Jack Nicklaus was as stunned as anyone by the outcome of the Ryder Cup last month, when Europe handed the American team its worst loss in Cup history. "I sort of thought the U.S. team would have an easy time at Oakland Hills," he said. "Instead, they got murdered."

Nicklaus will captain the U.S. team in the Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville Sept. 19-25, two years after the squad he captained rallied on the final afternoon of singles and played the international team to a 17-17 draw in an event he has since described many times as one of his grandest experiences in golf.

Tiger Woods and Ernie Els went three extra holes trying to break the tie in near darkness before Nicklaus and international captain Gary Player agreed that neither team deserved to lose, calling it a draw.

Nicklaus has heard and read all the theories on why the Americans failed so miserably at Oakland Hills -- Captain Hal Sutton's pairings were wrong, the Americans didn't bond, the Europeans cared more than the United States did -- and said in a telephone interview this week that he didn't buy into any of it.

"I honestly do not have an answer for it, other than the Europeans played better than we did," he said. "The only guess I can have is that the European team only has to play in this every two years, while our guys have to play this kind of competition every year. The Europeans may have two years to build up the emotion and the energy and get ready to play. Once a year may not be so easy, because each one of these matches deserves full preparation. It's the only logical explanation, but that doesn't mean that's what happened."

In any case, Nicklaus said again what he has championed in the past. He would dearly like to see a two-team competition every two years involving either the United States, Europe or an international team from the rest of the world. The winner of the competition does it again in two years, the loser waits four to play it again.

"But it won't ever happen," he said. "The PGA Tour runs one [the Presidents Cup] and the PGA of America runs the other [the Ryder Cup]. Both of them are huge events and make them a lot of money, and rightly so. I can't criticize either one of them. That's why it won't happen."

Robert Trent Jones announced yesterday that tickets are being sold for the event, which will be limited to about 21,000 spectators per day. There will be 6,000 weekly tickets priced at $250 each for the two practice rounds and four days of actual competition, and 6,000 daily tickets priced at $35 for the practice rounds, $60 for Thursday and Friday, $70 on Saturday and $80 Sunday.

For more information, go to www.presidentscup.com or call 1-877-773-9849.

-- Leonard Shapiro

NICKLAUS