Team success: ‘s Jason Day and Adam Scott pose with the trophy after winning the teams event of the World Cup of Golf in 2013. Photo: Quinn RooneyGolf fans in Melbourne could be forgiven for reserving their excitement about the news concerning the World Cup.
The last time a “showtime” international event was promised to n fans under the same name three years ago it was something of a letdown.
Not so much the result – n star Jason Day won the main “individual” part of the 2013 World Cup at Royal Melbourne and he and Adam Scott also claimed the secondary “teams” trophy.
The fan-friendly storyline rescued the event here, but the home-grown happy ending did not help restore the World Cup to prominence as far as the rest of the globe was concerned.
It had nothing to do with how the event was run or the course – the players were more than satisfied with both. The key problems were two-fold: the format chosen for the tournament, and the quality of the field. And in some ways, one caused the other.
The event was staged essentially as a “rehearsal” for the format that would be used for golf’s re-introduction into the Olympics this year.
That format was a standard four-round, 72-hole strokeplay event where the emphasis was on the individual – which was Day – and therefore playing groups were dictated by a player’s position on the individual leaderboard, as per a normal golf event.
As a sideshow, a “teams” leaderboard ran simultaneously, where the two players from each country combined their individual scores together, but rarely were they paired together unless their scores in the individual event made it so.
Day won $1.2 million for the individual part, and $300,000 for the team’s section with Scott.
This format was a dramatic shift from the traditional game play the World Cup had used since 2000, when two-man teams from each country played together in a mixture of “bestball” and “alternate shot” game play to produce a winning country.
To be fair to the sport’s powers-that-be, the World Cup had lost relevance leading up to 2013 and so the idea of using the tournament as a practice ground to ensure that golf was as prepared as possible for its Olympic comeback was an attractive option.
While it served that purpose, trialling the Olympic format under the banner of the World Cup did not appeal to as many of the top players as the organisers would have hoped.
Scott was the highest-ranked player in the 60-man field, and then American Matt Kuchar (No.7), Ireland’s Graeme McDowell (No.12) and Day (No.18) were the only other players in the top 20.
Other big names included former world No.1 Vijay Singh (then No.128), and Spain’s colourful veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez, as well as Victor Dubuisson, but that was before the Frenchman had emerged as one of the game’s fan favourites.
The defending champion American team was made up of captain Kuchar and the little-known Kevin Streelman (then No.46 in the rankings).
Scott admitted after winning the teams event with Day that it was hard for him to be critical of the tournament’s format, given they had just pocketed the cash, but even he said the Olympic format should just be a one-off experiment.
The World Cup had to return to its original game play and, thankfully, it has for the 2016 edition. It will be true “team golf”, with the patriotic element restored.
To confirm the point, the tournament’s organisers conducted a questionnaire of potential players before bringing back the World Cup this year and nearly all answered that the event needed to return to its original format.
And so it will when it comes to Kingston Heath in November, it seems, legitimately, fans should get excited.
In addition to what Fairfax Media reported on Friday – that there is a genuine possibility that golf’s “Big Three” of Jordan Spieth, Day and Rory McIlroy could commit to the event – there is a confidence among organisers that the event will lure more stars and a deeper overall roster.
Significantly, the US PGA Tour seems strongly invested to re-establish the event to its former glory – an event that has a list of winners that reads like golf’s Hall of Fame list: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Fred Couples, Nick Faldo, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and so on.
“The World Cup of Golf has a long and storied history as one of the true international events in our sport,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said.
There is an opportunity for this year’s tournament to be the World Cup’s renaissance.
Scheduling was a major factor in the spectacle losing its magic in the past.
Up until 2009, the World Cup was an annual event in either November or December that players had to squeeze into a schedule already bursting at the seams with the four Majors, World Golf Championships, the FedEx Cup play-offs and, particularly for America’s best players, either the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup.
Once the top guys started passing up the chance to represent their country in favour of using the pre-Christmas period to recharge the batteries for the following year, many below them decided to do the same.
And it could be argued that this year will be even more difficult for the game’s stars to find the motivation to travel to , given some will already be heading to Rio in August to represent their country at the Olympics, albeit for an individual gold medal, rather than as a team.
And 2016 is also a Ryder Cup year, so many of the top Europeans and Americans will be staying “up” for another week after the conclusion of the FedEx Cup play-offs to compete in the pinnacle of “team golf” in Minnesota in late September.
Golf is in a period of transition, from the old guard of Woods, Phil Mickelson and co, to the “new world order” or the “youth movement”, headed by 20-somethings Spieth (world No.1), Day (No.2) and McIlroy (No.3).
If those three players decide to make the effort while they are young enough to do so, it will give the World Cup global significance again, and that could provide the motivation for some of the game’s other big names, such as Henrik Stenson (No.5), Justin Rose (No.7), Sergio Garcia (No.12) and Martin Kaymer (No.28) to lead their countries, too.
Not to mention US hot shots Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, or even Woods or Mickelson (who knows) to put their hand up to be Spieth’s partner, if the American superstar remains on top of the world this year.
That kind of result would create one of the deepest and unique fields for a golf tournament in for a long, long time. And that would be worth getting excited about.