Playing in Melbourne, Australia, with the home team coming in hot during the final round, Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry held strong to win the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf on foreign soil.
The duo shot 23-under 265 for the week at the Metropolitan Golf Club to give Belgium its first World Cup title for the event, which began in 1953.
While not the most prestigious event in golf, the World Cup captured the local audience. And these team events matter more in an individual sport, where players never take for granted the chance to play for their nation’s colors rather than a few sponsors and the personal trophy collection.
“It feels very good,” Pieters said. “It’s not something you put on your list when you’re a golfer, but, you know, I felt it this morning and I felt it while we were playing. It’s just excitement and a bit nervous. I told my mom and dad it’s been a long time since I won, and this feels as good as an individual title. I’m very, very happy.”
It’s the first win for Pieters since the 2016 Made in Denmark, and first for Detry since his lone win at the 2016 Bridgestone Challenge on the European Challenge Tour.
Australian natives Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith finished T-2 and three shots back after Sunday’s alternate shot, joining Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Roberto Diaz at 20 under. Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen and Soren Kjeldsen were T-4 at 17 under along with Canada’s Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor.
The American duo of Kyle Stanley and Matt Kuchar shot themselves out with a 7-over 79 in second-round alternate shot, finishing T-16 at 9 under for the week.
Leishman and Smith shot 7-under 65 in the final round to crawl back after beginning the day six shots off the lead. Smith is one of several players who hoped to make an impact this week at Metropolitan, less than six miles away from the site of the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
“I would like to think I was firmly in (International captain Ernie Els’) mind before this. This week definitely couldn’t have hurt,” Smith said. “We had to make a run for it. We showed what we could do as a team, and hopefully that’s something Ernie remembers.”
Leishman is hoping to keep the duo together when the Internationals take on the Tiger Woods-led U.S. squad next December.
“Going forward I think it could be a pretty good Presidents Cup pairing for Melbourne next year,” Leishman said. “Happy with the way the week went. Obviously we would have like to been one better, but you can’t win them all and I think we did ourselves proud.”
Pieters, meanwhile, missed out on a captain’s pick for the 2018 Ryder Cup after setting a rookie record for Europe with four points during the 2016 matches at Hazeltine.
The 26-year-old has a pair of top-10 finishes at majors, a T-4 at the 2017 Masters and T-6 at last year’s PGA Championship at Bellerive.
As the European squad gets older, he figures to be a fixture in coming years, and over the weekend he and Detry proved they can handle the pressure under the gun. At the same time, he remained refreshingly aware that the impact wouldn’t be hugely significant back in the soccer-crazed nation of Belgium.
“This will go very under the radar, I think,” Pieters said. “It will make the news but … hopefully it will make it bigger and get on the main news but, yeah, it’s different in Belgium. Golf is very different than Australia or the USA. We hope kids, it’ll get in the media and they’ll see us as cool guys. It’s a cool sport.”
The U.S. has 24 World Cup victories and Australia is tied for second with five, but Belgium is now officially on the board.
With more individual success from Pieters down the road, especially in the majors, maybe his home country will start to take notice. Gwk