THE countdown to the 2011 Presidents Cup has begun with team leaders Greg Norman and Fred Couples hosting a Captain’s Day at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club on Monday.
International captain Norman and US captain Couples faced off at a media conference and displayed a passionate rivalry than is underlined by a personal friendship and respect.
Their personal rivalry spans the decades as individual players, as Presidents Cup representatives in 1998 and culminated last year when they opposed each other as team captains for the first time.
The 1998 match was played at Royal Melbourne and was the only time the Internationals have managed an outright victory in the nine stagings of the event.
After losing to the Americans at Harding Park in San Francisco last year, Norman believes the Melbourne venue will be the International team’s best chance of repeating a victory, but he was wary of facing a US team burnt by a recent loss in the Ryder Cup.
“I think it’s a little bit more difficult for us going into 2011 now that America got their butts kicked in the Ryder Cup because they won’t want to go two losses,” Norman said.
“So I know Freddie doesn’t want to do that; the players definitely don’t want to do that for sure. If I was a player on the team, I wouldn’t want to say I lost the Ryder Cup and I lost The Presidents Cup.
The 2011 Presidents Cup will see 24 of the world’s best golfers lead by two of golf’s iconic characters.
Winning the cup means a lot to the captains and their teams and that fierce competitiveness was on display on Monday.
But there was also the friendship.
Asked by a television report about his recent third marriage, to Kirsten Kutner, Norman happily replied: “No dramas … very peaceful and quiet” and explained his new bride and her sister would be in Sydney for the Australian Open.
After a brief pause Couples was confident enough to quip: “How old is her sister? Is she married?”
The comment brought the house down and a laughing Norman replied: “We’ll talk about that later.”
Earlier, selected members of the media had been invited to play the famous Royal Melbourne championship composite course.
For some, it was the culmination of boyhood dreams and for all a great insight into the kinds of conditions some very famous feet will find in November next year.
Along with a reorganisation of the holes that make up the composite course from Royal Melbourne’s East and West Courses, the entire layout has new turf from tee to green after a lack of water and other issues.
Couples commented that whatever changes had been made, Royal Melbourne was still one of the world’s greatest golf courses.
“This is a world class course. It’s in the top three of my all time favorites with St. Andrews and Augusta,” he said.
On a personally note, being given the opportunity to play the course was a rare treat, particularly alongside someone like Alan Evans, a member of Royal Melbourne for 25 years and a current member of the club’s governing council.
Alan, a 3 handicapper who is also a regular on the Australian Senior Amateur tour, has an intimate knowledge of the course and believes the venue as it will be presented next year will strongly favour the International team and not the Americans with their mostly high trajectory ball play.
Players bombing drives into the rough will often find it extremely difficult to get, particularly with any real control, and when they do there will be no soft landing spots on the lightening fast greens.
When a strong wind got up mid-morning the bite this course can offer the combatants of next November was more than evident.