Alternate Shot: The cups conundrum

What about making Paul Azinger captain of Team USA -- to lead both the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams in opposite years? Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Ahead of this week's Presidents Cup, our two senior golf writers debate the hot topics surrounding the matches in South Korea.

ESPN.com senior writer Jason Sobel: I was texting with a PGA Tour pro the other day ( I know, nice namedrop/humblebrag to kick this thing off) and joked that the Presidents Cup is my favorite event. He knew I was joking because, well, the Presidents Cup isn't anybody's favorite event. But I always kind of feel badly for it, if you can feel badly for an inanimate competition. It too often gets compared unfavorably with the Ryder Cup and always gets squeezed in during football season.

In fact, I'm guessing not too many people who aren't diehard golf fans even realize it's being contested this week -- and sure, some of that has to do with the fact that it's in South Korea, which means middle-of-the-night coverage here in the United States. Poor, poor Presidents Cup ...

ESPN.com senior writer Bob Harig: Even when it's in the U.S., many don't know what it is or that it is being played. It's a shame, because back when this was being conceived some 20 years ago, the thought was that it was too much, that the American players would never buy into doing this every year with the Ryder Cup.

And yet, the players seem to love it. They want to make this team every much as they want to make the Ryder Cup team. And despite fears to the contrary, there's never been a U.S. player who skipped it when eligible. The event does have its merits, and it has a few differences from the Ryder Cup to give it some uniqueness.

Sobel: You make a great point about the players. I was one of those who figured the Americans would tire of competing free of charge every year, but even a been-there, done-that kind of guy like Phil Mickelson was elated to be picked. Heck, Jim Furyk withdrew due to injury and still made the trip. And in some ways, it's more entertaining than the Ryder Cup.

I love the fact that captains can match up players rather than a blind draw -- and because of that, I'd be shocked if we didn't get a Jordan Spieth-Jason Day singles match this Sunday, which would have to be dumb luck in the other format. But the Ryder Cup has two things this will never have: A better, longer tradition and a more unified opponent to the U.S. team. As much as they try, it's difficult to get players from Australia and South Korea and South Africa and India to band together as a tight-knit unit.

Harig: And you nailed the problem. There will never be the passion from the international side. What are they playing for? The Europeans play for their tour, mostly. It has become a huge source of pride for them -- not to mention an all-important money-maker for the European Tour. The players rally behind that.

Even though many of them play the PGA Tour as well, they are required to play the European Tour in order to qualify for the European team. They have a slight chip on their shoulders that plays out well in the Ryder Cup. Nearly all the International players compete on the PGA Tour just like their opponents. It's almost impossible to simulate the same angst.

Sobel: And that's why I like players in this who are especially motivated. Two years ago, Graham DeLaet and Brendon de Jonge played like guys who were ready to break through for their first PGA Tour wins soon thereafter. That hasn't played out the way I would've thought (or they would've envisioned), but I see Danny Lee as a player who could get even further on people's radars this week. He's originally from South Korea, moving to New Zealand when he was 10, and he's already a PGA Tour winner who competed in the Tour Championship.

In short, he's better than most observers realize, but if they're paying attention this week, they'll notice him. Got anyone who could make a splash for the U.S. side? And don't tell me Spieth ...

Harig: Patrick Reed. Of course, he teamed with Spieth last year at the Ryder Cup, one of the few American bright spots in that competition. After a fast start, it's been a bit of a disappointing year for Reed and this is a perfect place for him to regain some pride and confidence.

I also expect a good bit from Dustin Johnson, who should have been on last year's Ryder Cup team but missed it due to his leave of absence. One thing I don't expect this to be, however, is some sort of bridge to the Ryder Cup. It never seems to work out that way. Any reasons to offer?

Sobel: First off, I love the Reed pick. Not a great year for him, but the dude is built for match play. And if he's got Spieth as a partner again, well, even a hacker like you or me could probably win a match with that guy hitting shots next to us.

As for why American success at this event doesn't translate to the Ryder Cup, I don't think there's an easy answer. But here's a potential solution: With the PGA Tour and PGA of America (which independently own and organize the two events) having more of a relationship these days, I wish they'd jointly choose a full-time captain -- much like the national basketball or soccer teams -- who presided over teams until they were fired or gave up the gig.

Not to sound like I'm shilling for an ESPN colleague, but Paul Azinger would be a pretty stout choice for this role. There's been a definitive transition in recent years from "everybody gets a turn" to "we need someone who can help us win." If the latter is really true, then having a full-timer in the gig -- and the right full-timer -- would help ease the transition from one year to the next.

Harig: That would not bother me at all, but I'm not sure it's necessary if they work together as they seem to be doing now. Davis Love III is an assistant this year on the Presidents Cup team and he'll be the captain next year. Whoever is picked to be the 2017 Presidents Cup captain ought to automatically be tapped as one of Love's assistants at Hazeltine. That way you've got that continuity right there from year to year, and can still choose different captains.

I like how the Ryder Cup Committee has decreed former captains be part of the assistant captain lineup, too. All of that will help. But I'm afraid that replicating the pressure is just not possible. There are not the same implications for losing the Presidents Cup, certainly not among the International players. If they lose, will Day get ripped in Australia, Charl Schwartzel in South Africa? Doesn't seem likely. But if Europe loses there is two years of consternation, all of which makes the Ryder Cup so important. Then again, if the U.S. loses in South Korea, you can see some heat coming the Americans' way. Is that what the Presidents Cup needs?

Sobel: It needs controversy. It needs something to get everybody's blood boiling and the casual fans talking about it. I'd take a Jay Haas-Nick Price wrestling match in the 18th fairway, but I'd settle for a Suzann Pettersen-ish bit of gamesmanship that at least gets people talking.

If the U.S. squad wins this thing by eight points and there's no real controversy, with it being played in the middle of the night in the U.S., the event will have a tree-falling-in-a-forest feel to it. If you don't hear it, does it really make a sound?

Harig: Not sure we can guarantee controversy, so the best thing that could happen is a close, compelling match. No big swings in any sessions. Some excellent shots to win holes or matches. A close contest going into singles that remains close throughout the final day.

It wouldn't hurt if Day and Spieth were in the final match of the entire Presidents Cup, and their match as well as the entire competition came down to the last hole, with the overall outcome on the line. Think about the Ryder Cups where that has happened. It hasn't been the case at the Presidents Cup since '03. That's what it could use now.