ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — A U.S. assistant captain and the team’s fourth-ranked player stood side-by-side on a driving range 650 miles from the Presidents Cup venue, firing low 5-iron shots at squares of glass with their names on it.
“Somebody call Freddie (Couples) and tell him we’re going to be late because of a glass-breaking playoff,” Davis Love III said.
“This is so much fun,” Matt Kuchar replied. “How much more glass do you have?”
Love had already convinced Kuchar to stick around Monday morning at Sea Island to participate in a charity challenge with Tommy Gainey, a former Big Break winner and reigning champion at the McGladrey Classic that benefits the Love Foundation. But Kuchar was concerned because Couples, the American team captain, had instituted a noon deadline for everyone to show up for this week’s Presidents Cup.
No worries. Love called Couples the night before and explained about the media day obligation and that they might be a few hours late to Muirfield Village.
“Whatever,” Couples told Love in his signature laid-back fashion. “Get here whenever you want.”
If anybody defines the difference between the all-consuming intensity of the Ryder Cup vs. the casual competitiveness of the Prez Cup, it’s Couples. Two team members arriving late on the eve of the first practice rounds is no big deal. Being tardy at a Ryder Cup because you were goofing off on the driving range at home would escalate into an international incident.
The scope of the Presidents Cup remains a little more rational. Nobody understands that better than Love, who committed huge swaths of the previous two years of his life to being the American Ryder Cup captain in 2012 while his good friend Couples has taken the casual route in skippering the Presidents Cup team three times.
“After my experience of the last two years, I don’t think Freddie really wants all that,” Love said of the stress and criticism he encountered in the obsession that’s become the Ryder Cup. “Maybe Fred knows what he’s doing. Three Presidents Cups in a row, having Michael Jordan up there playing golf, getting to be around the team without having to deal with trips to New York and all around the world for the Ryder Cup. Maybe he’s smart.”
As Couples’ assistant along with Jay Haas, Love said he has contributed “nothing” so far. His only participation prior to flying in late Monday was a 30-minute conference call about the pairings.
“And I don’t think I said anything because Freddie had it all figured out,” he admitted.
There is no way that Love could have gotten away with treating the Ryder Cup as casually as Couples treats the biennial event against an International team (excluding Europe). Every move a Ryder Cup captain makes for two years is dissected.
By contrast, few people even start talking about the Presidents Cup until the team gets selected and the event arrives.
“The difference is we’re not nervous right now, whereas the Ryder Cup we’d be so geeked up already,” Love said. “It’s a friendlier, more relaxed competition than that tension and fear of losing right from the first shot. The Ryder Cup you’re nervous the week before. More than a major. At the U.S. Open, there’s no fear of losing the week before. The Ryder Cup you start thinking ‘What if I don’t play well? Who will I be paired up with?’ You almost start panicking a little bit.”
That doesn’t mean the players care any less about winning or the competitive passion will be any less on the course. It just isn’t as life-or-death as the Ryder Cup seems to get, which is part of the reason the Americans have thrived.
“The atmosphere doesn’t seem to be the intense rivalry as in the Ryder Cup, but as players it’s a similar feeling being around the other guys and getting out and competing,” Kuchar said.
The PGA Tour created the Presidents Cup in 1994 to try to harness the kind of energy and enthusiasm (and money) that the Ryder Cup generates every other year. Despite America’s dominance of what typically have been less deep international teams, the event has been warmly embraced by players and fans. But it hasn’t remotely challenged the Ryder Cup’s popularity.
Love, who played in six of each event from 1993-2005, doesn’t believe the Presidents Cup will ever be the Ryder Cup.
“It’s the whole age thing – it’s a baby compared to the Ryder Cup,” Love said. “It’s growing fast, but it’s not as big a deal. The players feel that.
“Can it ever catch up? I don’t know. Will the PGA Championship, being the fourth one, ever be the Masters or Open Championship? It’s still a major and getting a better field than the rest of them, but will it ever have the mystique of the Masters or the champion golfer of the year? No. It can get close but it can never really catch up. I think the Presidents Cup is the same way. It’ll grow, but I don’t think it will ever quite be the same.”