Presidents Cup

Why would 30,000 people walk round a big park in the driving rain to watch men hit a ball with a stick? Even if you enjoy the game of golf, wouldn’t you rather relax on the sofa accompanied by comprehensive TV coverage?

Not for me the cosy option. Having the chance to see, up close and personal, elite professional sportsmen playing one of the best golf courses in the world is second to none. The Presidents Cup was last played in Australia in 1998 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club and it will probably be another 12-15 years until it returns to these shores, so it was a unique opportunity to check out the skills of these maestros of golf.

The vast majority of the crowd were supporting the International team and provided the team with the biggest roars, but as golf lovers, cheers were ringing around the stands for all great shots. And there were plenty of great shots to cheer – chipping in from bunkers, long putts on the fastest greens I have ever seen and some magnificent approach shots to pins that were in impossible positions to the untrained golf eye. However, there were some shots which I saw that made this 20-handicapper golfer happy – Bubba Watson and Jason Day both had putts that shot past the hole and ran off the green, and Ernie Els hit the ball about 10m from the rough.  There were other wayward shots off the tee, but the reason these guys are the best in the world is that they seldom hit two bad shots in a row. They way they can recover out of the rough and bunkers and still have a chance for birdies or at worst, pars is amazing.

Of course, walking round the course means you can only get snippets of action but there are giant screens and scoreboards dotted around the course to keep you updated, or you can hire the mini TVs or bring a radio so you always know what is going on. However, nothing can beat standing around the green and seeing the approach shots, chips and putts which can make or break the match. As amateur golfers, we know how difficult these shots are, but these professionals can play great shot after great shot after great shot 99 times out of 100.

There were some particular highlights – standing behind the fourth green which was one of the hardest for the golfers to hit and hold the ball near the pin. The players who stood out for me were Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Charl Swartzel, Ryo Ishikawa and Geoff Ogilivy, who not only all played well but they smiled, enjoyed the crowd and acknowledged that fierce competition can also be fun.

The best move of the day was by yours truly, with a quick side step to miss a ball over-hit by Yang at the fifteenth green. His grumpy caddie became a bit over zealous about moving people clear for his player. I think caddies should know their place – not seen and not heard. Take note, Steve Williams.

In the end the USA won comfortably, 19-15, but there were times on the final day when you could feel the tension as the Internationals were clawing back. It was a great atmosphere all around the course during the tense two hour period when victory was still in the balance. Trying to work out what match to follow or greens to wait at, hoping for the climax was just as exciting as seeing the golfers strut their stuff, In the end the sixteenth hole had some great action but Tiger clinched it on the fifteenth.

It’s a pity there was no medal for the player of the tournament a la Norm Smith Medal, maybe the Arnold Palmer Medal ? This year the choice was easy – Jim Furyk was unbeaten all weekend and played some sublime shots. This is a man who loves matchplay golf and is rarely beaten.

So the USA lifted the cup, but I think the real winners were Royal Melbourne and the people who attended over the four days of competition.

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