And as if the task of avoiding a ninth straight US win wasn’t daunting enough, first-time captain Trevor Immelman has to make history by wiping out US home field advantage with a team made up mostly of tournament rookies.
Three years ago, the 2008 Masters champion was one of Ernie Els’ assistant captains when the international team saw a painful lead slip away on the final day in Melbourne, Australia, the site of their only win in 1998.
After taking the reins from his South African compatriot shortly after, Immelman has since spent countless hours devising a strategy to rewrite the usual script this week at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club.
“We’re not blind, we know exactly what the record is, but in a way it motivates us,” Immelman told DailyExpertNews’s Don Riddell.
“In 2019 we felt like we had taken a huge step forward from a team aspect, from a franchise aspect, so to speak.
“We started slowly but surely trying to build this house and make it solid and on a solid foundation, because we’re not just looking at this week, but also at the cups.”
The biennial cup has been postponed for a year due to the pandemic and will see the two 12-man teams compete in 18 linked team matches before 12 singles match-ups close out the tournament on Sunday. Each match is worth one point, with the first team to reach 15.5 points being crowned the champion.
Six members from each roster are filled with automatic qualifiers, allowing respective captains Immelman and Davis Love III to hand-pick the remaining half. The international player pool extends to everyone outside the United States and Europe, with this year’s lineup in South Korea (4), Canada (2), Australia (2), South Africa, Japan, Colombia and Chile .
a playing As a member of the 2005 and 2007 squads, Immelman believed that earlier groups had often struggled for cohesion before Els’ leadership. Without a logo or team colors until 2019, Els’ adoption of the shield decal and black-and-gold livery built toward the greater goal of giving the team an identity.
“He [Els] was the perfect leader at the perfect time with enough pull to make some changes and put us on this course,” said Immelman.
“It’s very difficult when you bring players from seven, eight, nine different countries and they come here to represent their country instead of representing this one team. Now that we have the shield, these players come here and that’s where we for play.”
For Immelman, such a shift means the international team can now avoid falling into the ‘trap’ of choosing pairs for the events based on shared nationality as opposed to tactical suitability for course and opponents.
“One of the things we’ve changed in recent years is breaking those cultural barriers so that every player can play with every other player on the team,” he said.
“We can see that we are big underdogs on paper and so we have to be very smart about what we do with our combinations. There are a lot of things that go into those decisions to make sure we can try to find every little advantage That’s to put ourselves and our players in the best possible position to try and shock the world at the end of the week.”
Ready for beginners
Given the makeup of the two teams, it’s hard to go against the underdog label. Eight members of the international team will make their Presidents Cup debuts in Charlotte, while Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama are the only major champions in the group after Masters wins in 2013 and 2021 respectively.
Japan’s Matsuyama is the team’s highest ranked player at World No.17. Only two players from the US team are ranked lower, with five of the world’s top 10 in the star-studded ensemble, and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas with seven major titles between them. .
Scheffler and Morikawa are among the six American players to play for the first time, yet come in with a combined nine PGA Tour wins. On the international side, on the other hand, fellow cup debutants Taylor Pendrith of Canada and Mito Pereira are still chasing their first Tour titles.
So how do you prepare such rookies for the baptism of fire that is a Presidents Cup on the field? You start, says Immelman, ‘just by loving them’.
“You put your arms around them, you let them know that you love them and that you are there for them,” the South African explained.
“Is there anything I can say to them or give them a magic pill that will take away their nerves, fear and excitement on the first tee? No chance, there isn’t. … (But) these guys have logged thousands and thousands of hours since they started with this game, sharpen their skills, take themselves to the elite level on the PGA Tour. They have what it takes. They know exactly how to play this game and what to do. So you really just have to tell them that they have to trust themselves, trust the process, trust the work you’ve put into it.”
For Immelman, however, the most important advice to his players is to just enjoy the experience because their captain will enjoy every second of it.
After being sidelined by multiple injuries during his playing career, the 42-year-old has found a “second career” in broadcasting, and he plans to become CBS Sport’s chief golf analyst next year. Fourteen years after pipping Tiger Woods to Masters glory, Immelman is still pinching himself at victory, his love for the game as strong as ever.
And whatever the outcome on Sunday, that romance will continue as Immelman leaves Charlotte and follows in the footsteps of South African golf royalty Els and Gary Player as Team International captain.
“It was a crazy ride – sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I have been,” Immelman reflected. “I feel humbled. Look at the list of captains who have come before me for the international team, all the legends of the game, all the heroes of mine, people I have looked up to all my life.
“If you can’t enjoy this I’m not sure you can enjoy anything … the golf course and the build-up is like something I’ve never seen before in my life. It will be electric there We can’t wait to be a part of it.”