The golf calendar is stuffed fuller than a pro-am goody bag, with 43 PGA Tour events, including the four majors and the FedExCup playoffs, but in South Korea this year, there will be no bigger event than the Presidents Cup. From October 8 to 11, the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in suburban Seoul will host the biennial competition between the U.S. and International Team which is taking place in Asia for the first time.
Having a golf event of this magnitude in South Korea is surely destined to ignite the interest level of many young South Koreans. And with International Team captain Nick Price adding soon to be conscripted South Korean Sang-Moon Bae to his 12-man team as one of his two Captain’s picks, Price is counting on some ‘home’ advantage.
Price said he had been keen to select Bae due to his successful record at the Jack Nicklaus venue where he has twice won the Korean PGA Shinhan Donghae Open in recent years.
“I chose (Bae) because he has played pretty well the last couple of weeks but also because he’s won on the golf course. He loves the golf course, and it’s very important to have someone on the team that the Korean fans and media could pull for,” Price said. “But it was a difficult decision.”
Bae got the nod over Australian Matt Jones, despite finishing 19th in the standings, and will give Price his second Korean-born player alongside New Zealander Danny Lee. Lee was born in the Seoul suburb of Incheon where the golf course is located and emigrated to New Zealand at age eight, becoming a naturalized New Zealander in 2008.
Following the Presidents Cup the two-time PGA Tour winner Bae will put his golf career on hold to complete two years of mandatory military service, something all able-bodied Korean men must do between the ages of 18-35.
While Nick Price went for the ‘home’ advantage by adding Bae to his line-up, he chose form when he added Australia Stephen Bowditch. Bowditch ended up 11th in the International standings and was a likely choice by Price after clinching his second career victory on the PGA Tour at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May.
In the final two picks for U.S. Captain Jay Haas he chose his son Bill Hass as one of his picks and added something of a surprise by naming Cup veteran Phil Mickelson, who was viewed by many as a long shot after struggling to find his form over the past two years.
Bill Haas will be making his third appearance in the biennial team competition while 45-year-old Mickelson will extend his record run to 11, having played in every edition since the Presidents Cup was launched in 1994. The selection of Haas was always likely as the 33-year-old won his sixth PGA Tour title at the Humana Challenge in January and finished 11th in the Presidents Cup standings, just one spot shy of automatic qualification. Five-time major champion Mickelson, however, languished in 30th spot, having not triumphed on the PGA Tour since the 2013 British Open. Mickelson’s record in the Presidents Cup is 20 wins, 16 losses and 11 halves.
It would seem that the law of averages should favour the International Team in 2015. The US have dominated the Presidents Cup, winning eight times in 10 editions, including a victory by 18-1/2 points to 15-1/2 in the most recent encounter at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio two years ago. This time around the International team might just have enough firepower to beat another strong U.S. roster.
While depth has always been an issue for the International squad, the team does boast a formidable front line in the likes of Jason Day, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Hideki Matsuyama. But the struggle for the “rest of the world not including Europe” squad has always been about filling out the bottom of their batting order. Just as the U.S. Ryder Cup team needed a jolt of enthusiasm from rookies Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, Price’s team could get an infusion of energy from the likes of India’s Anirban Lahiri and 45-year-old Thai professional Thongchai Jaidee the all-time leading money winner on the Asian Tour, both of whom are making their first appearances in Presidents Cup competition. Granted none of them have the talent of Reed or Spieth but the formula should be analogous.
Whatever the outcome, the 11th edition of the Presidents Cup will be a major source of pride for South Korea and an inspiration for a whole new generation of young Asian golfers. Kyung-Mi Kim, a member of the Incheon task force entrusted to organize the event has described the President’s Cup in South Korea as “equivalent to the Olympics” and said that having an event of such magnitude in their backyard “will ignite the interest level” in the sport among young South Koreans particularly with a Korean player on the team.
It should be a great competition and wonderfully inspiring for golf throughout the region, particularly if the law of averages produces an International win. Don’t fret for the U.S side, though. Even if it were to lose for just the second time ever, there’s still time to regroup for 2017 when the competition returns to the United States just three miles across the Hudson River to Liberty National Golf Club where the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty loom large in the background. Talk about ‘home’ advantage.
About Richard (Rick) Janes: Rick Janes has had an insider’s view of the Presidents Cup since 2005 and served as a member of the Presidents Cup Committee through 2011 covering the biennial competitions staged at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William, Va. in 2005, at Royal Montreal in 2007, at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park in 2009, and at the venerable Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia in 2011. As the long-serving Commissioner of the Canadian Tour his relations in international golf and with the PGA TOUR laid the foundation for the launch of PGA TOUR Canada in 2013. At Niagara Parks Golf since 2014 he brings his expertise in tournament operations and event management to help groups and tournament organizers produce the very best events possible.