Welcome to Presidents Cup week, where the lineups you’ll see at Quail Hollow Club beginning Thursday might look quite different than the ones you imagined you’d see months ago.
In case you have been living under a rock for a year or so, here’s what you should know: LIV Golf, a 54-hole rival league of the PGA Tour that’s funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, has brought dysfunction to professional golf. Some players have left the PGA Tour in favor of it, and the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have countered by saying those defectors would not be allowed to play in future Ryder Cups or Presidents Cups. (Granted, some players have resigned their Tour memberships, making them ineligible anyway. For a few, that’s also somewhat of a “You can’t fire me, I quit!” scenario.)
The Tour has also successfully (for now) banned those players from its events. So that, in a nutshell, is why some of those golfers won’t be in the 14th playing of the Presidents Cup this week. Both teams, the U.S. and Internationals, lost potential players to LIV, but the underdog International team and captain Trevor Immelman were hit the hardest.
Two of Immelman’s eight auto-qualifiers left after they had officially made the team, and those two departures were the biggest blows to a team that’s won this event just once in 13 tries. World No. 2 Cameron Smith won the Players and Open Championship last year but signed with LIV (he’s the league’s top-ranked player thus far) and Joaquin Niemann also left the Tour. At 23 and uber-talented, Niemann is the type of player the Tour would have hoped to keep.
That gave Immelman six captain’s picks instead of four, but some options were already off the table.
Abraham Ancer was seventh in the standings when he announced he was signing with LIV, and even if he wasn’t an auto-qualifier he certainly would have been a captain’s pick. He was 3-1-1 in his Presidents Cup debut in 2019.
While not as much of a lock as Ancer would have been, Presidents Cup veterans Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Anirban Lahiri, Brandan Grace and Charl Schwartzel all would have been potential picks for a team severely lacking experience. Lahiri was the runner-up to Smith at the Players Championship.
Oosthuizen said it stung not to be on the team this year. He’d played in the last four.
“There’s no rule that says I need to be a PGA Tour member to play the Presidents Cup, especially as an International team player,” Oosthuizen said at LIV Chicago last week. “I didn’t think I did anything wrong. I made my decision where I am playing golf. But I didn’t do anything wrong while I was a PGA Tour member.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. squad will be without some of its big names, but that doesn’t mean they all would have made the team anyway. Dustin Johnson was 20th in the standings the week before the RBC Canadian Open, which is when he skipped his sponsor’s event, resigned from the Tour, was removed from the standings and played LIV’s first tournament that same week.
And while he was still just 20th in the standings, he was 5-0-0 at the Ryder Cup last year and has played in nine Ryder Cups or Presidents Cups. It wouldn’t have been a shock for him to be a captain’s pick even if his standing didn’t improve over the next couple of months.
The same can’t be said for some other players, though.
Phil Mickelson likely wasn’t going to be picked. Patrick Reed, who was passed over for a captain’s pick at last year’s Ryder Cup, was 18th prior to leaving for LIV for its second event. The last week many PGA Tour defectors were listed in the standings was after the Open Championship, with potential U.S. captain’s picks Talor Gooch at 12th, Bryson DeChambeau at 25th and Brooks Koepka 30th.
Gooch had captain’s pick potential, but he had also never played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. As for DeChambeau and Koepka, they might have been too far down to be in consideration. They hovered around 20th-25th in the standings even before they announced they were going to LIV. But we might never know.
“I personally think that the team events are only hurting themselves by not allowing us to play, not allowing us to qualify through some capacity, in some facet,” DeChambeau said at the LIV Chicago event last week. “It is sad that those governing bodies have not allowed us to be able to qualify. That’s all I can say to that. I want to play in numerous events on the PGA Tour. It would be awesome. That’s what LIV Golf has tried to — they have allowed us to play on the PGA Tour. It’s the PGA Tour barring us from doing so.”
Jason Kokrak, Cameron Triangle and Reed would have also been in the captain’s picks conversation had they not went to LIV Golf.
“I think we are in for a remarkable Presidents Cup,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said at the Tour Championship. “I think that there’s so much depth right now. You look at both teams, to me in many respects there’s never been as much depth as we see. I think both captains and both teams recognize that there’s a next-man-up philosophy. They’re prepared for that.”
At the Pumpkin Ridge event, his first LIV start, Reed was asked if missing out on an event like the Ryder Cup was enough to dissuade him from joining.
“At the end of the day, I felt like when my family and I we sat down and we just weighed all of our options, we felt like joining LIV Golf, especially with talking to some of the guys that played in London, that this was definitely the right decision,” he said.