When the captain speaks, the players listen.
Presidents Cup International team captain Ernie Els has stressed team unity since his appointment as he puts together a team capable of taking on the might of the Tiger Woods-led US team at Royal Melbourne this December.
Team meetings, dinners and bonding sessions have been high on the agenda and this week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, captain Els’ call to arms sees 20-plus prospective International team players lining up in the US PGA Tour’s only team event.
Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott heard the captains call loud and clear and have teamed up in New Orleans for the first time.
The Queenslanders, both Major championships winners and former world No.1s, didn’t take too much convincing, although they haven’t played together as a pair since the 2015 Presidents Cup, and this will be Scott’s New Orleans debut.
“It’s my first time to this tournament, my first time to New Orleans. First time playing in this format on the PGA Tour. It fits in nicely after a pretty intense period through the Masters, and with this new schedule, the PGA [Championship] coming, it’s kind of nice to come out and play competitive golf but in a slightly more relaxed format, and I feel my game is in good shape. I want to keep it there,” Scott said at the pre-tournament press conference.
Day, who finished just two shots behind Tiger Woods at the Masters after both he and Scott shared the 36-hole lead, is inside the top eight automatic selections for the International team at No.6, whereas Scott is currently ranked 11th, although almost everyone bar Scott himself has him pegged for a start.
“Ernie has talked a little bit to the media about some of the efforts he’s made in trying to bring his team together. We’re a long way out. The team is far from set but trying to get as many guys here to play certainly might help Ernie later in the year. And speaking from a guy who’s not on the team at the moment, Jason probably is locked up, but I feel like it’s important, too, that guys like Jason or myself or some of the senior members of Presidents Cup teams made the effort,” Scott said.
Scott, at 38, is now one of the more experienced members of the International team and he’s tired of being on the end of the US domination. He’s keen to do whatever Captain Els asks to give the Internationals the best chance of success at Royal Melbourne in December.
“This hasn’t been on the schedule before, and I’ve sat through a lot of Presidents Cup beat-downs over the years, and I’ve kind of had enough of it. 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 feel the frustrations. I think probably Jason feels the same. So let’s try to turn it around, and if this helps Ernie later in the year, then I’m all for that,” Scott said.
The Zurich Classic format mirrors the Presidents Cup team element with four-ball best ball (first and third rounds) and foursomes (second and final rounds) played across the four days. It’s a format that suits the Australians.
“I believe Jason and I are a really formidable pairing. I don’t care who else is on the team and what team we’re playing. I think who we play has to turn and take notice of us, and I’ve tried to push for it to happen more often, but there’s a lot of different opinions and things to happen,” Scott said.
“You know, you have to play as a team member and do what’s best for the team, but I would definitely push for this pairing certainly in Australia. I think it’s very formidable.”
“Scotty just hit the nail on the head there,” Day added. “If me and Scotty play together the rest of the Presidents Cups that we play in, I’d be over the moon because I think it’s a good pairing.”
“I know that Adam was very – he voiced his opinion with regards to putting us together, and I would like to see that more often, especially in the Presidents Cup, but this is a good opportunity, like Adam said, a good opportunity to see where we’re at with regards to the guys that are playing or the potential guys that are playing on the Presidents Cup and seeing how they play well, play this week in tournament-like conditions like we’re going to see down in Melbourne.”
Both Scott and Day know that the US team will be hard to beat, and despite the prospect of having fellow Aussies Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith on the International team, the strength and popularity of the US side means the home-ground advantage might not be as pronounced as expected. It’s something Day experienced on home soil in 2011.
“So we played 2011, and granted, we don’t get a lot of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and a lot of these big-name American players down there, so when we’re playing, you could hear the cheers for our team, but also you could hear cheers for Tiger,” Day said.
“We’re playing at home and it’s great to be able to represent your country and play at home, but as the Australian fans don’t get to see these types of players because they don’t really travel down to Australia too often such as Tiger Woods and Phil and all these other guys. So we’re hoping for a big home crowd. We want the fans to be loud, and we’re trying to get as many family members and everyone down there just so we can have that support, and I think that goes a long way with regards to picking the players up and trying to win the Presidents Cup for the second time.”
“It’s highly likely all 12 of their guys can be in the top 20 in the world,” Scott added.
“I mean, this is a very hard time, I don’t care what course you put us on, to go and beat. So I think it’s starting from the top with Ernie. He’s changing the way the captaincy and the assistants, the leadership roles operate, and that will filter down through the players from the top to the bottom, and hopefully this is the start of a new kind of feeling among the international players. The younger guys that are coming through need to see our team win and how much we can all care about this.”