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

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

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

After taking the reins from his South African compatriot shortly thereafter, Immelman has since spent countless hours strategizing how he would rewrite the usual script at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte 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 huge step forward from a team aspect, from a franchise aspect, so to speak.

“Slowly but surely we have started trying to build this house and make it solid and on a firm basis because we are not only looking at this week but also at the cup.”

Identity

Delayed a year due to the pandemic, the biennial cup sees the two 12-man teams face off in 18 paired 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 as champion.

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

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

“He [Els] was the perfect leader at the perfect time with enough pull and swing to make some changes and put us on this course,” Immelman said.

“It’s very difficult when you draw players from seven, eight, nine different countries and they come here to represent their country instead of representing this one team. Now that we have the shield, these players come here and there we play in front of. “

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

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

“We can see that we are big underdogs on paper and so we have to be very smart with what we do with our pairings. There are a lot of things that go into those decisions to make sure that we can try every little finding that edge is there to put ourselves and our players in the best possible position to try and shock the world at the end of the week.”

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

Rookie ready

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

The Japanese Matsuyama is the team’s highest ranking at World No.17. Only two players on the US team are ranked lower, with five of the world’s top 10 among the star-studded ensemble, and World No.1 Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas with seven major titles between them .

Scheffler and Morikawa are among the six American first-time players, but still come with a combined nine PGA Tour victories. In contrast on the International side, fellow Cup debutants Taylor Pendrith of Canada and Mito Pereira were 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 a Presidents Cup in the outfield? You start, says Immelman, “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.

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

Humiliated

However, for Immelman, the most important advice to his players is to simply enjoy the experience, because their captain will enjoy every second.

After being sidelined by multiple injuries throughout his playing career, the 42-year-old has found a “second career” in broadcasting, and he is slated to become CBS Sport’s lead golf analyst next year. Fourteen years on from Tiger Woods’ piping to Masters glory, Immelman is still pining for 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 result on Sunday, that romance will continue, with Immelman leaving Charlotte having followed in the footsteps of South African golf royalty Els and Gary Player in captaining Team International.

“It’s been a crazy ride — sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been,” reflected Immelman. “I feel humbled. You look 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 looked up to all my life.

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