During the next two weekends, American professional golfers must be on their games if the United States is to reassert itself in international team competition.
The Yanks have lost three straight events: one professional (the Ryder Cup pitting US and European men), the others amateur (the Walker and Curtis Cup shootouts between US and British-Irish squads of men and women, respectively).
First up is the men's Presidents Cup, which returns to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Lake Manassas, Va., Friday through Sunday (ESPN and CBS will televise). The inaugural competition was played at this same course in 1994.
The event was devised so that non-European players ineligible for the Ryder Cup could test their shotmaking against the US.
In 1994, the US won 20 to 12, and the depth of playing talent might once again favor the Americans, who are led by Corey Pavin, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, and Davis Love III. The International Team, however, has loaded up with its own impressive group of par busters, including Greg Norman, Nick Price, Ernie Els, and Vijay Singh.
Nonplaying US captain Arnold Palmer directs the dozen Americans entrusted to defend the cup during three days of match play.
A match-play team format creates a different kind of electricity and tension for fans and players. The Presidents Cup is set up to achieve maximum suspense, with all matches played to a sudden-death finish if necessary. If the team scores are tied at the end of play on Sunday, two previously designated players will decide the outcome.
The golfers play for honor, not prize money. Event revenues are divided into 26 equal shares that the players and captains give to charity or golf-related projects of their choice.
The women's Solheim Cup, named for American golf manufacturer Karsten Solheim whose company sponsors the biennial competition, follows on Sept. 20-22. This transatlantic confrontation between Americans and Europeans is another relative newcomer to the golf world.
In three previous engagements the home team has always won. Thus, if form holds, the European pros should prevail at the St. Pierre Hotel Golf & Country Club in Chepstow, Wales.
Britain's long-hitting Laura Davies, the current leader of the LPGA Tour, joins Swedish stars Annika Sorenstam and Liselotte Neumann on the 12-player European roster. Dottie Pepper, the winner of last week's Safeway LPGA Golf Championship in Portland, Ore., heads the American charge. ESPN and NBC will divide TV duties.