CHARLOTTE, NC (UKTN) — The final Presidents Cup was so close that the international team walked away with renewed hopes it had enough play and enough battle to beat the mighty Americans.
That seems so long ago now.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the Presidents Cup back by a year. Much more disruptive was the Saudi-funded LIV Golf which drained the experience from the international side.
“That’s something we’ve been looking forward to for the past three years,” said British Open champion Cameron Smith, and 20 days later it was officially announced that he was defecting to the rival league.
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and Australia’s Marc Leishman also took the money to sign with LIV Golf, just two days before the 12-man international team was due to fill out. Louis Oosthuizen, so good in the Presidents Cup that he had a winning record while never playing on a winning team, was one of the first to return in June.
US Captain Davis Love III was asked if he felt sorry for Trevor Immelman, who was elected International Captain long before LIV was more than a Roman numeral.
“I feel bad for the game of golf now that this is the story going into it,” Love said. “I feel really bad for all of us. But Trevor has a job to do, and that’s to bring 12 guys ready to play, and he’ll focus on that.”
The 14th edition of the matches between Americans and an international team made up of players from outside Europe kicks off Thursday at Quail Hollow Club, and it appears to be as one-sided as the record suggests.
The Americans have only lost once, in 1998 at Royal Melbourne in Australia, matches that ended 12 days before Christmas. There was a draw in South Africa and then eight consecutive American celebrations.
The US is less than a year away from giving Europe its worst defeat ever in the Ryder Cup, 19-9 in Whistling Straits, with a young and hungry team.
The Americans were not immune to the defectors – Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau were on that Ryder Cup team – although there was no assurance they would have made this team. Johnson has not won on U.S. soil since the November 2020 Masters, while the others are trying to bounce back from injury.
And the state of the American wave is such that replacements are easy to find. All 12 players are in the top 25 of the world ranking.
The international team only counts three players from the top 25 – former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im and Tom Kim, the 20-year-old South Korean who wasn’t even a consideration until he won the Wyndham Championship six weeks ago.
Immelman brings eight Presidents Cup rookies to Quail Hollow. Only three players from his team have won tournaments this year. Only two – Matsuyama and Adam Scott – have won majors.
Love’s team has only three players who have not won this year. So are two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young, the PGA Tour rookie who finished runner-up five times and twice came within a single shot at winning a major.
Now think back to Melbourne in 2019, a Presidents Cup the international team took to a US rally on the final day and a 16-14 win. Ernie Els was the captain who gave his side a new logo, identity and fighting spirit.
Els said of his team when it was over: “If you look at their record and where these guys are at the moment they are going to place, I can tell you that.”
Going to a rival league for guaranteed wealth was not what he had in mind.
The Americans have five rookies in the Presidents Cup, although two of them (Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler) played in the Ryder Cup, and two others (Sam Burns and Max Homa) have had three PGA Tour wins in the past 12 months.
It’s one sided on paper. It’s a one-sided history. When there’s pressure on the Americans, it’s about not being the team that loses in the end.
Immelman does not hide the disappointment that Oosthuizen and Smith and Niemann and those considered major contributors were not present.
He has 12 guys who wanted to be at Quail Hollow. Players who signed up for Saudi wealth at LIV Golf knew they were going to face PGA Tour suspension, which meant they didn’t compete in the Presidents Cup.
“When the players asked in 2020 decided to ask me to be their captain – this was before the pandemic, before the professional game was broken and divided – I signed up to a certain set of rules, and our team is a team of loyalty ‘ said Immelman. “Our team is a team of their word. We will abide by those rules.
“These are the 12 players who wanted to qualify. These are the 12 players who wanted to be on the team. Those are the twelve I want at the end of the day.”
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