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Concerns over US players going to South Africa

Any bitter feelings the International team took away from its crushing loss in the Presidents Cup had more to do with the rematch.

Losing to the Americans is bad enough. Suffering the greatest defeat by any team since 1967 is even worse, especially since the International team felt it was every bit equal to -- if not better than -- the European team that always gives the Americans fits in the Ryder Cup.

What would really sting is if the United States sends the junior varsity to defend the cup two years from now in South Africa.

"This cup really means a lot to our team," said Ernie Els, who has a home in Fancourt not far from where the 2002 Presidents Cup will be played. "We'll see when we get down there how much they really love this cup they've just won."

Some Americans already fuss about having to play for their country and for free every year -- the Ryder Cup against Europe in odd-numbered years, the Presidents Cup in even-numbered years. Throw in a 12-hour flight to South Africa, and chances are some players will develop a mysterious injury late in the season.

Davis Love III wouldn't say definitively that he would go. Neither would Phil Mickelson.

Tiger Woods pointed out the overseas travel involved with both cups, along with annual transoceanic flights for the British Open and at least one World Golf Championship event.

"That's asking a lot," he said. "Some of the players ... will do it. And other players may be a little more hesitant."

Woods did not say which group he fell in.

The Presidents Cup was created by the PGA Tour in 1994 to give the best players in the world born outside Europe a chance to play team matches. Six years ago, the top two players in the world were Nick Price and Greg Norman. Els had just won his first U.S. Open.

Then again, the only overseas travel the top Americans had to consider back then -- except for tournaments that paid hefty appearance fees -- was the British Open and a Ryder Cup once every four years.

"Obviously, the international demands on our players have changed,'' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "We're looking at our sport as being more global. We are asking our players to make some extended travel. Not all players will do that.''

Key members on the International team believe they should.

Most Americans never bothered to go to the British Open until Arnold Palmer played at St. Andrews in 1960, won the claret jug the next two years, and put the oldest major championship back on the map.

"I haven't spoken to any of the American players about that, but I think it's their responsibility to the game of golf that they travel overseas and let some of the lesser countries have the ability to see those guys play," Norman said.

Fellow Aussie Steve Elkington added, "I think maybe they're just cry-babying about two cups. I just don't see how they can't get pumped up for an event like this."

It was hard for anyone to get pumped up about the fourth edition.

Price said he thought interest in the Presidents Cup would grow as long as the matches were close, decided by one shot in one match on the last day. Instead, it essentially was decided by Saturday afternoon, when the Americans took a 14-6 lead.

The final score was 21 1/2 -10 1/2 , the largest margin in the Presidents Cup and the most lopsided international competition since the United States won 23 1/2 -8 1/2over Great Britain & Ireland in the 1967 Ryder Cup.

Els, the top-ranked International player, became the first player ever in a Presidents Cup to lose all five of his matches. For that he can blame Masters champion Vijay Singh, who hit the ball poorly and putted even worse while paired with Els for three days.

Only seven matches even made it to the 18th green, and seven others never got to the 15th tee. Only one match, Kirk Triplett against Michael Campbell, was halved.

The best thing to come out of the Presidents Cup was the spirit under which it was played, with nary a heckle from the gallery or a charge across any green. Peter Thomson paid tribute to a "superior'' U.S. team, and has no plans to write a book.

"This is the way it should be,'' Woods said. "People were rooting for both sides. People weren't saying terrible comments to players. This is the way the Ryder Cup was meant to be played, and I hope it will be again.''

The next chance for that will at The Belfry in England next September. Every American will try desperately to make the team. No one will cite travel overload as a reason to stay home.

Whether that's the case with the next Presidents Cup remains to be seen.

 

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