JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The American fans at Liberty National Golf Club for the Presidents Cup had plenty to cheer about from the start Friday.
Rookies Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell won the first two holes and kept rolling, defeating the International pair of Charl Schwartzel and Anirban Lahiri, 6 and 5.
“We went into today with a strategy of, go get ’em,” Hoffman said moments after holing the winning putt on the 13th green. “Even if that meant doing something that wasn’t a high percentage play. Kevin is a great driver of the golf ball, so I want him hitting driver all day long. If we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging. That’s who we are and we wanted to get a W.”
It was clear from the start that the inexperienced Americans were not going down. After winning the first two holes, they won the fourth, eighth and ninth and made the turn leading 5-up.
In a match this one-sided, it’s tough to say that there was a singular moment that turned things, but the final indignity of the International team was struck by Hoffman after his tee shot on the 325-yard par-4 12th found the water.
Because his ball last crossed the hazard over the front of the tee area, Hoffman had to drop 251 yards from the hole, as Schwartzel, who also found the water off the tee, was forced to do. But while the South African’s ball stopped 35 feet to the right of the flag in a collection area, the 40-year-old Hoffman hit a fantastic hybrid shot that stopped 5 feet from the cup and his par wound up winning the hole.
Chappell and Hoffman couldn’t wipe the smiles from their faces after the match. Each player drove the ball well, created birdie chances and won holes. Both were making their Presidents Cup debuts after sitting out the opening session, but each player proved he belongs on this stage.
Lahiri looked outclassed throughout most of the match and provided almost no help to Schwartzel. You can count the number of good shots he hit Friday on one hand with three fingers to spare. He hit an excellent pitch shot from a sidehill lie on the fifth hole to inside a foot to halve the hole and his tee shot on the 150-yard 10th stopped inside 4 feet to set up a birdie that won the International team its only hole.
There was never a moment of doubt in Kevin Chappell’s mind about what he would do from 301 yards out on the par-5 fourth hole. Joe Greiner, his caddie, unsheathed Chappell’s driver and the 31-year-old from Fresno, Calif., pounded a shot that stopped in the fringe, 47 feet short of the hole, setting up a birdie that gave the American pair a commanding 3-up lead.
“It’s a shot that we’ve been working on and I hit a good one in Chicago a few weeks ago,” Chappell said. “My caddie talked me into it.”
Know the rules
Lahiri needed to hole a bunker shot on the second hole to make an eagle and halve the hole after Hoffman hit an iron from 188 yards out to 3 feet. The ball barely got out of the bunker, and finished in the rough, giving the American team a 2-up lead.
Rules official Dillard Pruitt walked to the third tee box and didn’t see Lahiri hit a practice bunker shot after his first attempt, but was told a few moments later that Lahiri had, in fact, hit a practice shot inside a hazard. Players are allowed to hit practice putts if there is not a group behind them waiting to play, but a practice bunker shot is not allowed.
As Lahiri walked toward the trees on the right to find his wayward tee shot, Pruitt called to he and Schwartzel and explained the rules infraction that had been committed, and that the penalty was that Lahiri was disqualified from playing the next hole. Pruitt said that by rule, Lahiri should not have been allowed to hit his tee shot, but since he did not learn about the penalty in time, Lahiri simply had to pick up his ball.