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

And if the task of preventing a ninth consecutive victory for the United States was not daunting enough, first-time captain Trevor Immelman must make history by reversing the American advantage at home with a team composed mainly of tournament rookies.

Three years ago, the 2008 Masters champion was among Ernie Els’ assistant captains as the international squad saw a painfully slip away lead on the final day in Melbourne, Australia, the site of their only victory in 1998.

After taking the reins from his fellow South African shortly thereafter, Immelman has since spent countless hours strategizing to rewrite the usual script at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Club this week.

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

“In 2019, we felt like we took a big step forward from a team aspect, from a franchise aspect, so to speak.

“We slowly but surely started trying to build this house and make it strong and on solid ground, because we’re not just looking to this week, but also to the future.”

Identify

Delayed for a year due to the pandemic, the biennial cup sees the two 12-man teams face off over 18 tag team matches before 12 singles matches close out the tournament on Sunday. Each game is worth one point, with the first team to reach 15.5 points being crowned champions.

Six members of each roster are filled with automatic qualifiers, leaving respective captains Immelman and Davis Love III to manually select the remaining half. The international player pool extends to anyone outside of the US and Europe, with this year’s lineup covering South Korea (4), Canada (2), Australia (2) , South Africa, Japan, Colombia and Chile.

Immelman and opposing captain Davis Love III spoke at a pre-tournament press conference.

A game a member of the 2005 and 2007 squads, Immelman believed previous groups had often struggled for cohesion prior to Els’ leadership. Without a logo or team colors until 2019, Els’ adoption of the shield emblem and black and gold livery was built with the larger purpose of giving the team an identity.

“I have [Els] was the perfect leader at the perfect time with enough traction and swing to be able to make a few changes and get us started on this course,” Immelman said.

“It’s very difficult when you pull players from seven, eight, nine different countries and they come here to represent their country rather than representing this one team. Now that we have the shield, these players come here and it’s that’s what we play for.”

For Immelman, such a change means the international team can now avoid falling into the “trap” of choosing pairings for events based on shared nationality as opposed to tactical adjustment for course and opponents.

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

“We can see that we’re big underdogs on paper and so we have to be very smart with what we do with our couples. There’s a lot of things that go into those decisions to make sure we can try to find every small advantage is there to put us and our players in the best possible position to try to shock the world at the end of the week.”

    Immelman and members of the international team during a practice round at Quail Hollow.

Beginner ready

Given the makeup 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 group’s only major champions after their Masters victories in 2013 and 2021 respectively.

Japan’s Matsuyama is the team’s highest-ranked player at 17th in the world. Only two Team USA players are ranked lower, with five of the world’s top 10 among the star-studded set, and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas with seven major titles between them.

Scheffler and Morikawa are among six new American players, but still have nine combined victories on the PGA Tour. On the international side, however, fellow cup debutants Taylor Pendrith of Canada and Mito Pereira are still chasing their first titles on the tour.

Defending Masters champion Scottie Scheffler leads a star-studded American team.

So how do you prepare these rookies for the baptism of fire that is the Presidents Cup on the road? You start, Immelman says, “just by loving them.”

“You put your arms around them, you let them know you love them and you’re there for them,” the South African explained.

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

Humiliated

For Immelman, however, the most important advice to his players is simply to enjoy the experience, as their captain savors every second.

After being sidelined by multiple injuries during his playing career, the 42-year-old has found a ‘second career’ in broadcasting, and he is set to become CBS Sport’s senior golf analyst l ‘next year. Fourteen years after propelling Tiger Woods to Masters glory, Immelman is still pinching for victory, his love for the game stronger than 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 after following in the footsteps of South African golfing royalty Els and Gary Player as captain of Team International.

“It’s been a wild ride – sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I got,” Immelman said. “I feel humbled. You take a look at the list of captains who came before me for the international team, all the legends of the game, all my heroes, people I looked up to throughout my life.

“If you can’t enjoy it, I’m not sure you can enjoy anything…the golf course and the buildup is like something I’ve never seen before in my life. It’s okay be electric there. We can’t wait to be a part of it.