CHARLOTTE, NC – Nick Saban calls it “rat poison,” the media-driven distractions that infect gamers’ minds at the worst possible times.
Trevor Immelman wants it all.
This year’s international captain is not only accepting his team’s status as a historic underdog, he’s counting on it, bowing as if his team’s future depended on it.
“I let you read everything you guys are writing. That’s where I start,” Immelman told reporters Tuesday at the Quail Hollow Club.
The South African is well aware that the Americans are 6 1/2 point favorites in this Presidents Cup. The dozen of him also know that in the history of games, on paper, there has never been a more outclassed team. Team USA has an average world ranking of 11.6, compared to an average of 48.9 for internationals. The Davis Love III team also has nine players in the top 15, the most by a single team in the Presidents Cup. Immelman’s team has no players in the top 15.
The international team combines a variety of cultures
On Monday night, when Immelman gathered his side in the team room, he reminded them of all the negativity and pointed out how many think their team doesn’t stand a chance.
“It’s pretty clear we’re the underdogs. We’ve usually been in this competition over the years, so it’s a label we’re used to,” he shrugged. “But the exciting part for us really is that I think it frees us up because we have nothing to lose. If you look at our record in this tournament and you look at our world ranking versus his world ranking, we have absolutely nothing to lose.”
Immelman’s team average age is 28.8, another benchmark for youth in matches, meaning most of his team weren’t in high school the only time the internationals won the event in 1998. His eight Presidents Cup rookies are also a record or, if Immelman’s view is valid, a reason for optimism.
“I’m the only baggage carry on our team,” said Adam Scott, the senior statesman for the international team, making his 10the start in matches.
This is the 14th edition of the matches. The United States leads, 11-1-1.
For Scott and Immelman, the youth and inexperience of the international team should be celebrated. That’s why during Monday’s meeting he pointed out that it was also in North Carolina that the Wright brothers became the first to fly.
“Why can’t we fly?” he told the team about him. “Why can’t we win?”
Presidents Cup Capsules: Meet the International Team
According to Las Vegas, Team USA is a -700 favorite. To put that in context, Team USA won the 2019 Presidents Cup as a -190 favorite at Royal Melbourne, 16-14. Aside from the lone international win in 1998, the Presidents Cup has gone straight since the US team won the opening game in 1994. But this week’s best competition is probably the 2017 games at Liberty National in New Jersey, where the El Team USA almost closed out the rest of the world on Saturday and needed only half a point on Sunday to secure the cup.
Immelman has spent the past few months dissecting the anatomy of an upset and dealing with an unprecedented combination of setbacks, including a global pandemic and a rival league that tore his team apart. Instead of Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Marc Leishman, Carlos Ortiz, Abraham Ancer and Branden Grace filling out his team room as automatic qualifiers or captain picks, LIV Golf forced him to pivot toward youth and inexperience.
It is a reality with which he has come to terms and, given the fractured nature of professional golf at the moment, completely unavoidable.
“I think it’s worked out pretty well for us to have eight rookies here because they’re so excited,” he said. “Everything is new and fresh, and they are seeing everything for the first time. It’s like Christmas morning when you can’t wait to open your presents.”
The betting line is somewhat misleading considering the uneven history of the event and the team Immelman put together. At -700, that would be similar to a 16 1/2-point favorite in a football game, but more like the 2007 college game when Appalachian State upset Michigan, a 33-point favorite, in “The Big House.” .
“Somebody’s going to make a lot of money,” Scott laughed when he told his team’s betting line.
If Immelman was looking to lean on the odds, which he most definitely is, he could also point to the 2008 Masters, which he won at an improbable 150-1 odds. It’s all rat poison and he doesn’t get tired because he wants his players, with all his inexperience, to understand that the only way to victory is through all that noise.
He’ll be giving more speeches this week because of how well he’s embraced the role of captain, but they’ll all be variations on a theme: “Have fun and blow it. We have absolutely nothing to lose.”