Rules Blog - Presidents Cup

Presidents Cup Blog

Simon Magdulski, Manager – Rules & Handicapping, Golf Australia Presidents Cup

And so finally, after four and half years of anticipation, the Big Show came to town. For those familiar with professional golf, the week-in, week-out movement of tournaments from city to city can be a little reminiscent of a travelling circus, or of a touring rock band. There’s the pre-event promotion and building of infrastructure, there’s the anticipation, there are the star acts, there’s the show itself, and then it’s off to the next venue to do it all again. But this was the big one, the Presidents Cup. Australian golf fans had been waiting a long time for their chance to witness the might of the USA against ‘our’ team, the Internationals, which as it happened featured five Aussies.

It is true that the Presidents Cup has been to Australia before – in 1998, the only time the Internationals have won the biennial showpiece – but this time it was somehow different. Maybe it was because on this occasion everything was not being truncated into a single week.

In reality, the show was lasting three weeks. Either side of the Presidents Cup had been scheduled the Australian Open and the Australian PGA. The Australian Open field boasted eight of the world’s best 20 players which led some to claim this as easily the best line-up in the event’s 107-year history.

The Australian Open venue was The Lakes, which is a Bubba Watson driver from Sydney Airport, and the crowds and atmosphere were terrific. For those into the Rules (or trivia, or both), one continuous lateral water hazard line we put down for the championship consumed 12 cans of paint and ran for approximately 2.5 kilometres all the way from the left of the 16th fairway to the rear of the 1st green.

At the Open (yes, in Australia, we call the Australian Open “the Open”!), my primary role is director of referees. Looking after the playing side of the event, for the Open I report to Golf Australia’s Tournament Director, Trevor Herden. But it’s not just about Golf Australia. I will closely consult with the Australasian PGA Tour’s Director of Tournaments Andrew Langford-Jones (or “Langers” as everyone at The R&A and in world golf knows him). Langers is involved in the management of big events internationally right throughout the year, so I’m always keen to get his take on the subtleties of the various situations that need to be worked through.

Presidents CupAt the Open this year we had 10 senior rovers in carts, 25 walking referees with the main groups, and three Observers (assistant referees) who walked with the marquee groups. We also had the bonus of having two senior referees from the US Tour attend – Steve Rintoul and Stephen Cox. Having guest referees of this calibre involved not only adds to the event, it also provides a forum for broadening our database of knowledge in that we get the chance to get their take on how they would handle myriad scenarios. When it comes to setting up a golf course and managing play, there are varying philosophies and not necessarily a single correct answer. But when I am faced with a problem to solve, it is hugely beneficial to know what each of the major PGA Tours would do in similar circumstances.

For the Australian PGA, which is to be played this weekend (November 24-27) following the Presidents Cup, it will be a streamlined set-up of eight rovers in carts who run the entire ‘inside the ropes’ operation, and I will work for Langers as one of those eight.

It is worth noting that there are pros and cons for the two styles of Rules management options employed for these two events. More can have its benefits in some ways but it does not always translate to better.

For the Presidents Cup, it is not just the best players who are on show but the best referees. Six from the US Tour as well as officials from The R&A, USGA, European Tour, Japan Tour, Asian Tour, Sunshine Tour, and Langers and Trevor Herden from Australia.

Presidents CupFor the first day’s six foursome matches, half of the match committee acted as referees and half as observers (or assistant referees). The observers operated a shot ahead of the players with a view to providing the referee with a heads-up on any rules situation arising from the position in which a player had hit his ball.

For the second day’s six four-ball matches, the referees and observers from the first day swapped roles.

The match schedule for the weekend at the Presidents Cup doubles on that of the opening two days, and so does the number of rules officials. The members of the match committee shed their observer roles and act purely as referees, whilst 12 dedicated observers are brought in. For 2011, these observers were a selection of Golf Australia’s National Referees and were provided by us in response to a request from the US Tour. My weekend role was to work as one of these observers.

That being said, my services were not heavily taxed as both my matches finished well before the 18th. In Saturday morning’s foursome match I assisted John Mutch from the US Tour and saw Hunter Mahan and David Toms account for Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel 5&4. On Sunday I worked with Jittisak Tamprasert from the Asian Tour as Mahan defeated my countryman Jason Day 5&3. Don’t worry about Jason Day though. My observation from seeing him play over the past eight years from junior events through to the Presidents Cup is that he will bank the experience and use it to his critical advantage down the track.

Having refereed at the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and again this year at Royal St George’s, I have seen the massive crowds that the biggest Championship on the planet attracts. To see the excitement and mass of people at an event in my own country, was doubly uplifting. The galleries were clearly caught up in the Big Show, with many of them being non-golfers who will now give the game a chance. That is what the superstars do, they engage more people in the game.

But the added novelty of the Presidents Cup is that the galleries have a team to support. The Presidents Cup turns the Aussie fans into supporters of South Africa, and Japan, and Korea. It is not casual support either. KJ Choi becomes an Aussie icon for the week and the fierce rivalry between Australia and South Africa is totally forgotten.

Is it exciting to see this from inside the ropes? Absolutely! To walk along a fairway or around a green and see the mass of faces is not without an element of thrill. Players talk about the experience of walking up the 18th hole at the Open Championship. As an official, it is difficult not to appreciate the privilege we are afforded to share a piece of this. To see it in Australia is indeed special, but there is no doubt that having the Australian Open as a key component of the Big Show has enhanced the memory for me.

And then of course there was my other little task for the Presidents Cup – to sit in the Golf Channel commentary box for all of Thursday and Friday as the commentators’ insurance policy on Rules issues. In the event of a complex Rules situation arising, it was my task to provide the answer for the viewers.

As it happens, the on-course commentators and the guys in the box have a pretty solid knowledge of the Rules, so my major contribution was getting called on at one stage to provide my thoughts on the brutal Melbourne northerly wind. As David Feherty noted at one stage on the Friday afternoon, “Well I was watching the Presidents Cup there for a while and then I tuned into a pro am.” And that is what Royal Melbourne, combined with greens running at 13 on the stimp, and the Melbourne northerly wind can do. But don’t just take my word for it, come out here to our magnificent sand-belt courses and do battle with it yourselves!

Other observations from my time in the commentary box were firstly that there is more than an element of truth to the stories of commentators being all dressed up above the waist and yet not paying quite so much heed to their presentation below the waist. Secondly, it was fascinating to hear the director getting into each announcer’s ear whilst they were still talking so as to steer them onto what was happening next and who to throw to. Thirdly, David Feherty’s off air comments are magnificent to listen to!

Presidents CupSo what about the result of the Presidents Cup itself? Well, leading into the Big Show we in Australia were very confident that ‘our’ boys would get the job done. That the Americans would find the Royal Melbourne challenge too much. But it wasn’t to be. The Internationals came close but yet could not reprise the 1998 heroics when the Americans suffered their worst ever loss in international teams competition.

But the show itself is not over yet. As I said earlier, we are now off to Coolum for the Australian PGA. The circus has moved on.