Presidents Cup: International captain Trevor Immelman aims to surprise Team USA


Played 13, won one, drawn one, lost 11: The Presidents Cup form book makes grim reading for the International Team ahead of the 14th edition of the event on Thursday.

And if the task of preventing a ninth straight US victory wasn’t daunting enough, first-time captain Trevor Immelman must make history by overturning American home advantage with a team made up of mostly tournament rookies.

Three years ago, the 2008 Masters champion was among Ernie Els’ co-captains as the International Team saw their lead slip dramatically on the final day in Melbourne, Australia, where they had only won in 1998.

Shortly after taking over from his fellow South African, Immelman has spent countless hours this week strategizing how to rewrite the usual script at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club.

“We’re not blind, we know exactly what the record is, but it kind of motivates us,” Immelman told CNN’s Don Riddell.

“In 2019, from the team side, from the franchise side, so to speak, we felt that we made a big step forward.

“We started slowly building this house and we’re trying to make it strong and a strong foundation not only this week, but also the glasses.”

Delayed by a year due to the pandemic, the biennial cup pits two teams of 12 against each other in 18 doubles group matches, before 12 singles matches close the tournament on Sunday. Each game is worth one point, the first team to reach 15.5 points is declared champion.

Six members of each roster are automatically seeded, with respective captains Immelman and Davis Love III hand-picking the other half. The pool of international players expands to anyone outside of the United States and Europe, and this year’s lineup consists of South Korea (4), Canada (2), Australia (2), South Africa, Japan, Colombia and Chile.

a game A member of the 2005 and 2007 teams, Immelman believed that previous teams often struggled with cohesion before Else’s leadership. With no logo or team colors until 2019, Els adopted the shield symbol and gold and black colors with the greater aim of giving the team an identity.

“He [Els] he was the perfect leader to be able to make some changes at the perfect time and have enough pull and swing to get this ride going,” Immelman said.

“It is very difficult when you are taking players from seven, eight, nine countries and instead of representing one team they come to represent their country. Now that we have the shield, these players come here and we play for that.”

For Immelman, the change means the International team can now avoid falling into the “trap” of choosing event partners based on shared nationality, as opposed to tactical adaptation to the course and opponents.

“One of the things we’ve changed over the last few years is breaking down those cultural barriers so that any player can play with any other player on the team,” he said.

“On paper we can see that we are big underdogs and so we have to be very smart with what we do with our partners. A lot goes into those decisions to make sure we can try to find every little corner that’s there to put ourselves and our players in the best possible position to try and impress the world at the end of the week. ”

    Immelman and members of the International Team during a practice round at Quail Hollow.

Given the composition of both teams, it’s hard to argue against the underdog label. Eight members of the International Team will make their Presidents Cup debuts in Charlotte, while Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama represent the only major champions in the group after winning the Masters in 2013 and 2021, respectively.

Japan’s Matsuyama is ranked No. 17 in the world. Only two players from the US national team are ranked lower than the star-studded squad in the world’s top 10, and Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and world No. 1 Justin Thomas have seven major titles between them.

Scheffler and Morikawa are among six first-time American players, but have yet to win nine PGA Tour titles. On the international side, Canada’s Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, the debutants of the cup, are still chasing their first Tour titles.

Reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler headlines a star-studded US team.

So how do you go about preparing such rookies for the baptism of fire that is the Presidents Cup on the outdoor floor? As Immelman says, you start by “loving them.”

“You put your arms around them, you let them know that you love them and that you are there for them,” explains the South African.

“Am I going to be able to say something or give them a magic pill that will take away their nerves and anxiety and excitement on the first tee? No chance, that’s not out there. … (But) these guys have put in thousands and thousands of hours since they started this game, honing their skills, getting to the elite level on the PGA Tour. They have what they need. They know exactly how to play this game and what needs to happen. So you’re really telling them to trust themselves, trust the process, trust the work you’ve done.”

For Immelman, however, the most important piece of advice to his players is simply to enjoy the experience because their captain will enjoy every second of it.

After several injuries sidelined his playing career, the 42-year-old has found a “second career” in broadcasting, and plans to become CBS Sport’s lead golf analyst next year. Fourteen years after Tiger Woods achieved Masters glory, Immelman is still reeling from the victory, his love for the game as strong as ever.

Immelman celebrates winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April 2008.

And whatever the outcome on Sunday, that romance will continue, with Immelman leaving Charlotte to follow in the footsteps of South African golf kings Els and Gary Player as Team International captain.

“It’s been a crazy ride, sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been,” Immelman reflected. “I feel humbled. You’ve looked at the list of captains who have come before me for the international team, all the legends of the game, all my heroes, people I’ve looked up to throughout my life.

“If you can’t enjoy this, I’m not sure you can enjoy anything…the golf course and the construction is like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s going to be electric out there. We can’t wait to be a part of it.”