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This Presidents Cup Did Just Enough to Bring Viewers Back in Two Years

Morning Read on Sports Illustrated 9/27/2022 John Hawkins

The Internationals' exuberance, led by Si Woo Kim and Tom Kim, made the weekend worth watching even as the outcome was never seriously in doubt.

Si Woo Kim's shushing of the Quail Hollow crowd on Sunday was a highlight of this Presidents Cup—though it didn't get a replay on NBC's broadcast. Julio Cortez/AP Photo © Provided by Morning Read on Sports Illustrated Si Woo Kim's shushing of the Quail Hollow crowd on Sunday was a highlight of this Presidents Cup—though it didn't get a replay on NBC's broadcast. Julio Cortez/AP Photo

It was a compromised event long before it began, weakened not only by the defections to LIV Golf, but its classification as a meaningless, match-play mimic. Its positioning on the schedule—two weeks into the final rendition of the PGA Tour’s largely ignored fall series—did it no favors. Especially after a summer full of upheaval to the game’s competitive dynamic, lawsuits flying in all directions and a divisive nature to almost every component of this burgeoning power struggle between the moral compass and financial gluttony.

A friendly little fourball pitting the giants against the gnats?

What a fabulous charming idea!

There will be no blowing up the Presidents Cup, not anytime soon, not after a pesky collection of Internationals did all it could to make things interesting in a 17.5-12.5 loss to the United States. The five-point difference in the outcome suggests a rout, the type of final score many expected, and though the Americans were never seriously threatened, there were a couple of periods well into Sunday afternoon when a breath of suspense emerged from the proverbial foregone conclusion.

Be it a blowout or a barnburner, the singles session should have started at least two hours earlier than noon, which left televising network NBC with just 60 minutes of early action before the NFL’s 1 p.m. games promised to send many viewers in another direction. Why fight for an audience with the neighborhood bully when the whole block was yours all morning?

In deftly handling the task of trying to keep us on the edge of our seats throughout, complying to the professional standard at a gathering that rarely has an edge, NBC flubbed what clearly was the most riveting moment of the individual duels: Si Woo Kim shushing the crowd with a finger to his lips after holing a 10-footer at the 15th to remain tied with Justin Thomas, who had just converted a putt of similar distance to whip the throng into a frenzy.

No replay of the sequence was shown on the live telecast. “Honestly, at the time, I was pretty pissed off,” Thomas would say of Kim’s theatrics in a Golf Channel interview, as if it takes a lot for JT lose his cool. The exuberance and fighting spirit of the entire International squad added a lovable dimension to this lopsided affair, allowing it to remain watchable despite all the conflicting data on the scoreboard.

Not for nothing, Kim birdied the 17th to beat Thomas, 1 up. A steep underdog with a hearty appetite goes a long way in a six-hour broadcast suffering from a notable shortage of competitive intrigue.

So does a bit of atmosphere. If this Presidents Cup had been held anywhere other than Charlotte, a city big enough to host but still small enough to care, it seems highly unlikely that such massive galleries would turn out to enliven the environment with a level of energy this event so desperately needs. The Tour’s annual journey to Quail Hollow Club has always been a festive one, even as the fields grew weaker once Tiger Woods stopped showing up on a regular basis (2012).

Although the starpower quotient was hurt to a certain extent again last weekend, the roar of the crowd lent this gathering a shot of credibility—a big-league ambience that had to resonate with viewers, even if it was subconsciously. It triggered emotional reactions from players both famous and anonymous. It turned 20-year-old Tom Kim into an overnight star and introduced America to Cam Davis, who has actually played in the U.S. for four seasons and won the 2021 event in Detroit.

The two men played huge roles in shrinking the International deficit to four Saturday evening, by which point Dan Hicks had seen enough. “He wanted the big stage, he got it, and he delivered,” the NBC anchor marveled after Kim birdied the 18th to beat Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele in the opening fourball match. “Just by himself, he’s worth the price of admission,” Hicks would add, referring to the demonstrative displays of joy from a kid whose toughness in the heat of battle defied his age.

It’s tough for any announcer to say something interesting unless something interesting is going on. “I’ve never seen a 20-year-old take control of a match like this before,” on-course analyst John Wood offered. “The body language and confidence on this kid is incredible.” The postgame “Live From” on Golf Channel after Day 3 was no less insightful, with host Rich Lerner supplying the strongest perspective: “Breathing life, breathing fire into the underdog. We’ve been wondering for years, who’s the Ian Poulter on the International side? This is what they’ve needed.”

Saturday’s late rally also brought life to the commentary accompanying the formation of Sunday’s singles lineups, a tedious process that does not translate well on live air. “Live From” co-stars Brandel Chamblee and Paul McGinley broke out the heavy artillery while International skipper Trevor Immelman took forever to compile his batting order, then served up sharp opinions when Immelman held Kim until the 10th spot.

“The whole objective here is to close the gap as soon as possible,” said McGinley, noting that Kim’s match would mean nothing if the Americans had already clinched their 12th Presidents Cup in 14 meetings.

They did, indeed, but by that point, this edition of the much-maligned series had earned its keep. It couldn’t compare to any Ryder Cup in terms of relevance or intrigue, but it did feature the same level of intensity, mainly because Immelman’s squad came to Quail Hollow with a purpose and refused to acknowledge the overwhelming odds stacked against them. Even while it was getting trampled over the first two days.

Some blowouts are more entertaining than others. Some aren’t really blowouts at all. This one fell somewhere in between, endowed with enough fist-pumping, cap-tossing and raw desire to leave us with little choice. Let’s hold on to the dynamite. At least for a couple of years.

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