Whether because major nobodies have won the last two major championships, or because a few high-profile Americans have been administered a miracle cure for xenophobia, the announcement of the teams for the Presidents Cup was hardly the acrimonious affair anticipated 12 months ago.
Rather than having to come up with an unlikely excuse for the absence of Tiger Woods, the most difficult thing that United States team captain Jack Nicklaus had to explain was the inclusion of 49-year-old Jay Haas.
And that was a breeze, for Haas had finished in the top 10 when the US PGA concluded at Oak Hill last Sunday, and during the Indian summer of a somewhat anonymous career, he finds himself ranked 19th in the world.
Woods is coming and so is Phil Mickelson, and Davis Love was never in doubt, so now we can get down to talking about the tournament rather than the politics behind it. The US team won the last event in 2000 and have only lost once since it began in 1994, but because that happened on the one and only occasion the Presidents Cup was held outside the US, there is reason to hope for a repeat loss when the circus comes to George in November.
International team captain Gary Player had the difficult task of selecting his top two choices made considerably easier by the jockeying for position at Oak Hill.
Given the venue, Player wanted to get another South African into the team and Trevor Immelman looked like the man, having begun the year in great form.
But Immelman lost ground in mid-season and Tim Clark’s third-place finish in the PGA convinced Player that the quietly confident boy from Umkomaas should get in ahead of the flamboyant South African Open champion from Somerset West.
The desire to keep the Asian market for the competition appeased resulted in Player’s second pick being KJ Choi. Again he was helped by Choi’s form, which saw him compete strongly in the last two majors of the year and propelled him to the brink of automatic qualification. The International team now boasts five Australians, three South Africans, and one each from Zimbabwe, Fiji, Canada and Korea.
Statistically, the US team is in a different league. Their lowest-ranked player (Haas) is 24th in the world and they average 12,75 — almost half the ranking average of the Internationals.
They have six players in the world’s top 10 to the three of the Internationals, for whom half of the team lie outside the world’s top 25. All of which is blissfully irrelevant, thanks to the levelling nature of team matchplay golf.
Internationals: Ernie Els (SA), Vijay Singh (Fiji), Mike Weir (Canada), Nick Price (Zimbabwe), Retief Goosen (SA), Robert Allenby, Stephen Leaney, Peter Lonard, Adam Scott, Stuart Appleby (all Australia), KJ Choi (Korea), Tim Clark (SA).
US: Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk, David Toms, Kenny Perry, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Chris DiMarco, Jerry Kelly, Charles Howell, Fred Funk, Jay Haas.