Presidents Cup doesn't need to be combative


Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


GAINESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ The Presidents Cup is not the Ryder Cup, which is not all bad.

If this year's Presidents Cup is anything like the last three, the best shots will take place on the course, not in the press. There will be a winner and a loser, without hard feelings and backhanded retorts that linger for two years.

There might be an unruly celebration on the 17th hole _ there was four years ago at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club _ but no one will make a stink about it.

Better yet, no one will read about it in a book.

Coming off the acrimonious Ryder Cup at Brookline last year, and even the controversy in the Solheim Cup only two weeks ago, the Presidents Cup is a chance to show that team golf doesn't have to be combative to be compelling.

``The Presidents Cup is a happier contest. That's undeniable,'' said Peter Thomson, the five-time British Open champion who will lead the International team for the third and final time. ``There are no threats. There is no ugliness.''

There is still good golf. There is still a passion to win. There are speeches to be made, a trophy to be held, champagne to be sprayed.

With the sleeves of his Team USA sweater rolled up to his elbows, Tiger Woods was all smiles as he walked off the course Tuesday after a practice round with Paul Azinger. Two days before the start of the matches, he was at ease with himself despite hitting the kind of shots that won't make his 2000 scrapbook.

Woods has never had a winning record in team match play _ 3-6-1 in two Ryder Cup appearances, 2-3-0 in the '98 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. When asked whether he enjoyed the Presidents Cup as much as the Ryder Cup, Woods surprised those within earshot when he replied, ``More.''

Why?

``Because it's how golf should be played _ gentlemanly,'' he said.

The Presidents Cup does not compare to the Ryder Cup in stature.

It does not have a history that dates to 1927, even though it still has sportsmanship that dates back even farther.

Its boundaries are not drawn by one ocean, but by three. Players on both teams represent all five major tours around the globe, although 22 out of the 24 on this year's teams earn their keep on the PGA Tour. Most of them live in America. More than one player has dubbed this Team USA vs. Team Florida.

This does not make the Presidents Cup a waste of time.

For sure, it is easier to get the blood pumping when you don't see your opponent except for a half dozen or so tournaments each year. It's easier to get fired up when Colin Montgomerie or Seve Ballesteros is on the other team.

It's even easier for bad blood to occur when the sponsoring organization comes up with inciting slogans such as ``War on the Shore'' and the ``Battle at Brookline.''

So far, there has been no mention of a ``Rumble at RTJ.''

``We can't really speak for the Ryder Cup, but I don't think we've had anything but sportsmanship in this event,'' said Steve Elkington, born in Australia and a resident of Houston. ``We're not trying to put off anyone. We're just trying to do the best we can.''

The only thing that resembled bad sportsmanship in the Presidents Cup was the same thing that caused such an uproar in the Ryder Cup at Brookline.

Four years ago, Fred Couples holed a 35-foot putt on the 17th hole in the final singles match Sunday against Vijay Singh. Even though Singh still had a birdie putt to stay alive, the Americans pranced around the green to celebrate.

Only their wives _ and anger among Singh and his teammates _ were missing.

``I quite understand what they did, because it was a winning putt,'' Singh said. ``And the emotions were just so high. If we had holed a putt like that, we would have done the same. I had no problem with that. It was just that it lasted a little longer than I thought it would.''

The best bet for the Presidents Cup is to continue along the same path that has been charted. Controversy and acrimony _ along with a bunch of International victories _ would probably jump-start the fledgling matches the way they did for the Ryder Cup in 1985.

Is it worth it?

``Peter Thomson and I have a mutual goal,'' U.S. captain Ken Venturi said. ``We want tradition put back into this kind of event ... to show the world what golf is really like and what it's all about. I want the guys to win. I want them to show emotion. But I want them to be absolute gentlemen about it.''

That's something that rarely occurs in a Ryder Cup.

And that's one comparison the Presidents Cup doesn't need.