How the Internationals can turn big loss into a big gain
November 29, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Byeong Hun An's journey to the PGA TOUR
Believe it or not, International Captain Ernie Els can turn the unfortunate loss of Jason Day into a positive for his Presidents Cup team.
Sure, the list of what he has lost is vast, with the news that Day has succumbed to a back injury that will keep him sidelined for two months …
• The experience of four previous Cup appearances
• A 12-time PGA TOUR winner
• A major winner
• A former PLAYERS Championship winner
• A former world No. 1
• A two-time winner of the World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play
• A World Cup winner at Royal Melbourne
• The best statistical putter on the team from last season
• An Australian with a huge following
But there are also gains to be had with the introduction of Byeong Hun An into his first Presidents Cup. Stay with us…
While Day is pure class, the fact remains he has had just one top-10 finish since The Masters Tournament in April – a T8 at the Travelers Championship in June. He hasn’t won since the Wells Fargo Championship in May of 2018.
Now An hasn’t won on the PGA TOUR, but just since Day’s last top-10 finish the Korean has two third-place finishes on the TOUR and contended throughout the recent Asian swing. He was T6 at THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES and T8 at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP before a T14 at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. He sits 16th in the FedExCup while Day, who ended his fall with a missed cut at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, is 139th. An ranked first on the PGA TOUR last season in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and seventh in SG: Tee-to-Green.
The injection of new blood
The International team has a 1-10-1 record in all Presidents Cups. Certain players have been there for a while and been unable to come up with a much-needed win. Now of course, the strength of the U.S. Team is the major factor here. They have always been a far superior team on paper. But a lot of European Ryder Cup teams have looked inferior but won. Day played in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 for an individual record of 5-11-4. For all his match play talent, Day hasn’t been able to turn it into Presidents Cup team success. In 2015, Day had won four of his last nine starts leading into the competition and was no worse that T12 over a stretch that included three majors, a WGC and the FedExCup Playoffs. But in Korea he went 0-4-1 and the Internationals lost by a single point. An is now one of seven rookies on the International Team. They don’t have the scars of losing. And An has his own match play history. He remains the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur, a title previously held by Tiger Woods and then Danny Lee.Byeong Hun An won the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship in 2009. (Getty Images)
The underdog status
Even with the loss of the world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, the U.S. Team is stacked. Matt Kuchar, at 23rd, is the lowest-ranked American player in the world, and only Adam Scott (18th) and Hideki Matsuyama (20th) sit above him from the Internationals. Haotong Li, at 63rd, is the lowest-ranked International. Everyone expects the U.S. to win. They have dominated in the past and are led by Tiger Woods. But Els can harness that underdog mentality. (No one gives you guys a chance. They don’t respect you. They think they can just turn up and win.) Sport is full of underdog triumphs. There is an entire Hollywood movie genre on it. Maybe Els should play Rocky movies on the team bus. Or highlights of real-life upsets like when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson or the New York Giants beat the previously undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. They have an opportunity to create a unique legacy here… the team that finally knocked down the juggernaut.
Freedom with pairings
Els has stated for months that he will use analytics when making his partnerships and with another rookie he will have more freedom to do so. Day was expected to pair with fellow Australian Adam Scott – a unit that played together at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and wanted to do so again. It looked a good duo, despite a missed cut in New Orleans, taking away some options from Els’ plans. Now Scott is freed up to go where the numbers best suggest – something that might help him avoid adding to the unwanted record of having the most losses in Presidents Cup history. Maybe it will be another ball-striker like An or Louis Oosthuizen. Or will it be a fiery rookie with putting prowess like Sungjae Im or Joaquin Niemann? An also brings a balance as he can seamlessly partner with the other Asian players as well as others.
So while it certainly isn’t good news that Day won’t return to his native land this December, it is not as dire as it might seem. Els will make sure his team knows it.