By Steve Keating
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – International captain Trevor Immelman believes his team for this week’s Presidents Cup may have been severely weakened by LIV Golf defections but their underdog status will allow them to play with more freedom against the United States.
The ineligibility of players like Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann — who were automatic qualifiers for the International team until their decision to join LIV Golf — forced Immelman to scramble to assemble his 12-man roster.
The International squad will feature a record eight rookies at Quail Hollow Club against a heavily-favoured U.S. team that features five of the world’s top 10 players, but Immelman has not had to deliver any sort of special message to his players.
“We know where we’re at. We know the adversity that our team has been through over the course of the last 12 months. So you really don’t need to say too much,” Immelman told reporters during a news conference on Tuesday with U.S. counterpart Davis Love III.
“I think it’s worked out quite well that we’ve got eight rookies here because they are just so excited. Everything is new and fresh, and they’re seeing everything for the first time. It’s kind of like Christmas morning when you can’t wait to open your presents up,” the South African added.
The United States have dominated the match-play competition — which pits an American team against international players from outside Europe — winning on 11 of the 13 occasions it has been held, including each of the last eight.
Immelman said the International team are most often the underdog in the competition and feels his players will be able to play with a greater sense of freedom than the Americans.
“If you look at our record in this tournament and you look at our world rankings versus their world rankings, we have absolutely nothing to lose,” said Immelman.
“So we can go out there and play absolutely as free as we want, free as we can, and see if we can match up with the crazy good skills the Americans have, that they show us week in and week out.”
Love, who has played in the Presidents Cup six times in his career and was an assistant captain on three occasions, is no stranger to being expected to win but is not about to write off the underdog International team.
“That’s on paper, and a lot of great coaches will tell you the game’s not played on paper. They’re played out there on the golf course,” said Love.
“Statistically, yes, we have a higher ranked team, but I know a bunch of those young guys on their team, and they’re going to come in with a chip on their shoulder and together.”
(Writing by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)