The International team faces historic odds; can it pull off a massive Presidents Cup upset?

The International team faces historic odds; can it pull off a massive Presidents Cup upset?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The U.S. Presidents Cup team includes five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Nine of them are ranked in the top 15, the most ever on a single team in the history of the event.

The International team has none, after Australia’s Cameron Smith, the third-ranked player in the world and The Open winner, jumped to the new LIV Golf circuit in late August.

History is on the Americans’ side, too. They have won 11 of the past 13 Presidents Cup competitions, losing just once and tying one other time. Many of the same U.S. players were on the Ryder Cup team that blasted the Europeans 19-9 at Whistling Straits a year ago, becoming the first squad to score 19 points and win by 10 in that more historic event.

Throw in the fact that the Presidents Cup is being played on American soil, at Quail Hollow Club, in front of thousands of U.S. fans starting Thursday, and it’s easy to see why the Americans are heavily favored to win once again.

“I think it’s quite clear that we’re the underdogs,” International team captain Trevor Immelman said. “We generally have been in this competition over the years so it’s a tag that we’re used to.”

According to Caesars Sports Book, the U.S. team is a -750 favorite to win the Presidents Cup. While anything can happen over four days of golf, an International team victory would be the equivalent of Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson or No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County taking down No. 1 seed Virginia in the NCAA tournament.

“Just because you’re the favorite they don’t give you any extra shots,” U.S. team star Scottie Scheffler said. “We don’t start 1-up. There’s a lot of talented players on the PGA Tour. It’s a very deep tour, and the internationals obviously have a lot of talent on their side, as well.”

Still, the outcome is expected to be so lopsided that U.S. team captain Davis Love III was asked by a reporter on Tuesday if he was worried about becoming the next Dennis Conner, a reference to the yacht captain who infamously lost to an Australian boat in the 1983 America’s Cup, the New York Yacht Club’s first failed defense in the 132-year history of the race. Or, as the reporter put it, the “guy who might lose the unlosable.”

“I have compared the Ryder Cup to the America’s Cup,” Love said. “Like nobody really cared about the America’s Cup until we started losing. Ted Turner used to live up the street from us in Atlanta, and nobody really cared until we lost it. Then we said, ‘How could we lose a boat race, you know?’ We’re the United States.”

American golf fans might feel the same way about the Presidents Cup if Love’s squad is on the wrong side of the scoreboard this week.

“We’re used to being called the favorite,” said Love, who captained two Ryder Cup teams. “Even when we lose three Ryder Cups in a row, they tell us, ‘Oh, but they’re the favorite.’ The other captain or the other team or [the media] remind us that we’re the favorite. So we’re used to that. That’s on paper, and a lot of great coaches will tell you the game’s not played on paper. They’re played out there on the golf course.”

It’s not like the International players haven’t accomplished anything. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Australia’s Adam Scott have won the Masters. South Korea’s Si Woo Kim and Sungjae Im have won multiple events on the PGA Tour. Canada’s Corey Conners, South Korea’s Tom Kim and Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz have each come out on top once.

“They’re all elite athletes, and they got to elite level playing on the PGA Tour,” Immelman said. “You don’t get here by accident, man, I can promise you. You don’t get here by accident. You put a ton of work in. You dedicate your life to it. You make sacrifice after sacrifice, investing time and money and blood, sweat and tears to get to this level. You don’t just wake up one morning and get onto the PGA Tour. These players are legit, all 24 of them.”

Some are more legitimate than others, though. The stacked American lineup includes Scheffler, the top-ranked player in the world, and three other past major champions: Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth. Xander Schauffele won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Patrick Cantlay was the 2021 FedEx Cup champion.

Scheffler was the only four-time winner on the PGA Tour last season. Sam Burns won three times. Tony Finau won twice. Max Homa won twice and successfully defended his title at last week’s Fortinet Championship, the first event in the wrap-around schedule for 2022-23. Cameron Young is expected to be named PGA Tour rookie of the year.

“I truly can’t imagine being overconfident,” Homa said. “The International team is great, and a lot is being made about this, being the favorite or whatever, but golf doesn’t really allow for that. Golf course setup and everything is a big deal. So they have a great team. We have a great team. I think it will be a really good golf tournament.”

There have been bigger individual upsets in golf: 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet winning the 1913 U.S. Open at his home course, the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, for starters. There have been surprising major championship winners, such as Larry Mize taking down Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros in a playoff at the 1987 Masters; South Korea’s Y.E. Yang coming from behind to take down Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.

The International team can also draw inspiration from their captain, Immelman, who won the 2008 Masters beating Woods by 3 strokes, only months after he underwent surgery to remove a golf-ball-sized tumor that was pressing on his diaphragm.

Immelman says that having eight rookies on his 12-man roster might be a benefit. They don’t have scar tissue from eight consecutive losses in the Presidents Cup. They weren’t on the 2017 team that trailed 14½ to 3½ after Saturday matches at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“I do think that it frees us up because we have nothing to lose,” Immelman said. “If you look at our record in this tournament and you look at our world rankings versus their world rankings, we have absolutely nothing to lose.”

His advice to his team of underdogs: “Have a blast and let ‘er rip.”

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