Presidents Cup, dozen for international team

Beware the underdog.  Before you dismiss the International Team ahead of the 2022 Presidents Cup, take a moment to remember the 2008 Masters. South Africa’s Trevor Immelman won the green jacket just a few months after emergency surgery to remove a tumor from his abdomen. Tiger Woods was the runner-up.

Presidents Cup, international team

Fourteen years later, Immelman will try to author another upset. He will be the International Team’s captain for the upcoming Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow. His squad, seeking its first victory on U.S. soil, will face a home team that’s coming off a record rout of Europe in the Ryder Cup.

After a heart-breaking loss at Royal Melbourne in 2019, the Internationals are 1-11-1 all-time in the biennial team competition and haven’t tasted victory since 1998.  

Forget Mt. Everest, this is a climb to outer space. 

But as the majority writes off the International challenge, the steel inside the talent that will join Immelman’s squad grows. In Melbourne, Captain Ernie Els solidified a bond that defied the cultural differences of the team. Immelman was watching closely as one of Els’ assistants. Young stars without old scars took up the challenge and brought enthusiasm to the cause. 

And now history beckons. They have the chance to be part of something that will be remembered for a long time. A chance to put their legacy on the sport they love. The expectations and pressure will all lay with the U.S. Team and Captain Davis Love III. Most think they are unbeatable. 

Beware the underdog. 

International Team candidates have been accumulating points since the 2021 Open Championship on a proprietary calculation that operates similarly to the Official World Golf Ranking. Points earned from the 2022 PGA Championship through the 2022 BMW Championship will get a 25% premium. 

To help you prepare for the upcoming Presidents Cup, Pga Tour wrote a dozen names to consider for the next International squad. This is supposed to be a fun exercise so don’t yell and scream because your favorite player wasn’t included (players are listed in alphabetical order).  

Abraham Ancer
Country: Mexico  
Age: 30  
Previous Presidents Cups: 1 (2019)  
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 4 

Ancer is no stranger to feeling like an underdog. In fact, he revels in it. The pride of Odessa College may be small in stature but he’s large in heart. Ancer’s performance in Melbourne was awesome despite the fact he went down in Singles to Tiger Woods (a Sunday showdown Ancer asked for). His 3-1-1 record in his International Team debut might have been enough on its own to get him another crack at the U.S. Team, but he’s improved even further since then.  

His long-awaited first PGA TOUR win came on the big stage when he took out the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2021. Ancer, who emphasizes driving accuracy in an age of power, has been firmly ensconced in the top 20 of the world ranking since that win.

His team-first attitude exemplifies what the new Internationals are all about. He was runner-up at Quail Hollow in the 2021 Wells Fargo Championship, showing he has a handle on the course, as well.

Lucas Herbert   
Age: 26  
Previous Presidents Cups: 0  

The young Australian is a quirky character who in the past hasn’t always come across as a team kind of guy. But the experience gained from two wins in Europe, followed by his maiden PGA TOUR win at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship late in 2021, make him a distinct candidate, as does his maturation as a person.

The lofty self-confidence Herbert carried early in life was misunderstood by others at times, but as his communication skills have evolved, so too have his stocks. The 26-year-old has a serious passion to be part of the squad and won’t be afraid of any opponent. 

Herbert could be used to fill numerous pairings given the all-around strength of his game. He hits it long off the tee – great for Quail Hollow – but proved on the short Bermuda course that he can win without a reliance on the big dog. He also was one of the top putters on the DP World Tour (European Tour) in 2021.

Garrick Higgo   
Age: 22  
Previous Presidents Cups: 0

As a young South African on the rise, Higgo is one player Captain Immelman will certainly have his eye on. He’s been a fan for a long time, having captained the youngster in the Junior Presidents Cup in 2017. Now the 22-year-old is looking to be the first player to go from the junior team to the senior squad in the competition’s history. 

Higgo is another player flushed with healthy distance off the tee and he has already won three times on the DP World Tour (European Tour) and once on the PGA TOUR (2021 Palmetto Championship). He shows wisdom and maturity beyond his tender years and does not appear easily intimidated.  

Forced to grow up fast after losing his father in a car accident as a 9-year-old, Higgo has also had the benefit of mentorship from golf legend, and former International captain, Gary Player.

Sungjae Im
Country: South Korea  
Age: 23  
Previous Presidents Cups: 1 (2019)  
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 1 

Im will be an especially important cog in the team given his ball-striking prowess and ability to score under all conditions. His 2019 teammates were in awe as he displayed every shot in the book with expert precision, earning the nickname ‘Iron Byron.’ 

He backed up their confidence with a 3-1-1 record in Melbourne, despite being just 21 at the time. Since then, he’s won twice on the PGA TOUR, including the recent Shriners Children’s Open.

His accuracy off the tee makes him a great option for Immelman in both team formats, while he’s a candidate to play all five sessions because he’s no stranger to playing copious amounts of golf as one of the TOUR’s most regular players. 

Marc Leishman 
Country: Australia   
Age: 38   
Previous Presidents Cups: 4 (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019)   
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 8  

A selfless performer who deserves nothing more than being on a winning Presidents Cup team. Leishman is now a six-time TOUR winner and, with Cameron Smith, has the potential to provide a killer duo for team play.  

While the two were surprisingly not used together in 2019 after the analytics suggested they were better suited with other partners, they’ve since combined to win the 2021 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Leishman’s 4-9-5 record over four Cups might not read well, but the affable Aussie remains undefeated in Singles play.

Hideki Matsuyama  
Country: Japan  
Age: 29 
Previous Presidents Cups: 4 (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019)   
Current President Cup ranking: 5 

This is shaping up as a watershed Presidents Cup for Matsuyama, who had an incredible 2021 by becoming the first Japanese man to win a major championship. He also added a win in his native Japan, at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, to his green jacket. Heading towards what would be his fifth International Team, the time has come for Matsuyama to take a strong leadership role both on the course and in the team room.  

His record of 6-7-4 is admirable, as it’s come while playing for four losing teams. The sting of a late collapse in the 2019 Singles should inspire a will to atone. Matsuyama was 4-up over Tony Finau through 10 before surrendering the lead over the next four holes. He managed to regain the lead on 16, but let a vital full point slip away by three-putting the 17th hole. 

If the International Team is to prosper, it’s almost certain Matsuyama needs to be a key factor. It’s a big ask because while his ball striking is usually top notch, his putter is streaky . He’s no stranger to Quail Hollow, having finished T5 at the 2017 PGA Championship. Victory was in his grasp on Sunday, giving him more motivation to atone.

Joaquin Niemann 
Country: Chile  
Age: 23   
Previous Presidents Cups: 1 (2019)

The unfriendly 0-3-1 record during his International team debut is certainly something to mull over, but so too is his maturation since the trip to Royal Melbourne.

Niemann hasn’t added to his lone TOUR win since his Presidents Cup debut, but he has shown a true passion for the cause. His 2021 featured three runner-up finishes, so it’s not like his form is poor.

His infectious personality is also important for the team dynamic. His youthful exuberance rubs off on his teammates. He also shapes as a possible partner for Abraham Ancer, particularly if Leishman jumps in with Smith.

Louis Oosthuizen  
Country: South Africa  
Age: 39  
Previous Presidents Cups: 4 (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019)  
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 3  

The South African veteran is a rare International player who can boast a winning record in this competition. His 9-6-4 mark should be enough for Immelman to ensure his compatriot is on the squad (if he’s healthy). 

Oosthuizen’s 2021 season was one of success, but also heartache. He produced eight top-10 finishes, four of them runners-up, but was without the elusive second PGA TOUR win. One of those near misses was in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where he and Charl Schwartzel fell in a playoff against Leishman and Smith.

Oosthuizen also has top-3 finishes in four of the last five majors, though no wins in that span. As he nears 40, another big win seems deserved – as does being part of a historic, and victorious, Presidents Cup team. If it came at a venue where he had a near miss (T2, 2017 PGA Championship), then all the sweeter.

Adam Scott   
Country: Australia 
Age: 41  
Previous Presidents Cups: 9 (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019)  
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 9 

What better way to celebrate a record 10th Presidents Cup appearance than with a win. You can be sure the veteran Aussie would celebrate such a moment with tremendous vigor. 

Scott has the dubious distinction of owning the most match losses (22) and most Foursomes losses (9) in Presidents Cup history. He may hold those numbers for the rest of time, but they’d be blips on the consciousness if he led an International Team to the biggest upset of all-time.

Much like Matsuyama, Scott’s issues in the event can be partially attributed to his efforts on the greens. While his swing has long been known as one of the silkiest in the world, and his ball-striking when at its best is what helped him to the world No. 1 ranking in 2014, his putting can be unpredictable. When Scott putts just halfway decent, he contends. When he has an off week, he becomes ripe for a match play plucking.

Cameron Smith  
Country: Australia  
Age: 28  
Previous Presidents Cups: 1 (2019)   
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 2 

Smith is the potential spiritual leader this squad needs. He lives for team play. Two of his three PGA TOUR wins have come at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, further proof he could become the Ian Poulter of the Internationals.

Smith played just three times in the 2019 Presidents Cup, and not at all in Four-Balls, after the analytics pointed elsewhere. He managed a 1-1-1 record with an inspirational Singles win over Justin Thomas, where he overturned an early three-hole deficit, to keep the team’s Cup hopes alive.

Since then, he’s proven his worth tenfold, winning his first individual TOUR event, and saluting with Leishman in New Orleans. He has also been a central figure in a few majors, not to mention the fact he sports one of the best mullets in golf history.

Erik van Rooyen  
Country: South Africa  
Age: 31  
Previous Presidents Cups: 0  
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 7 

There were key moments in 2021 that saw van Rooyen hit the major headlines – one of which the South African wasn’t proud of. But they showed glimpses of why this man could be a great addition to the International team. 

He won his maiden PGA TOUR event at the Barracuda Championship. The Barracuda’s modified Stableford format, where birdies and eagles are worth extra points, showed van Rooyen can go low when it counts. That mentality is crucial in a Presidents Cup.

Then he opened the FedExCup Playoffs with back-to-back top-10s to qualify for his first TOUR Championship and prove he can hang with the best.

He made headlines earlier in the year at the PGA Championship for smashing a tee marker in a violent outburst of frustration. Van Rooyen publicly apologized for the incident, but it did show a distinct fire inside. If Immelman can focus that fire, van Rooyen could be a breakout star.

Jhonattan Vegas  
Country: Venezuela  
Age: 37   
Previous Presidents Cups: 1 (2017)   
Current Presidents Cup ranking: 12 

Vegas has a palpable enthusiasm for the Presidents Cup, and it hasn’t waned in the four years since his debut. 

A three-time TOUR winner, Vegas has the game to threaten the U.S. players if he can bring his best to the table. His lone point in the 2017 Cup came in a Singles win over Jordan Spieth and he’s coming off a 2021 season that boasted three runners-up.

Vegas has the length game to give Quail Hollow a shake and has a previous top-10 at the course.

MORE NAMES TO CONSIDER
There are many other candidates that could find their way in the mix. Some to keep in mind include:

Christiaan Bezuidenhout: South African with four worldwide wins since 2019. 
Corey Conners: Canadian ball-striking machine was unlucky not to be part of the 2019 squad.
Jason Day: Australian has a Wells Fargo Championship win (2018) and was T9 at the 2017 PGA but needs to show a renewed desire to be part of the team.
Cam Davis: Big-hitting Aussie broke through with a win on TOUR last season and could push for selection.
MacKenzie Hughes: Showed aptitude for the big stage at both Open’s in 2021.
Takumi Kanaya: Former amateur standout is following in compatriot Matsuyama’s footsteps. A matter of when, not if, he will join the Presidents Cup ranks.
Min Woo Lee: After Herbert, the brother of LPGA star Minjee and DP World Tour winner is the next in line to fly the Australian flag forthe International Team.
Carlos Ortiz: Broke a long drought of Mexican winners on the PGA TOUR in 2020.
Mito Pereira: TOUR Rookie with the potential to make a run at the squad and join compatriot Niemann as Chilean reps.

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