idea put forward by former player and commentator Alison Whitaker and others), they fail to acknowledge some of the good stuff that happened at Liberty National.

Putting aside talk of changing the format or team selection processes or blowing up the whole event and starting again, let’s first spend a moment thinking about the positives.

As golf fans, we got to watch a US Team that could, alongside the 1975 US Ryder Cup side, make a case for being in the top handful ever assembled.

By their nature, these team events always feature some of the world’s best but this American side not only had the resume, they played to their potential.

Justin Thomas was brilliant, Dustin Johnson resembled ‘The Terminator’, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth proved their formula of trying to beat each other while playing together is a winner while the odd couple pairing of Kevin Kisner and Phil Mickelson proved inspired.

An animated Phil Mickelson during last week's Presidents Cup.

But the good stuff didn’t belong solely to the US team as a couple of the Internationals also showed the golf world something.

Players Championship winner Si Woo Kim, in a losing singles match against Daniel Berger on Sunday, took a leaf out of Patrick Reed’s book and gave the raucous American fans the ‘shush’.

It takes some bravado to pull off a move like that, especially when it comes after making a putt to go from 3 down to 2 down, and that’s great stuff for a potential future star of the International team.

Jokes aside, it says with certainty that Kim is ‘invested’ in the event and as Adam Scott pointed out in the aftermath, that is precisely what the International Team needs.

Also inspiring was the play of Jhonattan Vegas, the first golfer from Venezuela to play on the International team.

Vegas is well used to being the first golfer from Venezuela to do a lot of things but this achievement was clearly special to him and while he was on the losing end in four of his five matches, he actually played extremely well.

But perhaps the most intriguing player from either side was India’s Anirban Lahiri.

Much maligned as one of Nick Price’s two Captain’s picks, Lahiri came to Liberty National with the weight of the 2015 Cup squarely on his shoulders.

Lahiri missed a three-foot putt on the 18th hole to square his Sunday singles match against Chris Kirk in South Korea, the full point going to the Americans and proving crucial in their 15.5 to 14.5 victory.

Fast forward to 2017 and his play in his opening match, the Friday fourballs, was beyond woeful.

A snap hook into the hazard off the first tee was one of the better shots he played on the front nine and the only proper golf shot he hit all day came with a short iron to three feet at the 10th to win the hole.

When that match ended three holes later, Lahiri and Schwartzel had been humiliated 6&5 by Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell and Price’s decision was looking less than inspired.

More bumbling golf followed over the front nine of his day three fourball pairing with Si Woo Kim but something changed on the back nine.

The last match on the course, again playing Chappell and Hoffman, Lahiri and Kim needed to win the point to avoid the Cup being officially decided Saturday night.

So deep was the hole the Internationals found themselves in that not being beaten before the Sunday singles was all they had to play for.

With every other player from both sides, the entire on-site crowd and an international television audience watching on, the pressure in this one match was intense.

Kim and Lahiri came to the 14th 1 down and in danger of going 2 down when the Indian-born player suddenly came alive.

He holed a crucial 11-foot putt to halve the hole before Kim birdied the next to square things.

At the difficult par-3 16th, Lahiri hit the best tee shot of the group then sent the Internationals ahead with a magnificent putt from 16 feet for the birdie.

But things were only just warming up. On the next, Charley Hoffman holed a pitch shot from short of the green that would have made Seve blush, the partisan American crowd going into raptures.

Lahiri, though, was suddenly a different player and, facing a 19-foot putt to halve the hole that must have looked closer to 40, he somehow coaxed the ball into the cup to neutralise Hoffman’s brilliance.

It was matchplay golf at its finest and came under as much pressure as a player could face given the standings of the teams at the time.

However, there was one last shining moment to come and it belonged not to the International team but the Americans.

A brilliant up and down for par at the final hole from Kevin Chappell left Lahiri facing a tense four-footer to square the hole and win the point. But he never had to stroke it.

In a magnificent sporting gesture that was mostly overlooked at the time, Chappell told him to pick up.

It was the only full point the Internationals won in eight matches that day and with the Saturday scoreline 14.5 to 2.5, saved the Internationals the embarrassment of losing in three days.

For all the brilliant golf played over the four days, Chappell’s concession might have been the best moment of the week.

The players from the International team will be rightly embarrassed by their capitulation in this contest but it will serve to make them, and the team, stronger.

And with a bit of luck, it will help make them more competitive in the future, too, as the game could do with more team matchplay golf.

The Presidents Cup doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’, it just needs the Internationals to play better and if you were watching carefully last week, you would have noticed there were at least some signs that might be possible.

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