By Jim SLATER
Internationals captain Trevor Immelman says losing several top players to LIV Golf has deepened the determination of the players who will compete against the United States at the Presidents Cup.
Having worked with more than two dozen players over the past 18 months, Immelman hopes the lost talent might help create a tighter bond among the players who will tee off starting Thursday in the team showdown at Quail Hollow.
“Strengthened our team from a resolve standpoint,” Immelman said. “The 12 that are here, they are the ones that remained loyal, stayed with our team, wanted to play in the Presidents Cup and those are the guys I want to fight with.”
The Americans lead the all-time rivalry 11-1-1, having won eight in a row. Their only loss came at Melbourne in 1998.
The Internationals were seen as a serious threat to win on US soil for the first time before losing several top players to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series.
British Open winner Cameron Smith, the world number three from Australia, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, South African Louis Oosthuizen, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Aussie Marc Leishman were the top names who jumped to LIV, bringing indefinite bans from the PGA and banishment from Presidents Cup consideration.
“There’s a tension and strife in the game right now,” US captain Davis Love said.
Immelman still has five top-30 players in past Masters champions Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama, South Korean stars Kim Joo-hyung and Im Sung-jae and Canada’s Corey Conners.
But the diminished global squad is seen as a severe underdog against a mighty US lineup with 12 of the world’s 25 top-ranked players, 11 of them in the top 18.
And that’s with eighth-ranked Will Zalatoris injured and several US stars joining LIV, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau.
“We’re really happy with the 12 we’ve got,” Love said. “There’s no talk in our team room of anybody missing.”
But golf fans will never know if a full Internationals lineup might have challenged the Americans.
“We can’t run from it,” Immelman said. “It has been a real tough time. It was sad and disappointing to have to go through that. It has been tough to see.
“All those players knew what the repercussions would be if they went over to the other tour. Everybody knew where they stood.”
Immelman said he got the bad news directly from players and was kept in the loop as they decided on LIV.
“Am I disappointed they won’t all be here? Absolutely,” Immelman said. “Now we get to go up against a strong American team. we’re looking forward.”
Immelman said nothing came of talk to make his team an organization to allow LIV players, saying, “When you look under the hood… it’s not really a viable option.”
– Camaraderie among best –
Immelman’s plight had some sympathy from US star Justin Thomas, who won his second PGA Championship in May.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation for him. It’s not fair,” Thomas said. “It’s tough. We didn’t want it. He didn’t want it. It’s a bummer.
“But he has put together a very strong team, camaraderie-wise one of the best they’ve had.”
Unifying talent from across the planet have been the achievement, Immelman said.
“You’re blending seven or eight cultures and trying to get everybody in their sweet spot,” he said. “It has been tricky and something we’ve worked really hard on over the last three or four years.
“We’re starting to get there slowly but surely, so now it’s much more about how those two players can blend together and their games would then match up with the golf course.” — Agence France-Presse