Even in defeat, the Internationals proved they belong at the Presidents Cup
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At 5:23 p.m. ET, it became official — Team USA had won the Presidents Cup.
As Xander Schauffele poured a par putt into the center of the cup, his countrymen let out a raucous cheer and those gathering around the 18th green began to chant.
USA! USA! USA!
With that par, the Yankees put a punctuation mark on a performance that further solidified their dominance in the biennial competition. Of the 14 iterations of the Presidents Cup, 12 have been won by the Americans, with another ending in a tie.
Some of the Americans streamed onto the green to congratulate Schauffele on his clinching point, while others stayed behind to get a head start on cracking their first adult beverages. Michelob Ultra tastes a little different when it signifies victory.
Back up the fairway, the International team stood and watched. Each wore an empty expression as they took in the scene in front of them. When they arrived at Quail Hollow earlier this week, they’d dreamed the roles would be reversed.
Wives hugged their husbands and patted them on the back for their efforts. Although they came up short, they had nothing to hang their heads about.
Just then, Trevor Immelman emerged from the throngs of Americans near the green. He made sure to congratulate each on a job well done. Now, the field general walked back to his disappointed soldiers. None of them knew much what to do. The Americans might’ve clinched the Cup, but there were still several matches on the course that were unsettled.
Immelman looked at his team and read their despondent faces. The golfers looked back at their captain and his steely resolve as he said one simple remark.
“Let’s keep fighting.”
The mantra had powered the Internationals through the week to this point. Even if the scoreboard reflected an insurmountable lead, the fight wasn’t over yet.
The International team wasn’t supposed to be here.
All week they heard about the big bad Americans and how this week would be a coronation rather than a competition. How, without the LIV defectors, they stood no chance. And even with them, how it wouldn’t be a fair fight. To hear some talk about it, you’d think they were breaking down a matchup between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals.
The Presidents Cup was supposed to be over far earlier than late in the afternoon on Sunday. Hell, there were murmurs that this thing might end by Saturday night. And through the first two sessions, those scenarios seemed plausible.
The Americans came out swinging on Thursday, and led 4-1 by sundown. If not for some late heroics by Cam Davis, the Americans would’ve blanked the Internationals.
“We’ll keep going, man,” Immelman said. “We’ll keep going until they ring the bell.”
After Day 2, it looked as though the referee was ready to stop the fight. Again, the Americans came out swinging, and again, the Internationals couldn’t land a meaningful counterpunch. Ten matches into the event, it looked all but over. The Americans were ahead 8-2 and had trailed for just eight total holes. It was as if Ivan Drago wore red, white and blue.
In the press center that night, Immelman remained resolute.
“We’ve just got to keep fighting,” Immelman said. “Keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
The answer seemed like boilterplate coachspeak. The U.S. had delivered not one, but two haymakers, and the Internationals had few answers. Once the weekend hit, however, the Internationals found their identity.
Saturday morning arrived early at Quail Hollow. Players could see their breath in the crisp morning air as they warmed up under spotlights on the range, and the sun barely peaked over the horizon as the first foursomes match teed off.
Through nine holes of Day 3, it seemed as if nothing had changed. American duos held the lead in each of the four matches and the rout looked to be on. But just as the International’s obituary was set to hit newsstands, they began phase two of the rope-a-dope.
Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama flipped their match to earn a point, and K.H. Lee and Tom Kim did the same. The session ended in a 2-2 tie, but from that point forward, one thing was clear: the Internationals were beginning to believe.
The Internationals absorbed the Americans best punch, and they were still standing. Now they were ready to throw haymakers of their own.
It started with energetic and fearless Tom Kim, and soon spread to the rest of the team. Each time an opportunity for blood presented itself, the Internationals threw their best punch. By Saturday night, they had closed the gap to 11-7. The once coronation had turned into a dogfight, and the visitors had no intention of backing down.
“We’ve been fighting our guts out all week,” Immelman said. “If we’re 10 up or 10 down, we run our system, and we see what happens.”
As the final day of play commenced at Quail Hollow, a new buzz circulated the grounds. The social-hour vibe was long gone. In its place was an energized crowd ready to cheer their team to a hard-earned victory.
The calculus for an International comeback was simple: Get out to a fast start and make the Americans sweat. It was the recipe at Brookline and Medinah, and Immelman hoped it would be the recipe at Quail Hollow.
For his fast start, Immelman tasked Si Woo Kim with a lead-off match against Justin Thomas. The emotional leader of the Americans owned a 4-0 record coming into the match, but just like Immelman implored, Kim kept the fight. And after 18 hard-fought holes, Kim put a point on the board for the Internationals.
“It’s really special for me because I play with J.T. a match like three years ago,” Kim said. “I finish at the 13th hole, and I was a little emotional. But this time, I [got revenge].”
For a moment Sunday afternoon, a path to victory for the Internationals emerged. The margin for error was narrow (if barely possible), but still, there was hope. The scene was nearly impossible to imagine just 48 hours earlier.
It just wasn’t meant to be. Too many putts failed to fall in crucial moments. Too many matches failed to flip. And too many American flags flashed on the leaderboard. By day’s end, the Americans had clinched the Cup, sending the Internationals home empty-handed once again.
“We’re a little disappointed now. We believed in ourselves,” Immelman said. “But hat’s off to the Americans. They’re extremely strong and played some great golf.”
Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” played over the loudspeaker as the International team filed into the interview room. All 12 golfers, plus their captains, filed in and took a seat atop the platform at a long, white table.
Immelman began by praising the efforts of his team. He smiled as reporters recounted the high moments of the week. He called them warriors and said that outside of winning the trophy, they’d accomplished every goal they set out to.
Then, his tenor changed.
“This team is no joke,” he said. “And I’m sick and tired of it being spoken of as a joke.”
He seemed upset — and he had every reason to be. The International team had been a punch line for much of the week, and few in the room had given them a chance. Now, sitting in front of those same pundits, he wanted it known — they were for real.
Not that Immelman needed to say it. Everyone knew it. Every writer who had to rewrite their stories and every gambler who’d had to sweat out their bets. The Internationals never seemed like they had a chance — until they did.
This week wasn’t supposed to be so hard-fought, so closely contested. The American talent advantage was supposed to be too large to overcome, and the home-field advantage too hostile to navigate. But thanks to their fight, the Internationals proved everyone wrong.
“We’re going to win this event,” Immelman said. “We’ll keep fighting. At some point, we’re going to win.”
If they continue to bring the spunk they brought to Quail Hollow, it’s hard to doubt him.