Adam Scott looked across the ballroom at the International team’s hotel on Monday night and couldn’t help but smile. It was the first official team bonding session of the week, and Scott caught a glimpse of Hideki Matsuyama picking up a cold beer, a bottle opener and ripping the lid off the first brew of the 2022 Presidents Cup.
It was a reason to celebrate before the Internationals face a star-studded American team. Why? The shy 30-year-old Japanese golfer, with whom Scott was paired for every team session in the 2013 Cup at Muirfield Village, was holding court with teammates and International captain Trevor Immelman over a few beers.
“Watching Hideki crack a beer the other day was beautiful; it was amazing because he and I have a strong history together,” Scott told Golf Digest on Wednesday. “I have so much respect for Hideki; how hard he works at his game and what he’s accomplished [eight PGA Tour wins, including the 2021 Masters]. I was chaperoning him at the 2013 Presidents Cup and now he’s an absolute superstar and a 30-year-old man. To crack a beer with him was so much fun.”
In the last few editions of the biennial team event, Scott was the instigator of his squad coming together early in the week. The International afterparties were legendary but the friendships forged during those Sunday nights came too late. They’d already competed and lost. Beginning in 2015, Scott petitioned then-captain Nick Price to mandate the International team spend Monday night together in a room, with drinks, speeches, comedians and “whatever it took to make our guys jacked up about the week as a unit.”
“Mates sharing a beer is a big part of Australian, South African and New Zealand cultures,” Scott said after a Wednesday foursomes practice session with Matsuyama. “Over the years, everybody has made a better effort to embrace all the cultures in our team. That’s why there’s [an International team] shield [that 2019 captain Ernie Els introduced]. Our team now has an identity. Look, [these bonding sessions] are probably not the best preparation for playing a major tournament but they are helpful in bridging a few of our gaps.”
One of the gaps Scott’s sessions have bridged extends to South Korea’s Si Woo Kim, making his second appearance after debuting in 2017 at Liberty National. Immelman selected Kim as a wildcard this week due to his “untapped potential and extremely high ceiling on the PGA Tour”.
“[The bonding sessions] are really helpful,” Kim said. “Adam is like one of my idols. My first time , I was a little shy and now we all know each other. We play a couple of rounds and then have a beer and I feel much more comfortable and much closer with everyone.”
Scott’s fellow Australian, Presidents Cup debutant Cameron Davis, agrees. “I think these sessions helped me feel like I’m a part of the team a lot more than I might have if we didn’t have them early in the week,” he said.
On Tuesday night, the players had another dinner where a video was played to the team showing a large number of people wishing Scott congratulations on his 10th Cup appearance, an International team record. Former skipper Els FaceTimed Scott before Els wished other Internationals good luck at Quail Hollow.
It’s not just the players who are making a concerted effort to bond early in the week. Across town on Tuesday night, the caddies went to a bowling alley. When they got back to the hotel, the International team caddie captain, Matthew “Bussy” Tritton, delivered a stirring speech. Tritton—who has looped for Matt Kuchar, Geoff Ogilvy and Peter Lonard among others— urged the International caddies to “have fun, soak up the occasion and be themselves” during the four sessions this week.
He also urged them not to stress about heavy underdog status to the American team. Tritton referenced the Collingwood Magpies, whose coach Craig McRae repeatedly delivered the same message to his team regularly this year. He took Collingwood from second-last on the ladder early in the season to the AFL’s preliminary final.
“It was a great speech and a really good night; we all felt like we came together with a clear purpose for our players this week,” said Davis’ caddie, Andrew Tschudin, a former PGA Tour pro who played the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock.
The chances are slim that the Internationals can topple an American side headlined by World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, to name a few. But they have at least developed a team culture that can give them a chance in future Cups. Scott has identified Joo-hyung “Tom” Kim as a player who can take over as the International team’s chief of morale. The 20-year-old, who at the Wyndham Championship became the second-youngest winner of a PGA Tour event since World War II, has already proven himself as a character within the team. Kim was born in South Korea and raised in Australia before moving to the Philippines as a teenager to perfect his game. He is one of four Koreans on the International team, including Si Woo, KH Lee and Sungjae Im.
“If you meet Tom, you figure it out pretty quickly he has a big personality,” Scott said. “He’s a massive talent with a big personality and can lighten the mood if needs be. His English is brilliant and he’s really bridging a gap to the Korean boys. Whether he has a great week or not, he’s going to be playing in so many of these Cups.”