JERSEY CITY — If there were any question about the PGA Tour’s status in American sports, that was answered this week, in triplicate. Having invited and delivered three former U.S. Presidents at the same time and the same space was proof of how much juice the Tour has. It also was a major stature-builder for its prized Presidents Cup match.
Now, if only the Tour could figure out how to make the darned thing competitive.
The final day of the event will be a victory lap for the U.S. team, which holds a commanding 14 1⁄2 -3 1⁄2 lead over the International squad at Liberty National. That is great news for the American golfers, the fans (mostly young) who gave it a rock-concert feel and the current chief executive, who might appear here on Sunday.
A visit from President Donald Trump would represent a victory lap for the event itself, given that it began Thursday afternoon with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama mingling with players on the first tee. The Tour, which established and still runs the Presidents Cup, always has wanted it to be more than a Ryder Cup Lite. This year’s guest list qualified the Cup as an occasion. For the past few days, it has been the envy of every other golf event, every other sporting event.
It just hasn’t been much of a golf match.
This year might be an anomaly because of the setting, under the towering presence of the Statue of Liberty. Of course, the American golfers were going to be inspired. But no matter where it has been held, the U.S. has dominated, going 9-1-1. The trend makes you wonder how much life the match has.
“It’s still a great competition,” U.S. captain Steve Stricker said. “You know, the Ryder Cup at one point was that way, and look what it is today.”
Fair enough. Ryder Cup organizers were so concerned about American dominance over Great Britain and Ireland that they expanded the latter squad to include all of Europe. The result was a tense, bitter rivalry in which the U.S. was a doormat until last year.
The Presidents Cup was designed to be different, more sportsmanlike, less intense. It is held on non-Ryder Cup years and involves the U.S. against the non-European world. Right there is one of the problems. The International team isn’t really playing “for” anyone. Its golfers are defined not by what they are but what they aren’t.
“Even though we’re are a hodgepodge of a team from all around the world, we are all competitors,” International team captain Nick Price said before the matches began. “And we like to compete and we don’t like to get beaten.”
One of Price’s assistant captains, Tony Johntone, said on Wednesday: “This doesn’t have the same sense of hostility as the Ryder Cup and I think some people think that because of that, it’s less important. I don’t think it is. You can’t fast-track tradition and heritage. And I think the Presidents Cup is getting there, and it’s just going to grow and grow.”
We might believe that when we see it. There are no more countries or continents to include. The Internationals will need to get more out of their big names than they have gotten this week from world No. 3 Hideki Matsuyama and former world No. 1 Jason Day. Even with that, it is hard to imagine them getting as exercised as Justin Thomas has been this week.
Consider that another big challenge for the PGA Tour, which has a knack for attracting former presidents — live ones, and the ones depicted on U.S. currency.