The four weeks of the 2017 FedExCup Playoffs may have reached its conclusion (and what a conclusion it was!), signaling the end of the 40+ week PGA Tour season, but the absence of championship-caliber golf will only be lasting four days.
Newly-minted FedExCup Champion Justin Thomas, World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, and three-time major Champion Jordan Spieth are among those who will be representing the U.S. of A as earth’s No. 1 golf country (as evidenced by the 2016 Ryder Cup) attempts to make it seven straight victories over the best the non-European International golf cosmos has to offer.
Standing in the way of a U.S. streak that would match legendary John Wooden’s 1967-1973 UCLA Bruins and Gordie Howe’s 1948-1955 Detroit Red Wings in athletic lore, is a deep International squad that includes the likes of three-time 2017 PGA Tour winner Hideki Matsuyama, and former world No. 1s Jason Day and Adam Scott, among others.
There is just one score left to settle this season on the PGA Tour: the U.S. vs the World, and neither side has plans on leaving Jersey City without a trophy.
HISTORY: PRESIDENTS CUP
For 90 years in a one-in-every-two-years affair, golf has showcased what has become one of the greatest rivalries in professional sports: the United States vs Europe in the Ryder Cup.
Over the years, the Ryder Cup exploded in popularity as the nationality angle provided fans with a special kind of pride usually only seen at The Olympics. It was great, and the legends of the game made it even greater.
There was only one problem, well actually two.
First, there are, and have been, many elite golf talents with home countries that are not the United States or in Europe. And two, the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour, runs the gravy train known as the Ryder Cup.
To combat these issues, the PGA Tour started its own biennial tournament: The Presidents Cup. Similar to the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup became a biennial tournament, held on non-Ryder Cup years, where 12 of the best American golfers would test their skills against a team of 12 International golfers outside of Europe.
The first Presidents Cup occurred in 1994, and resulted in an American team captained by Hale Irwin winning 20-12 over David Graham’s International squad.
The United States would emerge victorious again in 1996, the second of nine victories in 11 editions. Team International has won only once, in 1998. The 2003 edition was played to a 17-17 draw in South Africa.
Captains Jack Nicklaus (US) and Gary Player (International) agreed for the two sides to share the cup after three playoff holes between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els failed to decide a winner.
The Presidents Cup format has been tinkered with over the years, and in its current form, the tournament is played over four days.
Day one features five matches of foursomes (alternate shot), day two has five matches of four-balls (better balls), day three moves to a combination of both, and the final day pits each member of a team against a member of the opposite team, meaning 12 singles matches.
Name: The Presidents Cup
Course: Liberty National Golf Club
Where: Jersey City, New Jersey
Distance: 7328 yards, par 71
Architect: Robert E. Kupp and Tom Kite
Purse: $0 (Except for PGA Tour)
The defending champion of the Presidents Cup is the United States, who took the 2015 tournament in a tight 15.5-14.5 battle.
Led by captain Jay Haas, the Americans got off to a quick start, grabbing a 4-1 lead after Thursday foursomes. Nick Price’s International Squad initiated a great comeback effort, cutting the American lead to one point going into the Sunday singles.
Both teams won six Sunday matches, resulting in the United States holding the cup for the sixth consecutive year.
2015: United States 15.5-14.5
2013: United States 18.5-15.5
2011: United States 19.0-15.0
2009: United States 19.5-14.5
2007: United States 19.5-14.5
2005: United States 18.5-15.5
Tournament Records: The United States holds a 9-1-1 advantage over the International Team in 11 previous Presidents Cups.
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STORYLINE 1: TEAM AMERICA GOES FOR 7 IN A ROW
Being the captain of the United States’ Presidents Cup team is a challenging ordeal, as a 9-1-1 American record engenders high standards and lofty expectations. The man assigned with that task this year is Steve Stricker, a 12-time PGA Tour winner who is also a veteran of five Presidents Cups.
Assisting Stricker in his duties will be Americans Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Tiger Woods, and Jim Furyk.
As for the roster, the United States boasts an extremely talented group that includes four of the top seven in the Official World Golf Rankings, and seven of the top 20.
As much firepower and intimidation factor as the American contingency has however, it lacks in experience, as the roster features just one player (Phil Mickelson) who has competed in more than three Presidents Cups, and six players are making their first team appearance.
Here is a breakdown of that tenacious and highly-regarded roster:
THE BIG GUNS
The redoubtable Jordan Spieth is, without question, the cornerstone that holds the foundation of American golf.
Just 24, Spieth has the resume of a Hall of Fame veteran (11 PGA victories, 3 majors), but with the body, moxie, tenacity, and energy that makes him the golf equivalent of a champion thoroughbred race horse, but with a much longer peak.
In race horse time, he will likely be three years old for at least two decades.
It is not just the myriad trophies and capacious shot arsenal that makes Spieth the ultimate Presidents Cup player. He is as humble a superstar as there is in professional sports today. He gives tireless effort, he is revered and beloved by teammates, and he exudes a perfect amount of confidence: enough to intimidate opponents, but not so much that he comes off as arrogant.
Despite his young age, Spieth already has played in the Presidents Cup twice, compiling a 5-2-0 record in team play. Those two appearances tie him as the third most-experienced member of the U.S. team, which is incredible when it is considered that he is the youngest player on the American side.
In 2013, he was paired with 2017 Presidents Cup Captain Steve Stricker in three matches, winning two of them, so fans of the U.S. can rest assured that rookie Captain Stricker knows exactly what he has, and how to get the most from Spieth.
That may involve playing him heavily with Patrick Reed, who he has thrived with at the last two Ryder Cups.
Spieth is coming off another incredible season, winning three times among eight top-3 finishes, including at The Open Championship in July. He led the Tour in scoring average and birdie average, and ranks third in greens in regulation.
Despite all the press Jordan Spieth justifiably gets, Dustin Johnson is the only man listed above Spieth in the official world golf rankings and was also the only man to accumulate more Presidents Cup points over the two-year qualifying period than Spieth.
He might not quite possess Spieth’s vibrancy, and his personality does not quite match as seamlessly with such a wide range of potential teammates, but in terms of pure talent and golf acumen, DJ ranks second to no one.
In the most recent match play event, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson absolutely obliterated the field, easily disposing of a remarkable set of opponents in Webb Simpson, Jimmy Walker, Martin Kaymer, Zach Johnson, Alex Noren, Hideto Tanihara, and Jon Rahm on his way to the title.
The WGC-Match Play represented a third straight 2017 victory for Johnson, and while his form was not quite as stellar during the summer months, a gutty win at The Northern Trust, the first leg of the FedExCup Playoffs, where he outdueled Spieth in extra holes, showed that his world-class form has not left him.
In two previous Presidents Cup appearances (2011, 2015), Johnson is 4-4-1, and oddly is undefeated in foursomes while being winless in four-ball.
Being matched solely with Spieth in 2015, and primarily with Tiger Woods in 2011, Johnson has been in some formidable groupings and has held his own, a fact that should give Stricker great confidence in what DJ will bring to team America in 2017.
A lock for the 2017 PGA Tour Player of the Year award, Justin Thomas’ season was nothing short of phenomenal. With five victories, including a major (the PGA Championship), a FedExCup Playoff event (Dell Technologies Championship), and a FedExCup Championship, Thomas’ breakthrough season means he is now mentioned in the same breath as the other elites of golf.
Thomas also joined the 59 club in 2017, carding the magic number at the Sony Open, where he posted the single lowest four-round score in PGA Tour history (253), and broke a major championship record when he shot a 9-under 63 in the third round of the U.S. Open.
While the 24-year-old University of Alabama product no longer has doubters, match play is one of the few professional mountains Thomas has yet to scale. Thomas has yet to participate in a Presidents Cup, or a Ryder Cup, and has just one win in six matches over two years at the WGC-Match Play. He was 2-0-1 as an amateur at the 2013 Walker Cup.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Casual golf fans might be somewhat dismissive of the 27-year-old Reed, based on a pedestrian 1-2-1 showing in his only Presidents Cup appearance (2015), and an underwhelming winless 2017 season where netted just four top 10s, one year after he had 11.
Those who have seen Reed play at the Ryder Cup, however, know that he is a big-time player in a team format.
The exuberant Reed was undeniably the MVP of the winning American side at the 2016 Ryder Cup, scoring a team-lead 3.5 points and compiling a 3-1-1 record. He and Spieth were incredible in the team events, and then Reed set the pace on Sunday singles, going out first and knocking off Rory McIlroy, one of Team Europe’s Goliaths.
Reed had the best Ryder Cup performance the U.S. has seen since… the previous Ryder Cup (2014), where Reed also scored a team-high 3.5 points with a 3-0-1 record. That makes him an incredible 6-1-1 representing his red, white, and blue in Ryder Cups.
His young career might not compare to Spieth’s, the man he matches with so impeccably in these kind of events, but there might not be a name will trigger greater anxiety in International Team members than Patrick Reed’s.
This is the man nobody wants to face.
Fowler’s drive and glowing personality make him a favorite among fans and teammates alike, but many would be surprised to hear that the 28-year-old four-time Tour winner actually has a pretty terrible record in big-time team events, going 3-7-5 in his three Ryder Cups and one Presidents Cup combined.
In his only Presidents Cup appearance (2015), he lost two of three team events, and was absolutely blitzed in singles 6&5 by Adam Scott.
That all being said, nobody on Nick Price’s International Team will be overlooking Fowler, especially after he was one of the most consistently great players on the 2017 PGA Tour.
Fowler finished in the top 10 in 10 of 21 events on the season, posting a win (The Honda Classic), two runner-ups, and two third places. He also finished T5 at both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and was T2 at the recent BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs.
At No. 2 on Tour in scoring average, shots gained: total, and shots gained: putting, Stricker knows that Fowler is one of the most valuable assets he has at his disposal.
The Presidents Cup rookie asserted himself as one of the best players on Tour in 2017, overcoming a difficult start to the season to win the U.S. Open in a record-tying 16-under par, and posting great results at the other three major championships (T11, T6, T13).
The long-hitting 27-year-old has not missed a cut since March, and has finished outside of the top 18 in just one of his past eight tournaments. He is coming into the Presidents Cup in great form, shooting a final round 63 at the BMW Championship, and playing tremendously at the Tour Championship.
While not the most accurate golfer on Tour, ranking poorly in 2017 in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation, Koepka is one of the consistently best drivers of the ball, and possesses an A+ putting game.
Koepka epitomizes the attribute of fearlessness, and was a tremendously useful player at the 2016 Ryder Cup, scoring three points for the winning U.S. side while compiling a 3-1-0 record. His 5&4 demolition of Danny Willett in Sunday singles was the biggest blowout of the Ryder Cup’s final day.
The 2017 Presidents Cup nearly became the first Phil-less event in the history of the competition, but a timely T6 at the recent Dell Technologies Championship ended a three month slide, and gave Steve Stricker the justification he needed to make Mickelson one of his two Captains picks.
Mickelson finished 15th in the U.S. Presidents Cup standings, the worst standing of anyone on his team, but he finished closely enough to the guys who finished 11th-13th (Brian Harman, Jason Dufner, and Gary Woodland), where Stricker could select him without being accused of passing up an unequivocally more deserving player.
Mickelson could be considered very fortunate that Brandt Snedeker’s season ended after a rib injury in June, and that American super-rookies Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay had only one season count towards the standings.
While the 47-year-old Mickelson might be having a subpar season by his all-time great standards, he has something the rest of the American side does not: experience. His 12 Presidents Cup appearances are more than the other 11 U.S. players combined, and he has not just been filling roster spots; he has been incredible with them, compiling a stellar 23-16-7 record and setting the career tournament record for most points (29).
His best Presidents Cup may have been his most recent. At the 2015 event, he scored a co team-high 3.5 points for the American side, teaming up with Zach Johnson to go 2-0-1 in group play, and annihilating Charl Schwartzel 5&4 in singles.
If he is focused, which has been a question in recent months, Mickelson should provide a critical edge for the U.S. in team chemistry, and nobody at Liberty National knows this tournament better than him.
The three Presidents Cup appearances of Matt Kuchar look like small potatoes next to Phil Mickelson, but they make the 39-year-old the second-most experienced member of the U.S. team.
A top-10 machine, Kuchar has tallied another eight in 2017, although that represents his second-fewest in his last eight seasons, a testament to how consistently good the Georgia Tech product has been.
Also, while Kuchar is still waiting for his major championship breakthrough, he displayed his best major golf this year, holding a late lead and finishing runner-up to Jordan Spieth at The Open Championship.
He also played very well at the other three majors, contending late at The Masters for a T4 finish, posting a T16 at the U.S. Open, and finishing T9 at the PGA Championship.
While that experience is undoubtedly something that gives Kuchar a leg-up on his teammates and opponents, what he has done with those appearances leaves a bit to be desired. He holds a paltry 4-7-1 Presidents Cup record, with three of those four wins coming in 2013 when he had PGA Tour Player of the Year Tiger Woods as his partner.
Kuchar has lost all three of his singles matches, dropping tight battles with Branden Grace, Mark Leishman, and Retief Goosen. His singles play has not been much better at the Ryder Cup, with just one win in four tries.
Kuchar did, however, represent his country extremely well at last year’s Olympic Games, finishing as the high American and taking home the bronze medal. He also holds an impressive 21-8 career record at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, a purely singles match-play event.
THE VETERAN ROOKIES
Nobody is the field at the Tour Championship was happier with his play than Kevin Kisner, except for maybe his Presidents Cup captain, Steve Stricker.
The 33-year-old Kisner is having his best year on the PGA Tour, but after squandering the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship, his best just has not been there, as he finished outside the top 40 in his next four events.
However, after his strong performance at East Lake, his post-major hangover appears to be past him, which could end up making the difference between the U.S. capturing their seventh straight Presidents Cup and the International side pulling off the upset.
Among Kisner’s eight top 10s in 2017 were his second career victory, which occurred in late May, when he won the Dean & DeLuca Invitational by a single stroke over a formidable trio that included Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm.
Kisner also had two runner-ups, with one of those coming in the season’s only team event, the Zurich Classic, where he hit of the Tour’s shots of the year: a hole-out pitch on the 72nd hole to force a playoff.
Kisner might not have any experience in the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup, but what he does possess is an accurate driver and a pristine putting. In the right pairings, he could be an absolute dynamo in four-ball.
Few players on the PGA Tour have proven to be more of a fighter in recent years than the 31-year-old Kevin Chappell, who earned the last automatic Presidents Cup spot by less than a point. Like Kisner, Chappell is another event rookie who has also never played in the Ryder Cup, but Steve Stricker knows he has a player in Chappell that he can put up against anyone on the International side.
The most cathartic experience of Chappell’s life came in April, when he finally broke free from a 180 event winless streak to capture the Valero Texas Open, his first career victory.
The win followed a 2016 season where he finished runner-up an unbelievable four times, including at the Tour Championship, where he fell just short in a playoff with Rory McIlroy.
The week before his breakthrough win in Texas, Chappell showed great resiliency at The Masters, where he bounced back from a second-round 76 to finish T7.
His form as been inconsistent as of late; he finished in the top 12 in two of the four 2017 FedExCup playoff events, but was undeniably dismal at the Tour Championship, where his tournament came off the rails early, with five bogeys and two double-bogeys in round one.
If he can put that recent disappointment behind him, however, he could prove to be a key player for the U.S. side, as his length and tee-to-green games are among the best in those wearing red, white, and blue.
While his 2017 season was Charley Hoffman’s first in three years without a victory, it was the highest-earning season of his 12-year career.
Hoffman had the closest of close calls when he finished less than a point behind Kevin Chappell for the last automatic Presidents Cup spot, a tremendous season made him an easy Captains pick for Steve Stricker.
The highlight of Hoffman’s season had to be day one of The Masters, where brutal conditions were difficult for everyone other than Hoffman, who posted a 7-under 65, just three rounds in the field in red numbers, to capture the 18-hole lead by four strokes.
A dreadful Sunday left Hoffman well behind Sergio Garcia at Augusta, but he re-found that round one form during a torrid summer stretch where he had four top-8 finishes in six events.
The four-time Tour winner Hoffman is another Presidents Cup first timer who has also never played on a Ryder Cup team, but at 40 years old, only Phil Mickelson has been around longer.
THE WILD CARD
One of three 24-year-olds on the U.S. team (Spieth, Thomas), Berger was named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2015, and has only gotten better since.
Among his six top 10s in 2017 are a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, a tournament where he has captured both of his career victories, a runner-up finish in a WGC event (the WGC-HSBC Champions), and a gritty runner-up finish at the Travelers Championship where a final round 67 forced a playoff with Jordan Spieth, who holed out from a bunker on the first extra hole to take the title.
Despite his inexperience, there is no doubt that Berger belongs on the team, and he made sure there was no doubt by finishing an impressive fifth in the Presidents Cup standings, ahead of such more-regarded players as Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, and Matt Kuchar.
STORYLINE 2: TEAM INTERNATIONAL LOOKS TO BREAK TREND
One advantage the International team believes it holds over the United States is that while the Americans are being commanded by a rookie captain, the International lead man, Nick Price, is taking captain duties for the third straight Presidents Cup.
Price was close to engineering the upset in 2015, and the Internationals believe this roster may be even better than that one. It is not a top-heavy roster, especially with some of their higher qualifiers not exhibiting their Grade A form as of late, but it is no doubt deep and skilled.
THE BIG GUNS
The 25-year-old Japanese phenom Hideki Matsuyama has had, by far, the best 2017 season of anyone on the international team, and his dominance over his counterparts is illustrated well in the final Presidents Cup standings, where he finished as a landslide No. 1.
Unlike the American standings, the International standings were decided by world ranking points after the recent Dell Technologies Championship, where Matsuyama, at No. 3 in the world (9.21 points) held a substantial lead over Jason Day (6.35 points), the second-highest ranked international team member, and had over double the world ranking points of the third-highest ranked international player, Adam Scott (4.34).
Looking solely at those standings, it would seem that this is Hideki’s team with the rest of the international side just hoping they can keep up. However, looking at more recent form, that is far from the case.
Largely off the strength of three victories in the 2017 season, in addition to three runner-ups, including one at the U.S. Open, and a T5 at the recent PGA Championship, Matsuyama was the FedExCup standings leader going into the four-week FedExCup Playoffs.
After the way he embarrassed the field in Akron, Ohio at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, just three weeks prior to the start of the playoffs, a performance that included a transcendent final round 61, perhaps the finest single round in WGC history, Matusyama was expected to be among those with the best chance of winning the FedExCup and its $10 million prize.
Unfortunately for Nick Price and Team International, however, Matsuyama’s ‘A’ game has been as absent as NBA parity.
Matsuyama’s manager imputed the poor stretch to fatigue, but considering that the Presidents Cup tees off just four days after the Tour Championship concluded, it is a very troubling development.
Jason Day has not really been Jason Day in 2017, but after a miserable first seven months of a 2017 season that began with Day ranked No. 1 in the world, he is looking closer than he has since finishing runner-up in his title defense at the 2016 PGA Championship.
He has finished in the top 10 in four of his last five tournaments, with all four occurring in either a major or FedExCup playoff events.
Day has been vulnerable to a high number here and there, with the best example of that a quadruple-bogey 8 on the par-4 18th hole in round three of the PGA Championship, which completely torpedoed a major he had been in contention at, but it is extremely encouraging for him to be competitive again at the highest stages.
Best of all for Day, his world-best putting stroke seems to be back, as evidenced by his needing just 95 putts at the BMW Championship, the fewest amount of putts anyone on Tour has hit in any 2017 season event.
Given how dominant Day has been at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, winning both the 2014 and 2016 tournaments, it is surprising that in three Presidents Cup apperances, Day has twice as many losses (8) as wins (4).
Day was tremendous teaming up with Canada’s Graham DeLaet (who did not qualify this year) at the 2013 Presidents Cup, but went 0-3-1 in 2015, as he was depended on to face some of America’s best combinations.
Day will likely be leaned on heavily again this year, especially with the questionable recent form of Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Scott, but if he does not score better than he did in 2015, the international squad will likely be in big trouble.
BEST OF THE REST
Whatever Hideki Matsuyama has lost during the FedExCup playoffs, 33-year-old Aussie Marc Leishman seems to have found it, performing admirably in a battle with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth at the Dell Technologies Championship, and then leaving the entire 70-man field in his wake in a five-stroke romp at the BMW Championship where he carded 29 birdies (1st in the field) and gained nearly 11 strokes on the field tee-to-green.
While he was not able to find the same success at the Tour Championship, where he had earned one of the top five spots in the FedExCup standings, 2017 has been, by far, the best season of Leishman’s career.
His $5.7 million in 2017 earnings is over double his previous high ($2.2 million in 2014) and he landed in the winner’s circle twice, both at the aforementioned BMW Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitiatonal.
Leishman ranks an impressive third on Tour in scoring average, and finished in the top 25% of Tour Players in all six strokes gained categories.
This will be Leishman’s third Presidents Cup appearance, and while he found little success in his the 2015 team events, he did execute the biggest singles upset, a 1-up takedown of Jordan Spieth.
In the 2015 Presidents Cup, the then 32-year-old South African Louis Oosthuizen was 50% of a sensational pairing with fellow countryman Branden Grace, carrying the international side with a 4-0-0 team record and gaining 8 of the International team’s 14.5 points.
Oosthuizen then added a halve in his singles match against Patrick Reed, finishing with 4.5 points for the week, doing much more than his part for his side. With so many questions on the International team, Nick Price would love to see a repeat performance from Oosthuizen, even if it is not likely.
It has been an up-and-down 2017 season for Oosthuizen, which was highlighted by runner-up finishes at both THE PLAYERS Championship and the PGA Championship. With that T2 at Quail Hollow, he completed the “career runner-up Grand Slam”, having finished second in each of the four majors at some point in his career.
In his most recent PGA action, a ghastly 77-74 at the BMW Championship resulted in Oosthuizen dropping from No. 24 in the FedExCup standings to No. 31, which caused him to miss the Tour Championship, despite playing the weekend 9-under.
The International team may not have a player like Phil Mickelson, who has played in every single Presidents Cup ever held, but with seven previous Ryder Cup appearances, the former World No. 1 Adam Scott is the closest they have.
A 13-17-5 record might not look especially impressive, but considering that Team International is 0-6-1 in those Presidents Cups, it is actually not that bad.
He even holds a winning singles record, and in his last taste of Cup action, he was seen obliterating Rickie Fowler to the tune of 6&5. Scott will again be leaned on heavily.
The big concern with Scott, however, is that he simply has not been all that great this year. He still hits it long and his iron game still looks largely effortless, but in 2017, the results have not been there.
Scott has just four top 10s in 16 starts, with his last one coming over three months ago when he posted T10 at the FedEx St. Jude.
After missing the first FedExCup Playoff event, due to the birth of his second child, Scott needed a strong performance at the Dell Technologies Championship, but a second round 75 at TPC Boston led to a missed cut, and an early trip back home.
SOUTH AFRICAN STAR POWER
Perhaps the biggest wild card set to compete at Liberty National, is Branden Grace, the 29-year-old who has had plenty of big moments on big stages in recent years.
In two Presidents Cup appearances, both on Nick Price-led squads, Grace has two diametrically opposed results.
In 2013, Grace was dead weight: he played in four matches and lost them all before the 18th hole. However, humbled by that prodigious failure, he was a different man at the 2015 Cup, accumulating a perfect 5-0-0 record, with only one of those matches requiring a trip to the final hole of the host course.
Four of those wins came while teamed up with Louis Oosthuizen, a pairing Price is very likely to utilize again at Liberty National. If the International side is going to put a stop to the recent American dominance, they may need Grace/Oosthuizen to carry a heavy load again.
At the very least, they will need Grace to play better than he has in 2017. He made waves with a major championship record 62 in the third round of The Open Championship, a round that may immortalize Grace in bar trivia lore, but the rest of the year, he has been invisible.
Like fellow Afrikaner Branden Grace, 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel got an early start on Presidents Cup prep by failing to reach all four legs of the FedExCup playoffs.
The 33-year-old had three top 10s between March and June, including a solo-third at The Masters, but does not have a top-25 in the U.S. since a T2 at the FedEx St. Jude in mid-June.
Tee-to-green accuracy has eluded Schwartzel this year, as he ranks dismally in both driving accuracy (176th) and greens in regulation (183rd).
This will mark Schwartzel’s fourth Presidents Cup, making him one of the most experienced members of the team. He will be depended on to fare better than he did in 2015, when he went 1-3-0 and was throttled 5&4 in singles by Phil Mickelson.
The first of Nick Price’s two Captains picks was one he did not struggle to make. Emiliano Grillo, a 25-year-old from Argentina, is the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, making as immediate an impact as anyone can by winning his first tournament of his first full-time season.
Nearly two years later, Grillo is still looking for win No. 2, but he brings a great deal of big-stage experience, having played in all eight majors over the past two seasons, eight WGC events, The Olympics (he finished T8), and seven of eight possible FedExCup playoff events, mostly holding his own well.
Grillo needs to continue to work on his short game, but tee-to-green, he is well ahead of the curve for his age. It is early in his career, but he looks determined to follow in the footsteps of Roberto de Vicenzo and Angel Cabrera and become the next great Argentine golfer.
The youngest player at Liberty National this year, and by a considerable margin, is South Korea’s 22-year-old prodigy Si Woo Kim. In just his second season on the PGA Tour, Kim has been… well, mostly a disaster. He has either missed the cut or withdrawn from 18 of 30 tournaments in 2017, has a scoring average of nearly 73, and statistically has been one of the worst players on Tour this season.
All that being said, when Kim gets going, he has shown a competitiveness beyond his years. Despite how terrible he has played in 95% of the season, Kim will not have to worry about losing his Tour card for at least another five seasons, as his win at THE PLAYERS Championship awarded him a long exemption. He also won the 2016 Wyndham Championship and was in contention through 54 holes at this year’s U.S. Open.
When on, Kim’s game is clearly championship-caliber, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to elevate himself in the first big team-style tournament of his professional career. Depending on which Kim shows up, he could be an incredible asset to team International, or he could be a colossal liability.
If this year’s Presidents Cup was being held in Canada, the U.S. could justify conceding the tournament entirely, as dominant as Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas has been in the Great White North the past two years, flashing elite talent in taking back-to-back RBC Canadian Open titles.
Outside of Canada, however, the play of the 33-year-old Presidents Cup rookie can be best summed up with one word: streaky. Prior to his successful Canadian Open defense, Vegas had missed five straight cuts.
Then, in two of his next three starts after, he was a factor at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and contended at The Northern Trust, the first leg of the FedExCup playoffs, using two rounds of 65 to finish T3.
Since then though, his struggles have come back as he played poorly in each of the last three playoff events. The dynamic South American is extraordinarily likeable and has the potential to be a locker room spark plug, but like several other players on the International side, it is difficult to predict which Jhonattan Vegas will show up at Liberty National.
Steve Stricker and the American team should consider themselves fortunate that the Presidents Cup is being held this week, rather than in February or March, when Canada’s Adam Hadwin was on an incredible hot streak that included a win at the Valspar Championship, a T6 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and a T2 at the CareerBuilder Challenge, a tournament in which he shot a third-round 59.
Since March, Hadwin’s production has fallen off a cliff, and he needed every world ranking point he had to barely hold on to the 10th spot for an automatic Presidents Cup qualification.
There are signs, however, that Hadwin’s game is nearing the level it was in the winter. He finished T5 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a much needed result after he had failed to post a top 50 in his previous seven tournaments.
He missed his next two cuts after that, but a T13 at the Dell Technologies Championship, the second leg of the FedExCup playoffs, was encouraging as well.
International Captain Nick Price selected Anirban Lahiri, a 30-year-old from India who is seen as something of a pioneer in his home country, as his second captain’s pick, despite Lahiri finishing 16th in the International Cup Standings, the lowest ranked player on either team.
Lahiri was chosen over Hideto Tanihara, the 38-year-old from Japan who finished 12th in the standings, and over some more youthful options such as China’s Hao-Tong Li or South Korea’s Jeunghun Wang.
One thing Lahiri does have over the other names that were likely considered is experience. Lahiri qualified automatically for the International squad at the 2015 Presidents Cup, and Price is hoping Lahiri learned a lot from his failures as he lost all three matches he played. He was also the only player on either side who failed to earn a point, and missed a short birdie putt on 18 to lose his singles match 1-up to Chris Kirk.
Considering that the International team lost by one point, that missed putt might have been very significant.