International team grabs momentum, but now enters the U.S. side's wheelhouse




 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Trevor Immelman paused to consider the question and the previously jovial room fell silent.

"The vibe is …" the South African said with a pause, "the vibe is hopeful. The vibe is hopeful. Today was a big step for a very young and inexperienced team. Eight rookies. We have had a lot thrown against us, and we're here competing against the best on their home turf.  Today was a good day for us."

Since taking the gig as captain of the International Presidents Cup team, there have been some tough days for Immelman. First, the matches were postponed a year by a global pandemic. That led to the emergence of LIV Golf and a talent drain that robbed Immelman of the core of a team that pushed the Americans to the brink in 2019 at Royal Melbourne.

But Saturday at Quail Hollow Club was different. After splitting the morning foursomes, which given the International team's pedestrian record in the format was somewhat encouraging, Immelman's young team stunned the American side in the fourballs session, winning three of the four matches to trim the U.S. lead to four points.

It's far from a best-case scenario, but it was enough to give the International side hope where none had existed. And it was largely thanks to a 20-year-old ball of energy who can't get a rental car yet and didn't have his PGA Tour membership at this time last year.

Tom Kim inspired and incensed with equal abandon on Day 3, teaming with K.H. Lee early Saturday to stun world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, 2 and 1. In the afternoon frame, Kim fist-bumped his way to an even more impressive victory over previously undefeated Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele with what might be the shot the match, a 2-iron from 235 yards to 10 feet for a walk-off birdie at the 18th hole.

"He's been such a tremendous gift to our sport," Immelman said. "He has an ability to be a global superstar, this kid. I know he has the game. We've seen he has the game. But what I've learned about his personality and his heart and what he stands for this week, man, I am a huge fan."

Captain Immelman 'almost in tears' after Internationals rally

Adam Scott, the face of International futility for two decades, provided Immelman the rest of his side's momentum. For weeks the Australian explained the best way for him to be a leader was to win points and he finally delivered alongside Hideki Matsuyama with a morning rout of Cam Young and Collin Morikawa, 3 and 2. He followed that with an equally impressive victory with fellow Aussie Cam Davis, 1 up, over Billy Horschel and Sam Burns in fourballs.

For the first time in more than a decade, Scott can post a winning record at the Presidents Cup with a victory in Sunday singles over Cantlay and, like Immelman, the emotion of the moment wasn't lost on the 42-year-old.

"We were in a deep hole coming here on the bus this morning, and all of the boys dug really deep," Scott said. "You know, we halved the morning session, and we won the afternoon session, and the momentum, I think over the course of my career in this, there hasn't been many times I've felt momentum going our way. And today, we had the momentum."

But if the International team has hope and momentum on its side, history suggests the Rest of the World is simply being set up for more failure.

The Internationals need to win 8 ½ of 12 points on Sunday. No team in this event has ever won more than eight points in the Sunday singles session and the International team has never done better than 7 ½ points in the final session. In fact, the Internationals have only won the singles session three times and U.S. captain Davis Love III's decision to front-load his lineup with Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Burns and Cantlay in the day's first four games sends a clear message.

Full match scoring from the Presidents Cup

Love has been here before and knows the consequences of indecision. At the 2012 Ryder Cup, Love's U.S. team also led by four points after the team sessions, but they lost the momentum late Saturday before being steamrolled in singles in a 14 ½-13 ½ loss. Four years later, having learned his lesson, Love turned a three-point Day 3 advantage into a commanding victory, 17-11, at Hazeltine National.

"They got some momentum today," Love said. "They started making some putts, and we're going to have to turn around tomorrow and come out hot and try to get the momentum back.

"Yeah, four points is four points. It's been a big number. I've been four behind before too, you know. We've been four ahead, four behind. We've watched the Solheim Cup be four ahead. It's a magical number."

Maybe the better comp is the 1999 Ryder Cup when the U.S. team began the final day trailing the Europeans 10-6. But this wasn't then-U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw wagging his finger at the media on the eve of the final day.

This was Immelman finally having something to be hopeful about.

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