Even the best writers in Hollywood could not have scripted it any better. As a team event, the Presidents Cup last week finally delivered the drama and the excitement that is normally associated with the Ryder Cup.
The biennial tournament between Team USA and the Internationals went down to the wire.
Despite a horrendous start when they were down 4-1 after the first session of Foursomes on Thursday, the Internationals staged a stirring fightback to eventually lose by the narrowest of margins after taking the final singles match to the last hole. There have been 11 tournaments so far, and except for the tie in 2003, the Presidents Cup has never managed to take the spectators and fans to the edge of the seat. But all that changed in Incheon.
And more than anything else, it was the last singles match that forced everyone to bare their emotions. In one corner was Bill Haas for the USA, the most controversial pick considering he was captain Jay Haas’ son.
Facing him was Sang Moon-Bae, a local hero and someone who was playing his final competitive round before taking a two-year break to join the mandatory military service.
Sang Moon-Bae is such a fighter – he will make the Korean military proud from next week! @PresidentsCup
— Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) October 11, 2015
A half would have shared the trophy (unlike Ryder Cup, where equal points means the defending champions get to keep the trophy), while a win for either player would have won it for their team.
It was a close match, before Bae duffed his chip shot from near the green to hand it over to Bill. It was heartbreak for the Korean and the 20,000 strong crowd that was following the final group, but it was also an amazing moment for Haas. You normally do not see such uncontrolled tears of joy in golf, but it was special for Jay and he cannot be blamed.
But apart from the emotions, there was so much more to this Presidents Cup. There were stunning shots, and there were some downright amateurish ones. There was controversy, with Phil Mickelson and the US losing a hole twice for playing a wrong ball, and then there was Mickelson atoning for his mistake by holing shots from the fairways and bunkers.
The success of the Ryder Cup has proved that world golf can certainly do with more team events. Hopefully, this is the shot in the arm that Presidents Cup needed as it tries to follow the same path.
At the nation’s service
Sang Moon-Bae is the reigning champion in this week’s Frys.com Open, but the Korean will not be able to defend his title. He will be spending the next two years serving in the military – a mandatory requirement in his country.
There have been several golfers who have interrupted their careers, or have joined the services on their own accord. A name in that list is Ahmad Al Musharrekh, the only Emirati professional golfer, who is currently in the midst of his mandatory service and hence missing this season’s MENA Golf Tour.
But arguably two of the greatest names in the game who have been in the uniform are Arnold ‘The King’ Palmer, and the legendary amateur Bobby Jones.
Jones served his time after he had given up competitive golf and in his 40s, during the World War II. The American, the only player credited with a calendar grand slam in golf, was part of the battalions that landed at Normandy and survived heavy shelling. In fact, Jones started as aerial map analyst, but urged the military to give him a more actionbased service.
Palmer, on the other hand, preferred the sea, even though he was a qualified pilot who flew his own plane to all parts of America when playing on the Tour. But the King dropped out of college and worked with the Coast Guards for three years. Even to this day, Palmer maintains those three years shaped his life like none other.
The most famous military involvement in golf right now is Bill Hurley III. The American, who currently plays on the PGA Tour, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2004, and has made a reverse journey from the Navy to golf.
Quote of the Week
“Phil can be a pretty energetic guy. He likes to let some stuff out, and I’m a pretty mellow guy out there. I said, rather than getting up there and doing a chest bump or the big ‘ol whatever, we just kept it simple. Just a nice, classy handshake when things went well.” – Zach Johnson on the rather subdued celebrations between him as Phil Mickelson during the Presidents Cup in Incheon last week.
Stat of the Week
9.5 – combined points won by the South African stars Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen in the Presidents Cup. Grace won all matches, while Oosthuizen halved his singles.
Clarke Lutton became a wire-to-wire winner of the inaugural Golf Citizen Classic, but not before Trevor Marshall tested him to the hilt on the final day on the MENA Golf Tour event at The Els Club Dubai on Wednesday.
Leading by four shots at the beginning of the day, the 27-yearold Scotsman closed with a twounder 70 to reach 13-under for the tournament, but had to ward off the challenge of the Kiwi Marshall over the home stretch.
Lutton’s playing partner, Stuart Archibald of England, carded a final-round 69 to finish solo third on 10-under, three shots ahead of his compatriot Zane Scotland, who was solo fourth.
Slovakia’s young prodigy Jakub Hrinda provided a twist to the script in the amateur section, winning the division on fourunder par after Morocco’s overnight leader Ayoub Lguirati stumbled to a four-over par 76.
Today I won ‘The Golf Citizen Classic’. My first as a pro. Huge thanks to menagolftour and… https://t.co/AImak5evFr
— Clarke Lutton (@clarkelutton) October 14, 2015
Despite the searing afternoon heat, Lutton kept his cool when it mattered most to seal the deal, although a late bogey on the 17th made it interesting on the final hole.
He became the second Scotsman after Paul Doherty, to win a MENA Tour event this season.
“I am just ecstatic. Just can’t describe how I am feeling about my first win as a professional. It wasn’t easy. It was a big test of nerve indeed,” said the Aberdeen native after receiving the winner’s trophy from Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour, in the presence of Mark Chapleski, senior vice president of Troon Golf, and Chris Brown, General Manager at the Els Club.
“I think playing the tournament with an aggressive mindset did the trick for me. It was my short game in the final round that really kept me going as I made some good up-and-down pars.
“The birdie on the 14th was crucial when I holed a long 12-foot putt which kind of steadied my nerves.”
Marshall had his chances, but could not capitalise on par-5s, which he played at level par.
“When you are chasing down a big four-shot lead, you need to do well on all the par-5s, but that didn’t happen. All credit to Clarke, who really played well and deserved to win,” said Marshall.
Slovakia’s Hrinda attributed his victory in the amateur division to solid golf all week.
“I didn’t make silly mistakes, which was the key,” said the 15-year-old, a 10th grade student at Doha College. “I would like to thank the college for all their support. Certainly, I would like to play more often on the tour and will do so once I am done with my studies,” he added.
Morocco’s Mohammed Bellarousia won the MENA Division for professionals on three-over 219 while Saudi Arabia’s Khaled Attieh was the region’s best amateur.
The MENA Golf Tour travels to Oman next week for the Muscat Hills Golf Citizen Championship, starting on Monday.
South Korea’s Bae Sang-Moon and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama wrote themselves into Presidents Cup folklore Saturday with a thumping fourball victory for the International team.
They blew away the American pair Jimmy Walker and Chris Kirk 6 and 5 in the most accomplished display of better-ball golf of the week, during which they birdied an astonishing nine of the first 11 holes.
– Joy of Golf: Asia has levelled Presidents Cup playing field
– Gary Player: Golf needs Woods but he won’t get back to World No.1
Only twice before has a match ended after fewer holes in Presidents Cup history. David Frost beat Kenny Perry of the US 7 and 6 in 1996, while another Korean, K.J. Choi, partnered Adam Scott to a 7 and 6 victory over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in 2011.
But the Presidents Cup remained on a knife-edge with the score 9.5-8.5 to the Americans, with Sunday’s 12 singles to come after both the Saturday foursomes and fourballs were shared 2-2.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 10, 2015
Cheered on by massive galleries out to see their Korean golfing hero on a damp, cold, windy and overcast day at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, Bae slammed home three birdies in a row from the seventh to take the International team duo to four up.
“Early we were making a lot of birdies but not really getting ahead,” said Matsuyama. “Sang-Moon’s birdies on seven, eight and nine really got us going.”
Matsuyama, not to be outdone, rammed home two more on the 10th and 11th as the pair stormed to six up with seven to play.
“It was a joy to play with him and everyone was cheering us on,” added Matsuyama, who revealed the secret to their success.
“One advantage that we had is I don’t speak a lot of English, but Sang-Moon does speak Japanese, and that really helped our chemistry.”