Will the Americans Prevail Again at the Presidents Cup?

Retribution.

It is a theme that will be running through the 2019 Presidents Cup when it is played at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia December 12-15.

For the International team, the desire to execute—particularly in front of a home crowd—comes from a lengthy period of losses.

There is no way to sugarcoat it—the 2017 Presidents Cup was a bloodbath.

The Americans, led by captain Steve Stricker, gave their International counterparts a thorough defeat. Such was the domination, for a while it looked as if the outcome was going to be clear before the singles session on Sunday.

By the time the dust had settled on the final day at Liberty National in New Jersey, the United States Team had prevailed 19-11 over Nick Price’s Internationals, the biggest winning margin since 2000 in the biennial event.

It took the U.S. Team to a 10-1-1 overall record in the Presidents Cup.

And it leaves the Internationals still burning to replicate the lone victory they had way back in 1998. Coincidentally that came at Royal Melbourne, where Peter Thomson led his men to a huge 20½ -11½ win on the famous sandbelt course.

“I’m not going to have any problem having a motivated team,” new International Team captain Ernie Els says.

But what about the dominant Americans? What sort of retribution could they possibly be seeking?

Well, they’re coming off a team loss of their own from the 2018 Ryder Cup and it stings. They’re all about getting themselves back up there in the world order. Restoring a reputation that had some calling them a side that would dominate team play for at least a decade.

Plus they also have a new captain to play for … none other than Tiger Woods. Woods is likely to be a playing captain—the first since Hale Irwin in the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994.

Woods remembers 1998—he was part of that disappointing loss as a player.

“It’s in the back of my mind, of course it is,” Woods says.

“When we came down here, Jack Nicklaus was our captain, and it was late in the year in December. We didn’t have the wraparound schedule like we do now. The guys took quite a bit of time off, and quite frankly, we weren’t prepared to play, and we got smoked. The Internationals came out ready, prepared, played, and they drummed us.”

As for the Paris hangover, Woods has tried to play it down. He wants to separate his new team from the loss to Europe. Easier said than done.

“This is a totally different team, totally different players. We could have a different core of guys,” Woods says. “Obviously we have a lot of guys in their 20s that have made the last couple teams, but you just never know. Each individual team has their own uniqueness and their own character, and that’s what’s fun about being a part of these teams, that you’re building relationships that you never thought you would have, and relationships that last a lifetime.”

It could be the first Presidents Cup for a few young stars with Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau already making inroads on the points standings for the U.S. team

On the International side of the coin not only could we have new stars in the mix like Australian Cameron Smith but new countries as well with the likes of Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and China’s HaoTong Li pushing for inclusion as the first ever representatives from their nations.

They’ll all have to master what is likely to be the real star of the show: Royal Melbourne.

An Alister MacKenzie masterpiece in a famed region for golf, the course is a tribute to the old school. If conditions get firm and fast in the Australian summer, imagination and precision is key around this majestic track.

“One of the greatest golf courses in all of the world. The layout is fantastic. It’s very tough. It’s tricky,” Woods says.

It is about the course itself that Els believes he can impart the most wisdom on his players as they look for the ambush victory. Els won the old Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and was runner up in 2005. In the 2004 edition he shot a magical 60 on his way to victory.

And he intends to lean on that experience, while also implementing analytics to try to find a way through the dominant Americans.

“I’ve seen what other captains have done in the past,” Els says.

“In this instance, I really wanted to try and start a new thinking process around the pairing system. I’m using a lot of data, a lot of science into what we’re going to be doing in December in Australia.”

Els is also hoping a few format tweaks can help his side. He now has four captains picks as opposed to two in the past, and he now only needs to play each player once before Sunday singles if he so chooses, allowing him to shield a player who may be out of form.

Els has also been given more say in the golf course setup as the home team and gets to choose the order of play. Even catering has been changed, with Els given more flexibility to ensure all cultures and tastes in his side are looked after.

“It feels a lot more positive. I spoke with Tiger in the room with [PGA TOUR Commissioner] Jay Monahan, just the three of us, and we went through a lot of stuff,” Els said of getting his changes.

“I can now play a guy once before Sunday, which was never the case; a guy almost had to play every session. Tiger didn’t like that much, but I got it through eventually. I feel it’s a lot fairer and I think we’ve got a good shot at it now.”

It should be a great battle.

This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR June-November 2019 issue, which can be read here.

See also: Does the Presidents Cup Need a Revamp?

2017 Presidents Cup: Liberty National Golf Club Preview

Full 2017 Presidents Cup Teams Announced

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