by JAMIE McWILLIAMS
SARASOTA, Florida – Professional golf is going through a lot of changes. The World Champions Cup isn’t a change, but if successful will bring change to the PGA. There has never been a team competition on the Champions Tour, but it may be no coincidence that when Peter Jacobson was actively playing on that tour an idea was percolating.
Fifteen years later, with the support of Intersport CEO Charlie Besser, a three team event, with formats featuring Six-ball better ball, Scotch Sixsomes (not misprints), three player single matches, and players representing the United State, Europe and International (read rest of the world) has become a reality. Sound a little like the Ryder Cup? You bet.
The premier setting for this new event was the Jack Nicklaus/Tony Jacklin designed Concession Golf Club just north of Sarasota, Florida. Each team consisted of six players, one being the playing Captain. Jacobson sought to garner as many Hall of Famers as possible: Darren Clarke led Europe, Ernie Els Team International, and Jim Furyk USA.
Over three days, matches were played with morning and afternoon waves. Impossible? No, because matches were limited to nine holes for each wave. But scoring them? “Peter Jacobson and Intersport bounced a lot of ideas off all three captains,” Jim Furyk stressed, “but the biggest question was how were you going to do a point system with three teams?”
Scoring takes a little time to digest, but the number three is key. Three points available on every hole, which the three teams divvy up. So you could end up with two, one, some fraction if tied, or none. Jacobson loves the volatility of this format. “You could have a lead with three holes to play and lose it. It’s not match play, nobody’s going to walk in, so from the first hole to the last you have to play hard.”
But bypassing scoring subtleties, overall teamwise, the cumulative points of team versus team tell a simple story of who’s winning. Easy…as usual play well and win, not so well, you lose.
Anything new, at any level of complexity, inherently has unforeseen mistakes, no matter how well planned, and Jacobson embraces this. “Golf is chaos. On the first tee you plan on driving the fairway, but you find a bunker. There are so many unknowns with this, but so many tangible factors at work here…the golf course, the television network, and the players.”
To the above point, Steve Stricker’s father went into hospice, so he became a question mark. And playing captain Jim Furyk was sidelined with a back injury. So vice-captain Billy Andrade had to scrap most of his side line duties and step in as a competitor.
The final day, dodging all potential hazards including severe weather, the outcome hinged on the final group. Here’s where the scoring volatility paid off. Only half a point separated Team USA and Team International in the match, but Retief Goosen put his ball into the water. Thank you for letting team USA cake walk through the door to victory.
So all the pieces fell into place for a successful start, but the jury is out on its future. Billy Andrade believes there a bright one. “I think we’re making history. When I was a kid on the 80s, the Ryder Cup wasn’t a big deal and look where it is now. Down the road I think this is going to be a huge event.” Will it continue and thrive, and will it travel ala the Ryder Cup? The ESPN and ABC television ratings may provide those answers, so stay tuned.
The final score after three days: Team USA finished with 221 points, Team International was second with 219, and Team Europe third with 208.
(Jamie McWilliams is President of VideoStream Productions http://videostreamproductions.com and Producer/Director The Traveling Golfer Television Show and Co-Host/Director The Senior Delinquents Television Podcast seniordelinquents.com His email is email@example.com.)