CHARLOTTE, NC – There is no doubt that the star-studded spectators who flocked through the gates of the Quail Hollow Club Thursday morning were looking for a win for red, white and blue.
But even they don’t want things to start like this is.
The Presidents Cup is not the Ryder Cup. In the Ryder Cup, Team Europe proved themselves to be such a formidable contender that even in last year’s 19-9 defeat at Whistling Straits, there was no thought of compassion. It was a compensation for the trophies I had previously lost. Team USA was defending its home ground. Team Europe still tops modern Ryder Cup history, after all, it’s been 11-9-1 since 1979, when the team added Continental Europe.
The Presidents Cup certainly has a different history. Since the first competition in 1994, the US team has been 11-1-1. This competition is not competition. For the Presidents Cup to keep its juice, the internationals need to establish themselves as worthy competitors. Even if the Internationals are the little brothers in this cup, every little brother would rather be beaten than ignored, as incapable of dealing with punishment.
This does not mean that aliens actually need it win over this week. But it sure would be nice if they kept him close. The 2019 edition of the event was amazing, after all; The United States came back in the final round to win 16-14. Those watching us enjoyed the competition and never wondered if it was a fair fight.
But this year’s event started differently. Trevor Immelman’s team sent the two veteran captains first: Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama will set the pace. But Team USA faced their strongest duo, Xander Shaveli and Patrick Cantlay. They took the lead at No. 3 to put the first red flag on the board. They never looked back.
Pat sent a text last night to [Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth], as the lead in the two games, saying, “Let’s try to set the tone.” That’s what Pat and I talked about yesterday, and that’s what we tried to do today,” Shaveli said.
Birdies placed at 5, 6 and 7 Schauffele and Cantlay 4 on top. It was the start of their team’s dream: By that point, their teammates had led the other four games as well. But it was a nightmare for any visionaries of a competitive event. The only thing this tournament didn’t need was an American blast. But suddenly it seemed like an explosion. Team USA was leading 5-0 and rolling.
The international team’s struggles did not happen in a vacuum. There’s no telling exactly how the absence of LIV defectors like Cameron Smith, Joaquin Neiman and Louis Oosthuizen has affected the team – but there’s no doubt that it’s a huge blow. Quail Hollow is a big stadium that favors Americans who do big blasts as well, which increases their advantage. Confronting American fans on a foreign soil is no easy task. There’s a reason why the week underdogs hit +750 in the sports books.
Scott and Matsuyama came out grumbling, bouncing on 11, 12, and 13 to lose 6 and 5. The American team looked like they were putting up holes of various sizes; Every few minutes another blue and white pro makes a bomb. After nine holes, the US team topped every game.
But while this international team may lack firepower, they are no short of pride.
“We’re going to keep fighting. That’s what we’re doing. It’s the kind of mentality this team has,” said Immelmann.
As the day went on, the other four matches began to shrink. No American squad can withdraw. Sungjae Im and Corey Conners held steady at 1 to Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Tom Kim and KH Lee went from 2 to 1 to tie with Cameron Young and Colin Morikawa. When Sam Burns and Scotty Scheffler committed #15, the internationals grabbed the advantage, then poured it with birdseed at ages 16 and 17. Suddenly there was a black and yellow flag on the board. Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira made Byrdie at the age of 13 to tie their match as well. Suddenly what looked like a 5-0 start could be overturned. For a moment, the fans started doing the math – could international players finish the session with the lead?
US Captain Davis Love III felt uncomfortable on his part.
“I’ve been doing this enough,” he said, “it could go either way.” “It looked red all day, but someone came up on the radio and said, ‘Yeah, but we’re first in three games and those matches can turn very quickly.'”
It was not to be. At No. 15, Thomas had 27 footers for par, while Conners had seven footers. Thomas poured into the center. Connors missed his left. The double swing put Team USA 2 in front, and that’s where the match ended.
“We either win or we lose at that, right? You win when you pick up your partner, and he did. That switch we had on the 15th was unreal there,” said Speth. “It was the difference in the match.”
At No. 17, Morikawa—clinging to a 1 lead—hit his approach from 25 feet. The young man was shocked by the bird that was thrown into the back of the cup. The match is over, 2 and 1.
“Anything from that distance out here is hard just to get close to,” Young said. “So I was really trying to get consistent injuries with the way I hit them all day, trying to make Colleen’s life easy in Second Life. And every once in a while, those come in.”
There was some solace for the internationals when Davis, Kim Burns and Scheffler closed in, winning the last four holes for an unlikely win 2.
“First update [on the other matches] I was 11, Davis said, and it wasn’t cool. “It was great to get a little other color on the board because it ended up being a little one-sided. So proud that we were able to get some work done for the aliens.”
But the final point of the day swung the other way at 18 when Pereira pulled out the tee, Pendreth found the vault, Pereira hit him to 10 feet and Pendreth missed the shot. Max Homma rounded his shot close enough to snatch the last point, 1 ahead, giving the Americans a 4-1 advantage.
“Unreal. It was an unreal day. I was dizzy all week, then today I was in the million,” said Homa.
But don’t cancel the tournament yet. The Presidents Cup is a marathon! Only five of the 30 points were distributed on Thursday. Despite the red flooding in the scoreboard, there is still a lot that can go wrong. This is still golf, after all. It’s a very unexpected format. There is room for hope, no matter the odds.
“The message remains the same,” said Immelmann, asking how he would address his team. “The message is to play for free. Nobody here expects us to win. We have to have that belief deep inside. Go out there and fight. We are against perhaps the strongest American team ever assembled on paper. So, you know, we do what we do. We We run our system. We prepare, we prepare and we play as hard as we can. The chips will fall where they can.”