- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

At last week's Presidents Cup the U.S. team proved once again that extraordinary talent and laudable grace rarely keep close company.

The most telling moments at the final day of the fourth Presidents Cup occurred off the course, away from the massive crowd and omnipresent NBC cameras.

Moments after the closing ceremonies, the International team arrived at the media center. Even though they had just taken the soundest thrashing in team match-play competition in 33 years, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Steve Elkington, Mike Weir and captain Peter Thomson came to take their medicine and answer questions about the savage beating.

Earlier in the day, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced that South Africa would host the 2002 Presidents Cup, so native South Africans Els and Price obligingly showed up to discuss the day's punishment and event's future site.

After his 0-5 record against the Americans at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, Els probably was less excited about playing South African ambassador than Al Sharpton. But Els came and was the picture of cordiality, refusing to let his personal disappointment taint his enthusiasm for the event and Finchem's announcement.

Five minutes after the Internationals filed out, representatives from the U.S. team arrived. Conspicuously absent were Tiger Woods, David Duval and Phil Mickelson, the three highest-ranked players on Uncle Sam's squad.

Coincidence? Not a chance. This was the trio of players who earlier in the week refused to commit to competing in South Africa. All three had just been a part of arguably the most impressive week of U.S. team golf in history. But they apparently had better things to do than discuss the team's smothering success. Quite simply, they were too cowardly to show up and address the South Africa issue.

All Woods or Duval, who both accepted invitations to the media center before simply not showing, would have had to do was say, "I don't know whether I'll go or not. Ask me in a year. Right now, let's talk about this week's amazing accomplishment."

But that one line was too much to ask of Woods or Duval or Mickelson.

Why would they not want to go to South Africa to support the Presidents Cup?

All week their reasons were painfully petulant, embarrassingly selfish.

It's too late in the season. It's too far to travel. They are all too tired.

Guess what? The 2002 Presidents Cup, like the 1998 cup in Melbourne, will come at the end of the season for the International team as well. And eight members of the International team live in the United States or Canada; the logistics of traveling to South Africa will be just as difficult and tiring for them. So what's the real reason U.S. players like Woods, Duval and Mickelson don't want to go to South Africa?

Cash, of course. Woods has no problem globe-trotting for appearance fees. He's been to Europe, Asia, Australia and yes, even South Africa, for million-dollar fees. If he conveniently develops an outspoken indignation about the injustices of Apartheid before the 2002 Presidents Cup, someone should remind him that he went to the Million Dollar Challenge at Sun City, South Africa, in December 1998.

Davis Love, the only non-rookie member of the U.S. team with the guts to come to the post-Presidents Cup news conference, said American team members have been on a mission to prove that they "weren't this spoiled little group of individuals that showed up together to play and didn't care."

Els had already issued the definitive comment on that front 15 minutes earlier: "Well, we'll see when we get down there [to South Africa] how much they really love this cup they've just won… . This is the biggest team event we can play in, and it's the biggest cup we can play for as a team. So we're going to try and field our best team again, and I know every player that's going to be chosen or gets on the team will go down to South Africa and play."

Translation: We'll be there. If the Americans really do care, they'll be there, too.

Unfortunately, if the Americans really did care, Woods and Duval and Mickelson would have had the good graces and elegance to show up at the news conference and tell the world how excited they were to go to South Africa in 2002. Both their absence and their silence on the subject prove that all three are far more concerned about their bank accounts than promoting the good of the game.

"The best players in the game have always traveled to promote the good of the game," Price said. "Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman they all played all over to try an increase golf's popularity… . This event isn't really about winning or losing, and it certainly isn't about money. It's about 24 guys showing up to promote the game and sportsmanship and put on a show. It's about giving something back."

Apparently, one all-expenses-paid trip to the other side of the globe every four years without a big check waiting at the other end is too much to ask of Woods or Duval or Mickelson. The three players have made nearly $15 million, not counting endorsements or appearance fees, this season thanks to golf, but apparently it's too much for us to ask them to make a free overseas appearance every other year at either the Presidents or Ryder Cup to give something back to that game.

Maybe that's fine. Maybe that's just the American way pure and simple greed. But if so, don't dare allow yourself to celebrate the latest U.S. victory as an unforgettable example of team chemistry. Nope, what happened at RTJ was an example of ugly American mercenaries simply being much more talented than their exponentially more likeable, more gracious team.

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