CHARLOTTE, NC: The American squad room in Quail Hollow has photos of Presidents Cup-winning teams over the years, and it’s a wonder there’s room for everyone.
The games started in 1994. The Americans lost only once.
Captain Davis Love III would be quick to point out a detail from the last Royal Melbourne picture three years ago: Only four players from that team are at Quail Hollow this week – Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau.
Go back to the last US win on home soil, at the Liberty National, such a romp that nearly ended before Sunday’s singles. The only players left from this 2017 team are Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
“We get into these things and we want to win every time,” Love said Tuesday. “I tell them, ‘You don’t have any records.’ These 12 have never competed as a team. This team understands. They want that picture next time.”
The odds are heavily in their favor that they will pose with a gold trophy again on Sunday. It’s one thing to have won the Presidents Cup in the last eight games against the international team, 10 times out of 12 (one ended in a draw).
Throw in the LIV golf factor and this has all the markings of another outlier.
Love heard this story too.
“We’re used to being called favorites even if we lose three Ryder Cups in a row,” said Love, who has been on six “favourite” teams that haven’t won a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. “Statistically yes, we have a higher-ranking team. But I know some of these young guys on your team and they’re going to come in with a chip on their shoulder.”
Tuesday was the first full day of practice for the 12-man teams at a course at Quail Hollow Club, known to most for hosting the Wells Fargo Championship most years and the 2017 PGA Championship.
Also adding to the US team’s confidence was the Ryder Cup a year ago in Whistling Straits, a 19-9 win over a European team that was aging and lacked fan support due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Seven Americans are returning from the team. LIV defector Dustin Johnson is missing. Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau also went to LIV, but both are still on their way back from injury and probably wouldn’t have been on that team anyway.
This team is so young that the player with the most Presidents Cup experience is Spieth, who turned 29 this summer and is playing for the fourth time.
His idea of staying grounded was to compete individually in a team environment.
“It’s almost like we’re all competing against each other to get the most points for our team. We want bragging rights for our own team,” he said. “And if we keep to ourselves, then I don’t think you’re getting cocky about the whole situation.”
International captain Trevor Immelman has had a harder time with LIV departures as two top-20 players – British Open champion Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann – announced their departures to the Saudi-backed league just three weeks ago.
He has eight Presidents Cup rookies on this team. Only three of them are in the top 25 in the world (all 12 Americans are in the top 25).
But there is something about youth and inexperience that encourages him.
“If you look at our record in this tournament and look at our world rankings versus their world rankings, we have absolutely nothing to lose,” said Immelman. “So we can go out there and play as freely as we want … and see if we can match the crazy skills the Americans have.”
Immelman isn’t ready to look back, whether it was three years ago and the close decision at Royal Melbourne, or three weeks ago when the last player left for LIV.
He said all the players who left – starting with good friend Louis Oosthuizen in June and continuing with Smith and Niemann after the Tour championship – have been in touch with him about their thoughts and decisions. And he said they all knew the implications.
“I respect the guys who make these decisions,” he said. “I also respect them for keeping me informed and making sure I understand exactly where we stand at all times so I can try to be as prepared as possible. Am I disappointed that you can’t be here? Absolutely.
“But we have the 12 boys here that we love and wanted to be here and now we can go. We have to compete against a strong American team. So we are happy.”