Els puts faith in rookies, youth movement for International Team
November 06, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
International Team Captain's Picks for 2019 Presidents Cup
Ernie Els has charged the youngest-ever Presidents Cup team with the task of taking down the U.S. juggernaut.
No matter how you slice it, the International Team captain knows it is going to take a special group to take down a dominant U.S. squad that holds a 10-1-1 record in the competition. They haven’t lost since 1998.
Els is an intense competitor who wants nothing more than to be at the helm of the drought-breakers and, as such, he has turned over every possible stone to round out his International Team of 12.
The South African legend used his four captain's picks for the battle at Royal Melbourne in Australia from Dec. 12-15 to create an exact balance. He added Jason Day, Sungjae Im, Adam Hadwin and Joaquín Niemann. Els now has six rookies and six players with experience in the competition.
One half of his team is free from scars. Cameron Smith, Abraham Ancer, Haotong Li, C.T. Pan, Im and Niemann get their first taste of it. The other half - Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama, Day and Hadwin – can draw motivation from previous wounds. With an average age of 29.3 it is the youngest side to ever go to battle in this biennial team play.
Only veteran Scott has tasted any sort of success in the competition. He was a rookie in 2003 when the Cup ended in darkness as Els and Tiger Woods, his opposing captain this year, could not be split in an epic playoff.
After discussion between captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, the Cup was shared. It was a great gesture of sportsmanship and should be applauded. But Els has no intention of sharing this time out. He wants a historic victory.
“We'll be ready to go come December,” Els said.
“I’m really excited by the new blood that’s come in, and I'm really excited that we have experience. ... I think it balances the team really well.”
Els says he had no hesitation in taking his rookie tally up to six with his picks. He also had no concern in the fact Im and Niemann will be just 21. He could have easily picked another veteran like his countrymen Branden Grace but knows the Internationals need new life. Only once before – in 2013 – have the Internationals had more rookies with seven. Leishman, Oosthuizen and Matsuyama were three of those rookies.
“Whether it is in the day and age that we are living in. ... I definitely wasn't that good when I was 20, 21 years old, I can promise you that, but these kids, these guys are world-class players and they have proven themselves,” Els said.
“Obviously I threw age out of the equation. ... but they have one hell of a big future in this event.”
Niemann celebrated his 21st birthday with his pick. The recent winner at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier has been smiling since that win but it widened again after he got the call from Els. Now he wants to be a difference maker. Els called him a “kid” but added that he “played like a grown man this season.”
Im is fresh off winning the PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year and already has two top-3 finishes this new season.
“With so many young players on the team this year, I think there will be a lot of passion and energy and I think that positive energy can help the team positively with everything moving forward,” the Korean said.
“I really want to beat the United States team.”
Rookie or not, Els says he won’t be protecting any player and his pairings may surprise people. Of course there is the famed analytics Els has promised to use prominently in his thinking. More of that will be unveiled in due time, particularly when he decides who plays Four-ball and Foursomes. But you can gather from his four picks that putting was a key component.
“Reading into the statistics of what they have been doing for the last ten to 12 months, that also indicates really how well these guys have played, so they have earned their spot on to this team, through long-term and current form, and that's the way I wanted to look at it,” Els explained.
“We want guys who are really solid long-term players. We've got a lot to do, but I'm picking guys to make the team to play. I'm not here to guide anybody.
“I'm here to try and win enough points to get us over the line, and that's what the players' mission is, is to try and get enough points to get the Cup back. If that’s off the back of the rookies, so be it.”
Els knows he will have to manage several cultural and some language issues. He has been planning for this since he accepted the role well over a year ago. Details, down to individual catering, have been taken care of. But there is no doubt the Australian quartet must take a lead role in preparations for this classic sandbelt course.
“The Aussies will play a huge part in getting these guys prepared… I’m very fortunate I have four playing and assistant captain Geoff Ogilvy,” Els said.
“Definitely between now and then, we're going to have a lot of chatting going on (with them).”
At the end of the day all the meticulous planning in the world won’t hide the cold simple truth. They will need to play at their best to take down a stacked U.S. side led by Woods. The talent and enthusiasm are there and now it appears there is balance. With that, they just might find a way to pull off a win for the ages.
The young ages.