INCHEON, South Korea – Comparing the Presidents Cup to the Ryder Cup is like listening to a conversation between a Scot and an American.
The words might be similar, but they sound nothing alike.
The biggest difference with the Presidents Cup is an American team that is filled with smiles, not stress. And there’s a reason for that. The Americans haven’t lost in these matches since 1998, and the last four have not been particularly close.
They walk taller. They worry less.
Jordan Spieth has played in one of each in his short but already stellar career, and it was hard not to notice the contrast between the two cups.
“It seems there is a bit of a difference in the two teams rooms in the Presidents Cup experience I’ve had and the Ryder Cup last year,” Spieth said Wednesday. “Almost like we put too much emphasis on the Ryder Cup instead of just freeing up to play our own game.”
Ryder Cup practice rounds felt like dress rehearsals. Presidents Cup practice rounds feel like a Tuesday money game on tour.
“We feel like the favorites,” Spieth said. “We’re walking around with cockiness in our step, and often that can bite you if you’re not careful, but we’re aware of that. But the point is, we’re out there smiling because we believe whatever matchup we want to put together, we believe we can beat the other team.”
The Americans, who have won the Ryder Cup only one time in the last 16 years, go after their sixth straight victory in the Presidents Cup when the matches get started Thursday at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.
Adam Scott, who has yet to play on a winning Presidents Cup team in six previous tries, and Hideki Matsuyama lead off the foursomes session against J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson, two of the longest hitters in golf.
Spieth and Dustin Johnson are in the anchor match against Marc Leishman and Danny Lee.
A lively opening ceremony Wednesday night, which featured South Korean President Park Geun-hye and former President George W. Bush, began with great suspense when a secret box was carried onto the stage. It was carefully opened to reveal the shiny gold Presidents Cup trophy.
But there really hasn’t been much suspense at all.
The last time it was close was in 2003 at South Africa when it ended in a tie after Ernie Els and Tiger Woods matched pars in three sudden-death playoff holes before it was too dark to continue. Jack Nicklaus was the captain that year, and he mentioned that Presidents Cup in a speech Wednesday night. Nicklaus referred to it as the greatest sporting event in which he had ever taken part.
“We have that opportunity again this week,” Nicklaus said.
The Presidents Cup has lacked the rancor of the Ryder Cup, which is inevitable when it’s a competition between two tours (PGA and Europe) instead of the Americans against an International team in which all but one player – Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand – is or will be a PGA Tour member.
“They’re all Americans, they were just born in a different country,” U.S. assistant captain Fred Couples said.
This is the first Presidents Cup without Woods since 1996 when he was a 20-year-old playing on sponsor exemptions to avoid going to Q-school. Els didn’t qualify and didn’t feel worthy of a pick, so he is out for the first time since 2005.
Price has an International team that is the youngest ever despite the 45-year-old Thongchai. The captain is worried that if the Presidents Cup is another blowout, even some of the players might start losing interest.
What might give these matches a little edge is a debate over the number of matches, which were reduced from 34 to 30 this year in a decision that left neither team happy. The International team wanted it lowered to 28, like the Ryder Cup. The Americans wanted it to stay at 34.
Price believes the fewer the matches, the more likely it is to come down to the last day.
Whether that makes a difference depends largely on the one aspect that doesn’t change no matter what kind of cup is involved. It’s about making putts, winning holes and piling up points.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, and anything can happen in this game,” Scott said. “But I believe we’re moving closer to a great competition.”