Zim’s dream team golfers fail to end America’s dominance in dramatic Presidents Cup showdown

> Robson Sharuko

Harare – ZIMBABWE’S Dream Team of Nick Price, Mark McNulty and Tony Johnstone came agonizingly close to ending the United States’ 17-year monopoly of the Presidents Cup, on a dramatic day on Sunday (11 October), as the duel finally produced the thriller it needed at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon City.

Price captained the International team for the second Presidents Cup in a row, after his debut at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, United States, where the hosts, who are unbeaten in this competition since losing at Royal Melbourne in Australia in 1998, comfortably won 18 ½ to 15 ½ .

And, when the Presidents Cup rolled into South Korea for the first time in its history, there was optimism among the International players and fans that this could be the duel where the end the Americans’ dominance with the form of such players like Jason Day, who won his first Major this year, fuelling expectations.

Price called on the experience and wisdom of his fellow Zimbabweans, McNulty and Johnstone, bringing them into his camp as vice-captains, and hoping they could plot the downfall of an American team led by world number one golfer, Jordan Spieth, winner of two Major titles this year.

Given the way the Americans have dominated this duel, Price was worried, ahead of the battle in South Korea, of the consequences of another win for the United States team.

“I will tell you guys, this is a really important Presidents Cup,” the Zimbabwean told a pre-event press conference ahead of this latest meeting.

“It’s hard for these guys. You ask these guys to give up a week and to play in an event that is not competitive.

“Any one of these guys can go play anywhere around the world and receive money and they can easily dump this event if they wanted to. Most of them don’t want to do that.

“I’m not going to say, ‘What if?’ But this better be closely contested. I’ll let you guys figure out the repercussions.”

And, just as well, his players responded to the challenge and produced a hearty performance, picking themselves up from a drubbing on the opening day to battle their way back into the contest, and stretching the duel to the very last game of an intriguing four-day contest.

In the end, the 2015 Presidents Cup produced a classic contest, which went right to the wire, and could have gone either way, and on a Sunday that had everything – missed putts and incredible tension – including losses for the two best players in the world today, Day and Spieth, it was the Americans who triumphed 15 ½ to 14 ½ .

“The truth of it is, is that if we got off to a better start on Thursday and we had not been 4-1 down, it might not have been quite as exciting today … so we all feel for Anirban and for (Bae Sang) Moon for what happened. But they are part of our team, and we will leave here as a team,” said Price.

“Irrelevant of the outcome — we obviously would have loved to have won — we put on a show of golf this week.

“I don’t think it could have got a whole lot more exciting than that.

“I can’t tell you what it’s like to bring eight countries together, six different languages, different cultures. . .  They bonded, and I tell you what, I’m so proud.”

As it turned out it was the hometown hero, Sang-Moon, whose nerves betrayed him as he lost the decisive match to Jay Haas on the final day, as the Americans picked the point they wanted for victory, and left the International Team still chasing their first win in 17 years.

South Africa’s Branden Grace was simply amazing in this battle as he won all his four contests to join an elite club, which features Mark O’Meara (1996), Shigeki Matsuyama (1998), Tiger Woods (2009) and Jim Furyk (2011), the only players to have managed such a feat.

Winning five points, in just four days, was awesome, as he played his part for his team, and he provided one of the images of the duel in South Korea by sinking a monster 62-foot putt on the ninth hole on Sunday to go five-up on Matt Kuchar and, by the 17th, it was all over.

The Presidents Cup returns to the United States in two years’ time before it comes to Royal Melbourne where, in 1998, the International Team powered to their only victory.

But if it can produce the tension and the thrills that were witnessed on a dramatic final day, this tournament can attract the viewership that it desperately needs and Price doesn’t need to worry about its future and, if the International Team can produce the kind of comeback that saw them rallying from a 1-4 deficit on the first day to set up a frenetic finish, then there is hope that they will beat their American nemesis sooner rather than later.

For the Americans, the fact that Haas, a captain’s pick who owed his place on the team to the decision of his father, the United States captain Jay Haas to draft him into the side, finally delivered the blow that gave them victory provided the fairy-tale that this contest needed.

“Before Bill played 17, I said, ‘Come on, Bill, win one for your mom here. Your mom deserves this,’ ” the triumphant United States captain said as he celebrated the contribution of his son.

And Bill felt the weight of his entire family, if not his nation, on his shoulders in that fascinating final duel.

“That was the hardest position I’ve felt on the golf course in my career, so it feels good to hang on and hit some good shots down the stretch,” said Bill.

“It was a goal of mine all year was to make this team. I shouldn’t even be getting emotional, it’s just golf. But to be in that team room with all those guys, it means a lot to me. … I’m lucky to be a part of this team and to get picked, and I’m just happy I could help the team out with one point there on Sunday. It feels great.”

October 2015
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