CHARLOTTE, NC – It’s hard to overstate how badly Thursday went for the international team at the Presidents Cup.
Historically, the hole on Day 1 the rest of the world dug for itself is akin to a knockdown in Round 1. The Internationals aren’t down for the count, but they sure are dazed.
It could be worse. At one point, before any of the five games came on an unseasonably warm day, the US led all five of the quarterfinals. Only twice did the American squad win the opening session – in 1994 and 2000 – and the Reds, Whites and Blues won those Presidents Cups with a combined 19 points.
Instead, the 4-1 deficit is a consolation for International captain Trevor Immelman. His team is what we thought they were: inexperienced and hopeless.
Captains Immelman, Love III was the setting for day 2 of the Presidents Cup
Immelman marched out six rookies for the game’s most demanding squad layout in front of a partisan crowd. He had no other choice. His eight first-timers on the international team are a Presidents Cup record and the combination of a pandemic and an unprecedented challenge to the traditional golf ecosystem left him seeking.
Adam Scott plays his 10e Presidents Cup and Hideki Matsuyama provided the international team with the only real experience and the duo were firmly beaten by Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, 6 and 5, in the opening game of the day.
Tom Kim, a big-eyed rookie, was said to provide an emotional spark, but alongside KH Lee, he dropped a 2-and-1 decision for Collin Morikawa and Cam Young.
Deprived of their core squad by the divisive presence of LIV Golf, Immelman sent what he believed to be his best 10 on Day 1 at Quail Hollow Club with a single message: Unlock. What he got was a little less than that, but there were moments.
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Mito Pereira and Taylor Pendrith, in the last group of the day, were a microcosm of everything that is simultaneously worrisome and compelling about the international team.
They were clearly nervous at the start, playing the first six holes at 4 over par, and were 2 behind Max Homa and Tony Finau before birdied. It was a similar free fall all around them as the international team sank deeper into the abyss. When Pereira hit a bad chip just to the left of the 12e green, it looked like another American flag was on its way to the leaderboard. It was mediocre when they needed magic.
This is where Captain Immelman can enjoy some measure of moral victory. Pereira hit his approach shot on the 13e gap to 2 feet for birdie to tie the match and Pendrith fell into a 20-footer on the 16e hole to keep up with the Americans.
“Look what happens when you make some putts,” beamed Immelman as he headed for the 17 . jumpe tee.
The easily digestible outcome of match play will bury the nuance of Pereira and Pendrith’s performance, which was sealed by a quick hook in the trees by Pereira at number 18 and a closing bogey. The Canadian and the Chilean were just another puzzle piece that was unraveled for Immelman on Thursday. But there was a lot more to the story on Day 1 than a skewed standings.
“The message has remained the same. Message is play-free. Nobody here expects us to win. We must have that conviction deep down. Go out and fight,” Immelman said, before joining his team for a dinner of South American food.
“We are going up against arguably the strongest American team ever assembled on paper. We run our system. We get ready and prepare, and we play as hard as we can. Chips will fall where they can.”
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The good news for Immelman is that the international side has a much better record in the fourballs format, which will be used for Friday’s session. The South African will also likely take a moment to enjoy what his team accomplished on Day 1. Cam Davis, another President Cup rookie, and Si Woo Kim stunned world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, claiming the last four holes for a 2-up lifeline.
“I’m so proud of those guys. Cam has been chewing the bit for a long time,” says Immelman. “For those guys to fight back. For them to finish so strong to get a point for us is psychological really big. “
Whether it will be big enough to help the international team recover from Thursday’s overall performance remains to be seen, but Immelman is hopeful. The same youthful inexperience that makes much of his team such a liability may end up being the spark they desperately need.