Presidents Cup captain Ernie Els shakes things up for potential International players

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Presidents Cup captain Ernie Els shakes things up for potential International players

Golf

Presidents Cup captain Ernie Els shakes things up for potential International players

By

AVONDALE, La. – International Presidents Cup team captain Ernie Els knows how difficult a task he’s been assigned.

Come December, he’ll lead a group of players from all parts of the world against a more practiced, close-knit group of Americans and their captain Tiger Woods at Royal Melbourne.

Words tend to ring hollow amid a 21-year winless streak, so Els is taking action and trying to gain an edge at this week’s team-format Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

With action comes a message, clearly intended most for the players who will ultimately tee it up months from now in Australia.

“There is something different going on,” Els said. “Let me put it that way.”

Els jumped on the chance to create a defacto Presidents Cup training grounds at TPC Louisiana, where potential team members far outnumber their U.S. counterparts. Seven of the top 10 International points-leaders are in the field this week compared to just two on the American side.

Duos like Jason Day and Adam Scott are teaming up for the first time, with other International pairings including Justin Harding/Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel. But that’s only part of the deal.

The most important part of Els’ plan is taking place off the golf course, at bars and restaurants near a French Quarter hotel where almost all potential International players are staying.

The bulk of them had dinner together Tuesday night at Arnaud’s, forming a team environment for a group that spans multiple religious and cultural backgrounds.

“We were sitting around with people from Latin America and Asia and you talk about what’s going on in everybody’s lives,” Els said. “That’s how you learn. You just spend time. It’s not like you can pinpoint exactly what you need to do. It’s not like a scientific project. It’s just coming together and having a drop of wine and relaxing and talking.”

This is a team-building week according to Els, who’s playing the Zurich Classic with assistant captain Trevor Immelman. It’s a chance to get players comfortable in different formats, with best-ball Thursday and Saturday and alternate-shot Friday and Sunday.

It’s also a chance to test potential pairings like the Aussie duo of Day and Scott.

“I’ve sat through a lot of Presidents Cup beatdowns over the years, and I’ve kind of had enough of it,” Scott said. “So I’m prepared to do whatever it takes, whatever Ernie thinks it takes, to kind of change the culture in our team. Certainly an effort has been made by a lot of guys here this week that want to do that, that (also) feel the frustrations.”

The International team won its only Presidents Cup in 1998, with its latest defeat the most lopsided yet – a 19-11 trouncing in 2017 at Liberty National. That dropped the Internationals to 1-10-1 all-time and helps explain why Els and his captains would want to try something different.

They also need to change the narrative for new team members, show them that mindset matters and can have an effect on the actual golf.

“Hopefully this is the start of a new kind of feeling,” Scott said. “The younger guys that are coming through need to see our team win and how much we can all care about this.”

Twenty-five-year-old Australian Cam Smith won the 2017 Zurich Classic with partner Jonas Blixt, and he’s all-in on the team approach. He tossed back beers with the crew Tuesday night despite a 7 a.m. tee time for Wednesday’s pro-am, describing a relaxed, informal gathering.

“It would be quite cool to be on the Presidents Cup team that finally beats the U.S.,” Smith said.

There’s no telling if Els’ relationship-first approach will actually work. Past captains surely tried their best to switch it up and failed to change the tide. But if the Internationals do manage to end their losing streak this year at Royal Melbourne, it will be thanks in part to a foundation laid across New Orleans’ rickety streets and booze-soaked alleys months in advance on the opposite side of the globe.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home