Those LIV absentees? Turns out this Presidents Cup thrived without them
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The weather changed. The climate, too.
Forget the thermometer. On Monday, a worker alongside the 15th tee at Quail Hollow gave an early fall Southeast weather report to an out-of-towner, who said the afternoon was “warm.” No, no. “This morning was warm,” he said. “This? This is hot.” Indeed. Especially in the no-shade spots, like the 2,500-seat buildout they constructed this week around the 1st hole. By the Presidents Cup third pairing on Thursday, the bleachers were two-thirds empty.
And the cracks came.
Here was one of the PGA Tour’s showcases, with what was billed as a fun seating arrangement, and they couldn’t get folks to brave sunshine and sweat? Tough scene. Somebody get these people an umbrella, a towel and a cold one. The upstart, which labels its brand “Golf, but louder” in neon colors, must have been howling. And that was without the talk of the folks who had taken their golf bags to LIV Golf, and left the event with its knickers down.
On Friday afternoon, the heavens opened up with some rain. By Sunday, it cooled.
And Tom Kim started dropping lightning bolts all over the damn place.
In the end, the U S of A won 17.5-12.5.
The weather had changed.
The climate, too.
Twenty-four golfers — 12 Americans, 12 for every country outside of Europe; the Internationals, they call them — were here, but the discourse leading up to this event, and in the days before, was who was gone. In a one-sentence recap, PGA Tour members have bolted for Saudi-backed LIV, the PGA Tour has suspended those players, and the Pres Cup is a PGA Tour-backed venture. For the Americans, it was a scratch; the bench is deep, and replacements for Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka were found. The Internationals, however, took it on the chin.
No Cam Smith, your Open Championship winner. No Joaquin Niemann. No Abe Ancer. No Carlos Ortiz. No chance? Eight newcomers were in. Doing the math, that’s two-thirds of the team. Or a lot. Some would have been here anyway. But most likely not. Already, Team INT had won only one of these things over 13 playings.
And the queries came.
About those missing.
About the absence of competition.
About the lack of a vibe.
About the future.
Shoot, even one goofy reporter [editor’s note: it was me] went asking players whether they would be interested in playing a PGA Tour-vs.-LIV Golf team event — at an event that already had teams.
“There was this conversation, I don’t know when it was, and it was discussed,” Billy Horschel said on Tuesday. “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind playing in it, but at the same time, you’ve got to look at things — what would the PGA Tour benefit from that? Nothing. If we win, we’re supposed to win. If we lose, it looks bad on the PGA Tour. So it’s really a lose-lose for the PGA Tour in that situation, and LIV’s got everything to gain from it.
“But as a player, we’re all competitive, and I have great relationships with a lot of those guys and I would love to compete with them. I was looking forward to playing the Presidents Cup and maybe getting paired against Cam Smith, who’s a really good friend of mine. If somehow there was a little LIV-PGA Tour competition, I would love that. I would love to play against Cam Smith or one of my good friends, Ian Poulter or something like that.
“Like I said, I’m not the one who makes that decision. There’s more that goes into a decision like that. I wouldn’t fault the PGA Tour or anyone saying this doesn’t benefit us going forward. I see that side of it, and I’m fine with that.”
Trevor Immelman’s message, meanwhile, was three letters.
In fact, that’s what the International team captain tweeted back at Greg Norman, the LIV Golf CEO, in a post about the event.
The climate changed.
Under the cloud of LIV and who wasn’t here, the Presidents Cup finished with who was.
There was Immelman, as much in the middle of all this as anyone, who was steadfast in his International bunch belief this week. Maybe no more so than on Saturday night. On Thursday and Friday, his Internationals had been throttled, 4-1 and 4-1, only for his men to split Saturday morning foursomes and win Saturday morning fourball, 3-1. Afterward, he was asked: “Trevor, what’s the vibe like in the team room this afternoon or tonight when you left, versus maybe the first couple days?” He answered simply at first.
“Pretty hungry. It’s been a long day,” he said. “Don’t know if you smelled the Braai. I’m going to use the South African word. It’s South African evening tonight. So we specially brought in South African grills, and we’ve got some open fires going out on the range, and the boys are hungry, ready to eat.
“The vibe is …”
Here, Immelman paused for some 20 seconds. He continued.
This was no act. This position wasn’t ceremonial for him.
He wanted to be here.
“The vibe is — the vibe is hopeful. The vibe is hopeful. Today was a big step for a very young and inexperienced team. Eight rookies. We have had a lot thrown against us, and we’re here competing against the best on their home turf.
“Today was a good day for us.”
There was Kim. What’s not to like from the 20-year-old — 20! — from Korea? Fist-pumps. Double first-pumps. Chest-bumps. Chest slaps. And his moment on 18 on Saturday. There, he curled in a 10-footer for birdie to win his team their match, he whipped his hat to the ground, shouted in the direction of his nearby teammates, hugged partner Si Woo Kim, hugged others, shook hands with opponents Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, did multiple interviews to the left side of the green, signed three of the same hat for a fan and stuck around to see teammates Cam Davis and Adam Scott win their match.
He wanted to be here.
“It was an amazing feeling for that to go in because the team was behind, and they were watching,” Kim said afterward. “And, yeah, I mean, I wanted it more than anything in the world.”
There was Max Homa. Kim was the International hero and fist-pumper this week, Homa was the Americans’. (Though Homa said earlier in the week he wasn’t a fist-pump guy.) On 17 on Friday afternoon, he rolled in a 13-footer to move him and Horschel to 1 up, and he pumped. On 18, Homa dropped an 11-footer to secure the match, and he pumped again. A week before, he won the Fortinet Championship, and no player in golf may be hotter.
He wanted to be here.
“I mean, I was nervous as could be over that putt, but it was fun,” Homa said afterward. “I was telling my wife, when we talk about things money can’t buy, money cannot buy that feeling. And that was something that I will remember forever, and I will tell anybody who ever wants to hear about it how that felt.”
If you think that was a LIV dig, you’re not wrong.
There was more.
— Horschel played in his first-ever team event, at the age of 35 and after being overlooked multiple times, and it went like you would think for the ever-combustible 13-year pro.
— In Sunday singles, Si Woo Kim and Justin Thomas were chirping. On 9, Thomas wanted a putt conceded. On 15, Kim one-finger shushed the crowd.
“Honestly, at the time, I was pretty pissed off,” Thomas said afterward of Kim’s gesture.
— Jordan Spieth won his first-ever Sunday singles match in a Ryder or Presidents Cup.
— In Sunday singles, Hideki Matsuyama, who earlier in the week admitted he had been courted by LIV, nearly chipped in on 18 to make this thing closer; his ball hit the middle of the flag stick and squirted out.
— Cantlay somehow housed an entire Chipotle burrito on the range a half-hour before he teed off on Sunday — then won 3 and 2 over Scott. Don’t try this at home.
— And the fans came. On Sunday, the bleachers were full on 1. According to the Tour, they ran out of tickets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
There was more.
It actually became an entertaining ball game. Remember, entering Sunday, the highest-ranked International was Matsuyama, at 14th — and 10 Americans were better.
With the Americans up 11-7 to start the day, Si Woo Kim won the opening match, 1 up over Thomas. Matsuyama halved with Burns. Sebastian Munoz defeated Scottie Scheffler 2 and 1. And there were whispers. But Tony Finau topped Taylor Pendrith 3 and 1. And Schauffele, on a 5-foot, 10-inch putt after pitching on from in front of the green, edged Corey Conners 1 up, and it was over.
Schauffele cracked open a Mich Ultra. His caddie, Austin Kaiser, gave his credit card away and got five Mich Ultra seltzers back. The young son of Cameron Young’s caddie rolled around in front of the 18th green. About an hour later, and three holes over, the Americans were given the Cup on the 15th.
And the week was over.
Back in the media center, I asked Immelman this:
“Considering the conversation of who wasn’t here, and then the emotions of getting back into it, how will you look upon this week?”
“I’ll have great memories of this week always,” he said. “Always and forever. The bonds we formed this week were so good. We had so much fun. We had so much fun at the hotel. We had so much fun on the bus rides, in the team rooms, with the support staff, with the cops that were looking after us, with the K-9 unit that was looking after us and hanging around.
“We had a blast. This city of Charlotte has treated us so well. Not just this week but on our trip here a couple weeks ago. And these are friendships for a lifetime. Friendships for a lifetime.”
The climate changed.