Tour Confidential: Presidents Cup surprises, second-guesses and MVPs from Quail Hollow
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we break down the Presidents Cup, wonder what could have been, name MVPs and more.
1. The heavily favored U.S. team took care of business at the Presidents Cup, defeating the International team, 17.5-12.5, at Quail Hollow. While the outcome was forecast by most, did anything surprise you about how the U.S team won?
Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): It surprised me how difficult a time the U.S. had closing out the plucky International bunch. After Saturday morning, it looked like the rout was on — but the Internationals refused to go away. Despite the obvious talent deficit, they never gave up. Kudos to them.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@Sean_Zak): Jordan Spieth surprised me. He’s got so much experience in team events, but it isn’t exactly bulletproof experience. I figured he might have a tough time this week (he didn’t exactly finish the Tour season on a high note), but the opposite took place. Spieth went 5-0 in the kind of performance every captain wants, but you can never predict who it’ll come from.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): If you’d taken Sam Burns and Scottie Scheffler to go a combined 0-6-3, you would have won a lot of money in Vegas.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): I’m shocked Scottie Scheffler didn’t win a match, which comes exactly one year after he had somewhat of a coming out party at the 2021 Ryder Cup, where he won 2 1/2 points in three matches and dismantled Jon Rahm in singles. And maybe surprise isn’t the right word, but if the U.S. team can get its two key duos of Spieth/Thomas and Cantlay/Xander to click at the same time like they did this week, the Americans are going to be really hard to beat for several more years.
2. One of the big storylines heading into the week was the players who weren’t at Quail Hollow, on account of their deals with LIV Golf. How much do you suppose the absence of the likes of Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann and Abe Ancer hurt the International team, acknowledging, of course, that the U.S. side was also missing at least a couple of its would-be stalwarts?
Melton: I think the absences on the International team were much more pronounced than those on the American side. The depth of talent internationally is just not as good as that of the Americans. With the likes of Smith, Niemann and Ancer replacing a few of the duds on the International side, this thing could’ve gone down to the wire.
Zak: I think it hurt them to start. There’s some easy hindsight in that thought, but never have we seen so many rookies trotted out from one team. They clearly needed to warm up to the event, which would have been much easier had Smith, Niemann, Ancer and even Louis Oosthuizen been involved.
Sens: Huge difference for the Internationals. The American team was so deep, they weren’t going to be significantly better with any of the LIV guys. They might have been worse. Not so for the other side. A giant dropoff from the likes of Smith and Niemann.
Berhow: For all the talk about the players who wouldn’t be there, I don’t think the U.S. team would have been much different. It’s not like Bryson and Brooks and Pat Reed were playing great golf and no-brainers to make this team anyway. But I think it was a significant loss for the Internationals, not only from a talent standpoint but for confidence and comfortability. If you are a rookie, there’s something settling about a big-name, experienced veteran in your team room or on the tee box with you. I’m not sure if it would have been enough firepower to turn the result around, but we can’t act like guys like Cam Smith and Abe Ancer, to name a few, wouldn’t have made a difference.
3. With losses come second-guessing. While International captain Trevor Immelman’s management of his team was roundly praised, is there anything he coulda-shoulda done differently?
Melton: With how Sebastian Muñoz played this week (2-0-1), it certainly seems odd that he only played three sessions. Riding the hot-handed rookie can be a winning strategy in hostile territory (see: Leona Maguire). Alas, hindsight is 20/20.
Zak: I like to call this event (and the Ryder Cup) the Hindsight Olympics. Even the most analytically driven, vibes-savvy captain is going to make decisions that can be second-guessed. And they’ll make moves that work out well that, if a couple putts don’t drop, we would have second-guessed. In other words, Immelman did a fine job. He was led to all those decisions by a deep team of statisticians and golfers. If he could have gotten Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Scott to play better, he would have.
Sens: Any second guessing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. His team was going down either way. But I was surprised he didn’t put Tom Kim out earlier in singles. They needed a big emotional start. Why not give their most demonstrative player a chance to provide it?
Berhow: These guys used more analytics than I could ever wrap my head around and know how players gel with each other, so I won’t act like I have a better solution when it comes to some of the pairings. It comes down to making putts. Captains said it all week and that was the major difference the first two days. But, as Sens says, I did think it would have been a nice kickstarter to get Tom Kim out early and, if he got hot, send some good vibes to the rest of the squad. The Internationals didn’t have a ton of fiery personalities. He was one.
4. Team golf and match-play golf have a way of showing off different sides of players, be that their competitiveness or another personality trait. What’s one thing you learned about a player from either side that you didn’t know before this week?
Melton: That Tom Kim is an absolute delight! I know the storyline has been beaten into the ground at this point, but the 20-year-old really is a fun golfer to watch. I imagine this isn’t the last time we’ll see him on the big stage.
Zak: The cocky version of Max Homa is probably my favorite. And cocky might even be too harsh a word, but how stone-cold he looked playing the 18th hole during can’t-lose matches is so different than the goofy, heartfelt Twitter user we see 99 percent of the time. Look hard enough into the future and you can imagine that version of Homa coming out down the stretch of a major championship.
Sens: I guess we’d seen Si Woo Kim’s crowd-shushing a few years back at the Presidents Cup. But that was such a beat-down it almost went forgotten. Loved seeing him pull that same move out again this week in a much more pivotal context. That takes a special kind of fire, being the guy willing to make an enemy of the crowd.
Berhow: Besides the obvious Tom Kim answer, I thought it was refreshing to see Max Homa talk so openly about how much qualifying for an event like this would mean to him and then have Max back it up and play out of his mind. He pulled off some big-time shots and putts when he needed to. A clutch gene like that is something not many people have.
5. Who is your MVP from each team?
Melton: I’ll go with co-MVPs from each side. USA: Jordan Spieth (5-0-0) and Justin Thomas (4-1-0). Internationals: Si Woo Kim (3-1-0) and Sebastian Muñoz (2-0-1). Honorable mention for Tom Kim and the energy he injected into the Internationals each day.
Zak: Gotta go with Spieth, but Thomas deserves a ton of credit. I think he pulls something special out of Spieth during these events. It happened at the Ryder Cup in 2018. Thomas is the heartbeat of the team and probably will be for years to come. As for the Internationals, need we look past Tom Kim? Even Si Woo Kim talked about how Tom’s energy livened him up, too.
Sens: If we’re going by pure on-course performance, then it’s Spieth and Si Woo Kim. You can’t argue with 5-0, and Kim was nails pretty much every time he had to be. For all the little stuff that doesn’t show up on the scorecard, I’m with Sean: Tom Kim and Justin Thomas.
Berhow: Jordan Spieth and Tom Kim, the latter especially since he elevated what some might have thought was a sleepy event they didn’t plan to pay much attention to. But how about Trevor Immelman? I think the leader of the International squad gained a lot of fans this week.
6. The U.S. has now won nine straight Presidents Cups and seven of those by three points or more. Is it time to rethink this event or its format?
Melton: Yes, the Presidents Cup needs some sort of changing or we’ll continue seeing American dominance. While it’s true the Internationals can hold their own, if they don’t put up any numbers in the win column then it’s a moot point. Will the PGA Tour change the event? Not as long as the sponsors keep paying and the fans keep showing up.
Zak: Hell no. Quit it. This event is fine. If LIV Golf doesn’t exist, we may have seen an even greater event. Who knows! This event is just fine. I was entertained; weren’t you?
Sens: Keep it as is. Yeah, the historical record is ridiculously lopsided but there are plenty of entertaining moments, and the Internationals are far from just rolling over in the matches. It actually feels to me a lot like what the Ryder Cup was originally supposed to be. An exhibition of great shot-making, with plenty of patriotic fire but without blowing up into over-the-top nonsense. Plus, who doesn’t like rooting for the underdog?
Berhow: No changes! The Americans — I think? — won’t always dominate like this. And as soon as the Internationals end this skid the victory will be even sweeter.