As captain of the International team in the Presidents Cup matches two weeks from now at Quail Hollow Club, Trevor Immelman understands the Everest-sized challenge facing his squad.
They’re putting a bear hug on the modest expectations against a loaded American team.
“I don’t really think I have to play the underdog role up. I think everybody knows it. Everybody sees it clear as day. Our team has had a lot of adversity thrown at us over the last year or so,” Immelman said while completing his 12-player roster Tuesday morning.
“But adversity makes you stronger. The trip that we took (to Charlotte last week) really showed in just a couple days how tight these guys can get and how much they want to be on the team and how badly they want to compete.
“You know, the underdog role is there. Everybody sees it. We’ll carry that with pride. We’ll be representing underdogs all over the world in every facet of life, whether it be business or sport or kids at school. We’ll be out there representing all the underdogs trying to make them proud.”
The International team is an underdog with a capital U.
“There were some anxious times in there, for sure, not quite knowing exactly where we were going to be, trying to gather as much information as I could from all sorts of different players that were making decisions with what they wanted to do.” – Trevor Immelman
The United States team has won all seven matches played on American soil, the margin only once being fewer than three points. It was an eight-point romp at Liberty National five years ago.
Overall, the U.S. has won 11 of the 13 Presidents Cups, with one match tied.
Those were played in what might be called the best of times for the International team.
Immelman’s challenge has been complicated by the exodus of several players for LIV Golf – notably Cameron Smith, Joaquín Niemann, Abraham Ancer, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace and Marc Leishman – leaving an enormous hole in the projected lineup.
After COVID-19 pushed the matches by one year, Immelman had to deal with the uncertainty of who would and would not be eligible for his team. The defections – particularly the recent jumps made by Smith (ranked No. 2 in the world) and Niemann (No. 19) – didn’t come as a shock to the captain. He knew in advance the decisions some players were making.
“There were some anxious times in there, for sure, not quite knowing exactly where we were going to be, trying to gather as much information as I could from all sorts of different players that were making decisions with what they wanted to do,” Immelman said. “So we had to be fluid. We had to be agile. We had to be nimble. I think we were.”
When Smith and Niemann left for LIV, it cost Immelman two of his eight automatic qualifiers, leaving him with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, South Koreans Sungjae Im and Joohyung “Tom” Kim, Canada’s Corey Conners, Australia’s Adam Scott and Chile’s Mito Pereira.
With six captain’s choices, Immelman added five Presidents Cup rookies in Taylor Pendrith (Canada), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (South Africa), Cam Davis (Australia), K.H. Lee (South Korea) and Sebastián Muñoz (Colombia) along with South Korean Si Woo Kim, who played in the 2017 Presidents Cup.
There were no great surprises to Immelman’s choices, though Pendrith got the nod over fellow Canadians Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Hadwin plus Erik Van Rooyen among others. Pendrith missed four months of the PGA Tour season after suffering a rib injury in March.
“When he came back, he played some unbelievable golf, and he played six events since the comeback, in the top 13 five of those six events, highlighted by that T2 at the Rocket Mortgage,” Immelman said.
“(He’s) a player that we think is in great form right now, and his game matches up extremely well with what we know about Quail Hollow where we’re having this Presidents Cup. He’s one of the longest hitters on tour, top 10 in driving distance this season, so we think we can use that to our advantage.”
Building as best he can off the model put in place by previous International captain Ernie Els, Immelman has had regular player gatherings including a recent two-day visit by several team members to Quail Hollow where they played practice rounds and hung out together.
“The thing that excites me the most is I know now, particularly after our trip when all these guys came together as one, I know now that we have 12 players that are hungry, and we have 12 players that wanted to be there, so we go from here,” Immelman said.
“We understand exactly the mountain that we have in front of us: Possibly the best American team ever assembled, if you look at them on paper with their accomplishments and what their world rankings are.
“But hey, when you’re a little kid growing up outside of the U.S. and you dream of playing on the PGA Tour, you dream of playing in major championships at the highest level. This is everything you’ve ever dreamed of is having an opportunity to play against the best on their home soil, and that’s what we’re going to have here in a couple weeks.
“I’m extremely proud of my team. They’ve all worked their butts off to get to this point. They thoroughly deserve their position in the team. We look forward to the opportunity.”
Top: International Presidents Cup captain Trevor Immelman (left) will take on Davis Love III and the heavily favored Americans in Quail Hollow two weeks from now. Photo: Ben Jared, PGA Tour via Getty Images
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