Scouting trip galvanizes underdog International Team

On paper, the US Team wins this one. But that’s always the case. The Americans were heavily favored in 2019, too, but required a big final-day rally led by playing captain Tiger Woods to come out on top.

This US Team will feature automatic qualifiers Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Sam Burns, Scottie Scheffler and Tony Finau, plus six picks to be announced by US Captain Davis Love III on Wednesday morning. It will likely resemble the side that crushed Europe at the 2021 Ryder Cup. But that’s not the only reason they’ll be favored to beat Immelman and company.

From just his six qualifiers, Love III has 15 PGA TOUR wins this season. Add victories by Jordan Spieth, Max Homa and Billy Horschel, who are expected to be US Team captain’s picks, and the total runs to 19 wins this season. All 12 International Team players combined for just five wins this season.

And yet…

The International Team will head to Charlotte with a kind of momentum having bettered the Americans for three of the four days last time around at Royal Melbourne. The Internationals did a lot right and hope to parlay the lessons of 2019 into a victory this time around.

Immelman assembled his team for a secret mission to Quail Hollow for two days after the recent TOUR Championship. All but Matsuyama, who was getting neck treatment in Japan, were on hand not just to see the course but also to solidify and cement relationships ahead of the competition.

“It was an amazing experience for all of us to spend a little time together and get an early look at the golf course,” Immelman said. “The thing that excites me the most is … I know now that we have 12 players that are hungry, and we have 12 players that wanted to be there.”

Team bonding was the key at Royal Melbourne, where Immelman was an assistant to International Captain Ernie Els. It was one great team united under one banner – a newly designed team crest – rather than a team of talented individuals carrying their various flags. Previous International teams wouldn’t come together until the end, and while that would make for some epic Sunday-night parties, it was too late to impact the leaderboards. Els changed all that. He got rid of the cliques.

Relying on analytics and data to create complimentary pairings regardless of which continent a player represented, Els was taking a gamble that busted up some friends who expected to play together. He knew he had to get buy-in from his players ahead of time. As such the bonding sessions came thick and fast ahead of the competition, and by tournament week the Internationals were a tight-knit crew.

While the final score in Melbourne read 16-14 to the US Team, the proof was indeed in the pudding. The Internationals led 4-1 after Day One, 6.5-3.5 after Day Two, and 9-5 after Saturday’s morning session. Only some late heroics from US players on Saturday evening effectively saved the Cup, but the Internationals took the lead (10-8) into Sunday Singles for the first time since 2003.

“We’re definitely underdogs going into the next few weeks,” captain’s pick Bezuidenhout said Tuesday. “But we’ve had multiple team dinners over the last few months with a lot of the guys in the running for making the team joined in. It’s a great vibe. It’s a great bunch of guys in the team. All the guys that narrowly missed out, everyone has been so supportive over the last few months and weeks.

“Taking it back to last week, our training camp in Charlotte, team spirit is high. Everyone is excited. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but you never know. We’ll give it our all and see what happens.”

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