U.S. Presidents Cup captain Davis Love III (left) appears to have a stacked deck against International counterpart Trevor Immelman.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA | If you are looking for some way – any way – the theoretically overmatched International team can win this Presidents Cup, or at least make it more competitive than many expect it to be, here’s a tidbit to chew on:
It was 109 years ago this week that Francis Ouimet beat Ted Ray and Harry Vardon to win the 1913 U.S. Open in what looked and felt at the time like a staggering upset.
So it can be done.
On the flip side, is it possible that this United States team with all of its star power could lose this Presidents Cup?
Someone suggested to U.S. captain Davis Love III on Tuesday that no one thought the United States could lose the America’s Cup yacht race until it did in 1983, ending a 132-year winning streak.
It was a stretch, but so was Derek Ernst, the 1,207th-ranked player in the world, beating Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and everyone else to win the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship here.
It’s the magic of sports and, if you can trust conventional wisdom, the International team is going to need some magic dust to hang with an American team that has an average world ranking of 12, approximately four times better than captain Trevor Immelman’s team.
Love was half-joking when he said his biggest concern at the moment is deciding which two players to sit in Thursday’s five alternate-shot matches and which two to sit Friday during the five best-ball matches.
How stacked is the American team?
Love conceivably could sit Tony Finau and Cameron Young on Thursday. That’s not to suggest that is Love’s plan, but it speaks to the abundance of riches at his disposal compared to Immelman, who has eight first-timers on a roster bruised by players who chose to join LIV Golf and lost their eligibility.
“We’re used to being called the favorite. Even when we lose three Ryder Cups in a row, they tell us, oh, but they’re the favorite.” – Davis Love III
While accepting the expectations, Immelman has refused to back down when pushed about how competitive his team can be. He said he has forwarded stories focusing on his team’s underdog status to his players to push the narrative.
“They’re all elite athletes, and they got to the elite level playing on the PGA Tour. You don’t get here by accident, man, I can promise you. You don’t get here by accident,” Immelman said.
That’s true, but it doesn’t change the expectations. Oddsmakers have set the U.S. team’s number at -700 meaning to win $100, bettors would have to wager $700 on the Americans winning. That’s a big investment for a relatively small payday.
Bet that same $100 on the International side and it’s worth $700 if they win.
In football terms, someone figured out it’s like the Americans are 17-point favorites – or about the same margin as Texas A&M was favored when it kicked off against Appalachian State nearly two weeks ago.
“We’re used to being called the favorite. Even when we lose three Ryder Cups in a row, they tell us, oh, but they’re the favorite. The other captain or the other team or you guys remind us that we’re the favorite. So we’re used to that. That’s on paper, and a lot of great coaches will tell you the game’s not played on paper. They’re played out there on the golf course,” Love said.
“Statistically, yes, we have a higher-ranked team, but I know a bunch of those young guys on their team, and they’re going to come in with a chip on their shoulder and together.”
It’s no surprise that Love chose to play alternate shot in the first day’s matches, given the Americans’ historical advantage in that format. The U.S. has a 73-39-21 record in foursomes, which has been the biggest differentiator in the Presidents Cup. The U.S. trails in four-ball matches over the 13 events and has a narrow lead in singles.
“Being heavy favorites doesn’t give us any extra shots. Every match is going to start at even. If we don’t go out and play our best golf, we’re not going to win this tournament,” Scottie Scheffler said.
“I think that’s the approach of all the guys. We’ve been preparing for this. We definitely don’t want to lose this tournament, and we’ll start on Thursday with just getting out and trying to get off to a good start.”
This isn’t the same team that dominated Europe in the Ryder Cup last September, but the core of it remains. Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Finau played at Whistling Straits.
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