I’m sitting here two days after the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne and it is still all I can think about.
It was such a great week for me as an assistant to International Captain Ernie Els. Disappointing too, of course. Losing is never fun. But, on the other hand, I see great hope for the future of the event. At least in my experience – I played in three Cups against the United States – this was the best performance by an International team.
It was great to see how invested everyone was in doing well. Golf is an individual sport, but this time every member of the side bought into what we were trying to achieve. There was no lethargy. And that was epitomised by Ernie’s captaincy. He did everything really, really well. His speeches were spell-binding. You couldn’t not listen. He has such presence. And he commands attention, which is what he got through speaking to all our guys as if they were grown-ups. They responded accordingly.
In the lead-up to the matches, the signs were good. Everyone was really excited to get there. And the communication was great. Given how well things were going off the course, if everyone had been in form, I really think we would have won. But, for me, the only difference between the sides was the talent-gap that anyone could see from the world-rankings. Our guys tried as hard as you could try. They played well. But, at the end of the day, every one of the American side was ranked inside the top-24 in the world. We had two players – Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen – inside that number.
So it was a tough ask for us. But not certainly impossible.
Royal Melbourne was amazing and the real star of the week. The weather was perfect, although it would have been nice to have one day with a northerly wind blowing. Just to see the course play a little different, especially when, these days, the players don’t have to hit too many drivers in order to get to where they want to be on most holes.
Which brings me to the stats-based system Ernie employed to come up with who played and didn’t played at any one time. I’m not going to go into any kind of detail. As Ernie said at the post-match press conference, “I was only going to tell you if we won.” But what I can say is that it was basically gathering all the information and data available on all of the players.
All of which gave us a clearer picture of strengths and weaknesses. I’m not sure how it is all done, to be honest. But the end result is Ernie had more information than ever before when it came to picking the team, which is not to say there wasn’t some instinct involved. Think of it this way. A few years ago, every player on Tour used a yardage book. Now we have the distance, the up-and-down of the terrain, altitude, all kinds of stuff. In other words, just more information that helps to come to the ultimate conclusion and a more informed decision.
“He (Captain Ernie Els) did everything really, really well. His speeches were spell-binding. You couldn’t not listen. He has such presence. And he commands attention.” – Geoff Ogilvy
For me, it all made sense. But the best part was that everyone bought in. Everyone loved the process, one that actually lasted all year. There were a lot of practice rounds at events where possible pairings were tried out. Information came from those, all of which went into the pot. Nothing is spit out the other end of the “computer,” but it all helps the end result. And, possibly most importantly, it imbued everyone with a confidence that this was the right way to go with pairings and order of play. It all made sense.
No one was questioning pairings. No one was questioning their place in the order. There was no mumbling in the background. No one was saying, “I should be playing with x, or not playing with y.” No one was questioning how to play the course and the individual holes. That is huge in any team. In the end, you could say it was all common sense. But the system meant we got there quicker.
One thing that distinguishes the Presidents Cup from the Ryder Cup is that the captains and their assistants gather each evening to make their picks, to and fro. It’s an interesting aspect of the contest and a bit of fun. But what I took from the process was that we knew what we were doing and the Americans didn’t. They were making decisions on the run. That’s what it felt like. We went in with a plan; they reacted to our plan.
That gave our guys confidence. They were all glued to the television as the picks went back and forth. And I know it gave my fellow assistants confidence too. We knew what we were doing. There wasn’t one moment all week where we looked at each other and said, “What do we do now?”
A big part of all that was Ernie’s presence, his command and his understanding of competitive golf. He is a genius when it comes to competing. He understands that importance of everyone seeming confident. He knows how important it is to put the right people together in foursomes and four-balls. He was a leader, which is why we did so well in the team formats.
My fellow assistants and I had a fair bit of input, too. Ernie used us a sounding boards for ideas. We were there to help the captain, not be captains ourselves. I think we all played our roles within that. And we all had our different areas of expertise, mine being my familiarity with the golf course. It all added to the mix.
Looking forward, the International team is in a better place than ever before.
Everyone left Melbourne buoyant, if disappointed at the end result. And the post-match banter has reflected that mood. Everyone is really excited about the next match, which is key. This was a young team and maybe more than half will have a really good chance to be involved in two years’ time. Sungjae Im – who was a real star – could be in the side for the next 20 years. And Adam probably has at least another one in him.
What would help a little next time is to have a few guys in the mix who have a bit more “pointy-end” Presidents Cup experience. We had the best-12 players available this time. But guys like Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel would be good additions to any squad. In my experience, guys do better in their second Presidents Cup than their first, better in their third than their second. With seven rookies, we maybe lacked a little of that aspect.
“What was disappointing to me was that no one acknowledged just how bad (Patrick Reed’s) actions were in that bunker in the Bahamas a week earlier.” – Geoff Ogilvy
In 2021, the matches will be played at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina. That is not a course that will surprise any of our players. It is one they will all be familiar with, which is important.
In closing, I must mention what went on with Patrick Reed during the week in Melbourne. Our feeling was that it was all a massive advantage for us to see that sort of turmoil in the other camp. To be fair, every American did a great job acting like it wasn’t stressing them out. But we knew it was bubbling under the surface. There was definitely tension.
What was disappointing to me was that no one acknowledged just how bad his actions were in that bunker in the Bahamas a week earlier. Golf can’t function if guys decide to do what Patrick did. There are, say, 156 golfers teeing-up most weeks and there are cameras on about eight of them. So just about everyone could do what Patrick did if they wanted to. All the time. But no one does. Because we have all decided that is how golf should be played. We have to trust the people we are playing with.
But that was not the message. Instead, the impression given was that you’ll be okay if you do what Patrick did. I don’t like that message. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Still, the International players were all super-classy. They looked Patrick in the eye when they shook his hand. And Tiger handled it the only way he could. He had to keep his team united. But none of them liked what Patrick had done. And the altercation his caddie had with a fan only added to the tension.
Which was odd. Compared to what I’ve seen in the States, any heckling at Royal Melbourne was mild and isolated. There was nothing personal. But if you scratch the sand behind your ball in a bunker you are going to get a bit of stick. That’s what happens. So Patrick was the one who messed-up.
Anyway, the whole thing only added to what was already a high-level of motivation within our side. It wasn’t to be this time. But it will be soon. Our time is coming.