Explaining How the Presidents Cup Works

Mike DudurichContributor ISeptember 27, 2013

U.S. captain hopes to be holding the Presidents Cup again after next weekend's competition.
U.S. captain hopes to be holding the Presidents Cup again after next weekend's competition.David Cannon/Getty Images

As the 10th playing of the Presidents Cup approaches, there is no doubt that the biennial matches between the United States and the Internationals (everyone except Europe) have become a great event, but it’s not the Ryder Cup.

Of course, the Ryder Cup has been played since 1927 and has grown into a fierce event with great passion that sometimes boils over.

And that’s one of the reasons the Presidents Cup is different and will remain so. The group of golf’s greats behind the genesis of the event—Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player—have insisted that this be a friendly event without the rancor of the Ryder Cup.

Player was turned off the 1991 Ryder Cup—the War by the Shore—and all of the ruckus caused by that competition.

"It's an event that will be bigger than the Ryder Cup because it entails the world," Player said in interview with Golf Today. "I got disheartened when (in 1991) they said it was 'The War by the Shore'. Do they know what a war is compared to a golf match? We don't need all that flag waving."

It could also be said that the Presidents Cup hasn’t had time to crank up the kinds of emotions displayed at the Ryder Cup, but that may never happen given the influences of golf’s legendary Big Three.

But at least from a nuts and bolts standpoint, there are definitely similarities in the two.

Both Cups are played on a biennial basis, and both are big hits with golf fans. They routinely sell out tickets and television ratings are always good.

Players make the teams in similar, but slightly different ways. The U.S. team earns points based on money earned on the PGA Tour in the two years leading up to the event.

In the first year of that period, each dollar is worth one point. In the year that the Presidents Cup is held, each dollar is worth two points.

The Internationals pick their team based on the Official World Golf Rankings. The top 10 automatically get spots, except for those eligible for the European Ryder Cup team.

Two more players are added on each side, with the respective captains making those choices.

As the team selection process loosely follows the Ryder Cup’s, the actual playing of the Presidents Cup is similar, but certainly not the same as the Ryder Cup.

It’s a match play event, featuring alternate shot, best-ball and singles formats. Each match contested is worth one point, and matches that are halved result in half-points for both teams. There are a total of 34 points available, and to win the Cup one of the team has to win 17.5 points.

There are 11 alternate-shot, 11 best-ball and 12 singles matches on the schedule and all 12 players play in the alternate-shot and best-ball matches on Thursday and Friday. Two players from each team can sit out in each of the two Saturday sessions and all 12 players play in the singles finals.

Because the Presidents Cup features six more matches, it forces captains to play all of their players. In the 1999 Ryder Cup, the European team didn’t use three players: Jarmo Sandelin, Jean van de Velde and Andrew Coltart the first two days because they weren’t as strong as their teammates.

Even doing so, the European team lost by just a point to the U.S. team, 14 ½ to 13 ½ at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The event reached a critical point in its development in 2003 when it was played at the Links at Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate in George, South Africa. Both teams finished with 17 points and Ernie Els and Tiger Woods were chosen to compete in a sudden-death playoff.

After three holes, it was still tied. In a spirit of friendly competition, captains Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus decided teams would share the Cup.

That prompted rules changes for the 2005 event. It was decided that all doubles matches Thursday through Saturday could end in a tie, but Sunday singles matches would no longer end in regulation if tied. Those would be extended until the match was won outright—until one team reaches the 17.5 point total.

Why is it called the Presidents Cup? Well, at the first event, former U.S. President Gerald Ford, an avid golfer, was the Honorary Chairman. And so it has followed: former president George H. W. Bush, then-Australian Prime Minister John Howard, then-President Bill Clinton, the former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, George W. Bush and the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper.

As he did for the 2009 Presidents Cup, President Barack Obama will be the honorary chairman of next week’s event.

One other way the Presidents Cup is different than the Ryder Cup is that it is teetering on losing it's edge. The United States leads the series, 7-1-1, with the only International victory coming in 1998.

The U.S. has outscored the Internationals in those victories by an average 19.2 to 13.9.