Spander: Presidents Cup is a different kind of fall classic

This one will be our World Series since that’s not in the picture at the moment, our fall classic.

This one will be a prize for Sandy Tatum, the 89-year-old attorney who saw beauty in a run-down muni course.

This one will be a chance for us to get a different look at a city often covered by fog and hidden under political rhetoric.

This one is The Presidents Cup, the tournament where Tiger and Phil are teammates, not opponents, where Greg Norman calls the shots instead of hitting them, where, for a few days, golf grabs headlines that in October usually go to the Niners, Raiders, Cal or

Harding Park used to be San Francisco’s pride, a place Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus all played, a place native San Franciscans Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller — both U.S. Open champions — developed their games.

Named for the 29th president, Warren Harding, who died while visiting San Francisco in 1923, the course was a beauty. Then she became ragged, unappealing.

Tatum, once president of the U.S. Golf Association, led a campaign for restoration, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem saw a chance to have the game return to The City, and $16 million later the project was completed, better than anyone might imagine.

Finchem promised five events over 15 years. The first was the 2005 American Express Championship, in which Tiger Woods beat John Daly in a playoff.

The second is this eighth Presidents Cup, matching teams from the United States and the rest of the world excluding Europe, which battles America in the Ryder Cup.

Harding is out on San Francisco’s western edge, across the road from the more famous, but not necessarily more admired, Olympic Club, site of four U.S. Opens and a scheduled fifth in 2012.

During the 2005 Am Ex, when told Harding was used as a parking lot for the ’98 Open at Olympic, John Daly cracked, “They should have held the Open at Harding and parked cars at Olympic.”

Twelve men a side in The Presidents Cup, Woods, Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Kenny Perry, Stewart Cink, among those on the American team, Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, Geoff Ogilvy and Y.E. Yang, the man who beat Tiger, on the Internationals.

The U.S. captain is Fred Couples, while Norman heads the other squad. Competition, starting Thursday, consists of 34 matches,
11 foursomes (alternate shot), 11 four-ball (or better ball) and 12 singles.

No World Series, but world class golfers. It could be worse. It couldn’t be much better.


Els makes long, strange trip to town

A week ago, he was in Atlanta for the Tour Championship. Next week, he’ll be in San Francisco for the Presidents Cup.

This week, however, Ernie Els is in Scotland for the Albert Dunhill Championship, not exactly taking the most direct route from Point A to Point B.

“This tournament has been so dear to my dad and me over the years,” said Els of the Dunhill, where he pairs with his father in the pro-am.

“We’ve played in it many times and we’ve made the cut through to the final day in all but one of the years. It’s a great time for me — you know, to be at the Home of Golf with my dad. We don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like, and when we play golf we can really relax and enjoy it.”

Els has played in five of the seven previous Presidents Cups. In 2003, when it was played in his homeland, South Africa, Els and Tiger Woods started to face each other to break a tie, but then captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player agreed to share the trophy.

As far as going from the Georgia to Scotland to California, Els, who turns 40 on Oct. 17, said, “I’ll give the Heinekens a week off. I’ve got a G-5. It flies straight in. I’ll do a lot of sleeping, a lot of resting. It’s just the [8-hour] time change, that’s all.”


On target

The Americans are considered the favorites, based on recent history and world rankings. It has the current version of the “Big Three” — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, not only ranked Nos. 1-2-3, but winners of the last three playoff events on the PGA Tour. It has five of the top 10 players in the world, and it’s lowest-ranked player is Justin Leonard at No. 37.



Harding Park
The golf course’s most picturesque hole is the par-4 18th, requiring a drive over the corner of Lake Merced. But Mike Bodney, the PGA Tour’s senior V.P. of The Presidents Cup, said statistics showed a typical match ends on the 17th hole. So, Harding was rerouted with numerous hole changes, among those the 18th becoming the 15th hole, the 10th the first, the first the 16th and ninth the 18th.

Geoff Ogilvy
If The Presidents Cup, held only seven times previously, lacks the tension of the Ryder Cup, which began in 1927, that’s understandable. America didn’t really care about the Ryder Cup until it started losing to the Great Britain-Europe teams. The Australian Ogilvy sees that as a solution for The Presidents Cup, pointing out, “It’s going to take the International team winning a few times to annoy the U.S. and get them geared up like they are in the Ryder Cup.”


Match play

A closer look The Presidents Cup is match play. Low score wins the hole. If each team has the same score, a hole is halved. As an example, should the U.S. make par on the first hole and the International team bogey, the U.S. is 1 up. If the Internationals then make bogey on the second hole and the U.S. double bogeys, the match is even. A match ends when one side is farther ahead than holes remaining.


By the numbers

606 Length of the fifth hole in yards, the longest on the course

164 Length of the 14th hole in yards, the shortest on the course

7,137 Total length of course in yards

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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