It always raises a wee smile when, during the prolonged and typically over-the-top build-ups to a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup – take your pick – the matches are hailed as gladiatorial contests between the “best players in the world.” They’re not. Of course they’re not. Neither of them.
In terms of quality, these biennial battles are marked by who is not on the premises as much as by who is. At the Ryder Cup, there is no sign of Jason Day. Or Adam Scott. Or Marc Leishman. Or Hideki Matsuyama. Or Cameron Smith. Or Louis Oosthuizen. At a Presidents Cup you’ll look in vain for any of the leading Europeans who have done such a consistently fine job of whuppin’ Uncle Sam’s increasingly beleaguered band of nephews.
You get my drift. There is an obvious gap in (male professional) golf’s menu, one that could be filled by a delicacy from the “specials” page rather than buried in an every-day list of goodies. And, as is so often the case, the women’s game has already identified a solution. Okay, the eight-team, four-to-a-team format might need to be tweaked a little – nothing is ever completely perfect – but the LPGA’s “International Crown” event is something worth studying and, in turn, copying. At least to an extent.
“Think about it. The men and women would not only be playing alongside each other in alternate groups, they would be competing with and directly against each other.”
Which is not to say that this new event would not suffer from (rich) player indifference. Even though they all claim to be imbued with an unquenchable sense of patriotism, the rah-rah statements emanating from today’s leading practitioners are notoriously unreliable. I bring you a glaring example in the shape of Bryson DeChambeau. In the immediate wake of being selected by captain Jim Furyk for this year’s American Ryder Cup side, the former US Amateur champion tweeted the following:
“Nothing means more than playing for my country. I could not be more honoured to be a part of Ryder Cup USA.”
Stirring stuff indeed. But not too long after raising the flag, removing his famous cap and clutching his chest, DeChambeau’s name was notably absent from the two-man side that was to represent the US in the World Cup of Golf at the wonderful Metropolitan club in Melbourne. Strangely – and tellingly – something else entirely will mean more than the stars and stripes to DeChambeau that week.
Indeed, the obvious victim in all of this is that same World Cup of Golf. DeChambeau was far from alone in tacitly expressing his indifference to this historic event. Only a few of the countries taking part will be represented by their top-two players, although I am pleased to say that Scotland – in the shape of Russell Knox and Martin Laird – is not one of those.
"Let’s face it. Stroke-play only gets really interesting when, on Sunday afternoons, it morphs into match-play."
Anyway, the demise of the World Cup would free up a week in an increasingly crowded schedule that this year has done the Australian Open no favours. Clashing with the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, one of the game’s most iconic titles was deprived of the top-60 money-winners on golf’s second-biggest circuit.
But I digress.
The point here is that something along the lines of the International Crowns has a lot going for it. Potentially. As was loudly obvious during the recent Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in France – hardly a traditional hot-bed of golf – even casual fans of the game love team events. And they adore the finality and human interaction of match play much more than the too-often pedestrian nature of stroke-play. Let’s face it. Stroke-play only gets really interesting when, on Sunday afternoons, it morphs into match-play.
Now that I come to think of it, this new all-singing, all-dancing event would be most innovative contested by mixed teams (bet on South Korea). As the burgeoning success of the Victorian Open down at 13th Beach has made clear – only a few years from mere State Open status, it will next year be part of the European Tour schedule – the public has a real appetite for events that do not discriminate on the grounds of gender. And a mixed International Crown would go one better than the Vic Open.
Think about it. The men and women would not only be playing alongside each other in alternate groups, they would be competing with and directly against each other. Surely, that sort of enlightenment has to be more and more a continuing part of the game’s brave new future maybe a couple of times a year. It would, at least, distract the wider public from golf’s pathetic record of blatant discrimination. If only for boosting the game’s wider image, it must be worth a try.
Anyway, let’s build it and see if they – the players – will come. Even dear old Bryson.