Presidents Cup History
Every other year, two teams of the world’s best players come together and play a great game of golf. What began in 1994 as a series of matches between teams from the United States and the non-European countries, whose golfers had come to prominence on the world golf stage, has now become one of the most anticipated golf events on the calendar.
The Presidents Cup was just the latest in a series of international team competitions that helped spread the game and its lessons of sportsmanship. The Ryder Cup began in 1927 as a biennial series of matches between teams of professionals from the United States and Great Britain-Ireland and expanded—wisely—to include players from the rest of Europe in 1979. The World Amateur Team Championship began in 1958, followed by the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in 1964. On the professional side, the Canada Cup, a two-man, 36-hole, stroke-play team competition began in 1953 and evolved into the World Cup in 1967.
It is fair to say that the combination of the Ryder Cup’s popularity and the increasing number of high-quality international players made The Presidents Cup an idea whose time had surely come.
“It (The Presidents Cup) is a dream for me that could not be fulfilled in my prime, where I could have had the opportunity to play in a team match against the United States,” said South Africa’s Gary Player, a three-time captain of the International Team. “There was no such thing.”
And the legendary Jack Nicklaus, who captained four U.S. Teams, gave the competition a ringing endorsement on the eve of the 1998 match at Royal Melbourne.
“In 10 years, The Presidents Cup will be bigger than the Ryder Cup,” he predicted.
1994 & 1996: A Tone of Sportsmanship Was Set Early
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Club outside Washington, D.C., hosted the first competition with Hale Irwin and Australia’s David Graham as captains and former U.S. President Gerald Ford as the honorary chairman—a role filled in subsequent years with either current or former heads of state. The U.S. Team cruised to a 20-12 victory, but in 1996, when the matches returned to Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, the results were decidedly closer. America’s 16½-15½ victory hinged on Fred Couples’ dramatic, 2-and-1 Singles match victory over Fiji’s Vijay Singh in the final pairing on Sunday.
1998: A Stunner at Royal Melbourne
The 1998 event at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Golf Club proved to be a turning point of sorts as the Internationals jumped out to a 7-3 lead on the first day and cruised to a stunning 20½-11½ victory.
“Our victory was the biggest thing that ever happened to Australian golf,” said five-time British Open champion, Australian Peter Thomson, the International Team captain. “It gave us tremendous confidence that we could go forward and do the most difficult thing in golf, which is to beat an American team on American soil.”
2000: A Model of Good Will
The 2000 matches were played in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole. The team captains—Thomson and 1964 U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi—and their teams dedicated themselves to exemplifying the game’s traditions of international good will
“I thought that some of the things that were happening in golf—things like pumping your fist and showing up your opponent—were wrong,” said Venturi.
“I thought that all The Presidents Cups I had been involved in had been perfect examples of proper decorum, both by the players and the galleries,” said Thomson. “The fans turned out in large numbers and applauded good shots by both teams. They gave the winning team their full due, as they should.”
For the record, the Americans rode a 5-0 lead on the first day and celebrated a 21½-10½ victory.
2003: Showdown in South Africa
The Presidents Cup 2003 at the Links Course at Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate in South Africa began with a visit from Nelson Mandela. The players were clearly moved by the presence of The Great Man whose courage and foresight brought so much hope to South Africans and, really, to people around the world.
The matches were tied at the end of regulation play, setting up a sudden-death playoff between Tiger Woods and South Africa’s Ernie Els that ended in darkness. Captains Nicklaus and Player agreed to a tie, with both teams sharing the Cup.
“From day one, Gary and I said it’s not about who wins and loses,” said Nicklaus. “Goodness gracious, both Gary and I wanted to win and so did all our players. But the game is bigger than that.”
2005: A Nail-biter in Virginia
The matches returned to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in 2005, with the home team winning18½-15½—but the competition was a lot tighter than the score indicates. In the end, the ultimate hero for the Americans was Chris DiMarco. On the final hole of his singles match against Australia’s Stuart Appleby, DiMarco—who had lost playoffs in the 2004 PGA Championship and the 2005 Masters Tournament and who had been passed over as a captain’s pick in the 2004 Ryder Cup—found himself with a 15-foot putt to win the Cup.
“Before I hit my putt, my caddie said, ‘This is the moment you’ve been waiting for your entire life, so just go ahead and do it,’” said DiMarco, who proved that courage is part of the game, and made the putt.
2007: A Gutsy Win for the Hometown Hero
Just as in 2005, the United States won again, this time at Royal Montreal (Canada) Golf Club, and the matches were closer than the 19½-14½ score indicates.
The U.S. Team took a 14½-7½ lead into Sunday’s singles matches, largely on the strength of their 5-0 sweep of the foursomes matches on the third day of the four-day competition. But the Internationals rallied in the singles, led in no small part to native son Mike Weir’s dramatic 1-up victory over Tiger Woods in the fourth match of the day.
“I asked him (Captain Gary Player) about playing against Jack (Nicklaus) in his heyday,” said Weir, a captain’s pick. “He said the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks. It’s what you think. If you believe you can do it, it doesn’t matter. I drew a lot from that. I went out there with a lot of confidence.
“I have mixed emotions,” said Weir after his win. “It was a special week for me but the (team’s) loss is a little deflating. Maybe more special than the Masters (victory) was the support I’ve gotten here.”
2009: A U.S. Victory by the Bay
By the time it was all over and the U.S. Team had locked up a 19½-14½ victory over Greg Norman’s International Team at San Francisco’s Harding Park Golf Course, there wasn’t a happier guy on the grounds than U.S. Captain Fred Couples.
“This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Couples. “I never really had to put on a walkie-talkie. I just let them (his team) rip it.”
The Americans, now 5-0 on their home soil, clinched the Cup early in Sunday’s singles play as they ran off five straight victories to hold on to the Cup. Fittingly, the first win was produced by British Open champion Stewart Cink, who was 0-3-1 coming to Sunday and felt he had something to prove.
“I did feel really good today,” said Cink. “It’s really satisfying to go out and have the fruits of your labor turn into a point instead of a half or a loss.”
Although disappointed with the outcome, Norman was pleased with the way the Internationals came together as a team.
“I just wish everyone had the opportunity to experience the camaraderie we have in our (team) room, considering we are playing under nine different flags. It’s just tremendous how well we do jell together.”
And he’s optimistic about the Internationals’ chances this time around.
“The game of golf has truly gone global again, reminiscent of the mid d-1980s to the mid-1990s. In the long run, the rest of the world elevating their game will serve as a stimulant for the Americans to elevate their games in an attempt to regain the domination they once had. Professional golf is the healthiest it has been in a long time and with that, it is in a great place!”