07 Nov 2019 | Professional golf |
Els plays youth card for Royal
by Mark Hayes
Ernie Els made his captain's picks for the upcoming Presidents Cup today ... and he's gone for youth.
As expected, Els made Jason Day the fourth Australian on the International team, with the Queenslander having finished narrowly outside the eight automatic selections.
He then turned to Canada to add Adam Hadwin for his second Presidents Cup start, primarily based on some outstanding recent form.
But in next adding Chilean Joaquin Niemann - who turns 21 today - and Korean Sungjae Im, also 21, he turned his already underdog squad into the youngest ever team to play in the Presidents Cup, to have its 13th edition at Royal Melbourne from 12-15 December.
Those four join automatic picks Marc Leishman, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith, all of Australia, South African Louis Oosthuizen, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, Mexico's Abraham Ancer, China's Haotong Li and CT Pan, of Taiwan.
The newcomers make it the most "diverse" International team in history, too, with China, Taiwan and Chile all represented for the first time in a team whose average age is just a tick over 29.
The International team has 22 total previous Presidents Cup appearances among its members, but six players will make their debuts, the second most first-timers behind the seven of 2013.
Els, in his first appearance as captain after eight as a player, said his decisions had been among the toughest jobs he'd faced in golf.
He highlighted fellow South Africans Branden Grace and Erik Van Rooyen among the unlucky players, along with Canadian Corey Conners and Korean Ben Ahn.
But Els said putting had been a key factor as he seeks to find a squad capable of replicating the International team's only Presidents Cup win at Royal Melbourne in 1998.
"This was a very difficult for me. There were numerous guys I had to call and I did before
the selected guys, guys who were really close (to being chosen," he said.
"It was really difficult to tell them they were not on the team.
"I wanted good driving (and) good ball striking, but putting is very important. In my experience of this Cup, it comes down to pressure putting in a lot of instances.
"So I went with four guys who are consistent and strong under pressure."
Els fully expects his American counterpart Tiger Woods to choose himself to become the first playing captain since Hale Irwin in the inaugural 1994 Presidents Cup when the United States team is finalised tomorrow.
"I don't think he's got any choice," Els said with a chuckle.
"But yes, it's a very, very big chance he'll choose himself ... and under the format rules he only has to play once before Sunday, not that he will want to do that."
But Els said regardless of their opponents, he expected his team to come out fighting at Royal Melbourne.
"I didn't mean to make such a young team, it just happened," Els said.
"But I'm not afraid to play anyone (of my players at any point in the event)."
"From our point of iew, we're comfortable and happy and ready to go come December.
"It's going to be one hell of a Cup."
Courtesy of the US PGA Tour, here are the relevant bios of Els' captain's picks:
Jason Day (finished No.9 in the International Team standings) will return for his fifth consecutive Presidents Cup and first as a captain’s pick. The former world No.1 rounds out the Australian contingent of the International team made up by Marc Leishman (No.1), Adam Scott (No.4) and newcomer Cameron Smith (No.8).
Day owns a 5-11-4 Presidents Cup record but has had plenty of success in match play elsewhere on the PGA Tour, having compiled a 22-14-0 record and two victories (2014, 2016) in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
After narrowly missing out on one of the eight automatic qualifying berths, Day will return to the site of his Presidents Cup debut at Royal Melbourne in 2011, where he finished with a 1-3-1 record. Day competed at Royal Melbourne two years later in the 2013 World Cup of Golf and teamed with Scott to successfully defend on their home soil.
Adam Hadwin (No.18) will make his second consecutive Presidents Cup appearance and first as a captain’s pick. The 31-year-old finished the 2018-19 PGA Tour season with five top-10s but made his best case for a captain’s pick after finishing runner up in his first start of the 2019-20 season at the Safeway Open, which was then followed with a T4 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Hadwin is just one of three Canadians to compete in the Presidents Cup, joining 2019 captain’s assistant Mike Weir (2000, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009) and Graham DeLaet (2013).
Hadwin finished with a 0-2-1 record in his Presidents Cup debut at Liberty National.
Korea’s Sungjae Im (No.11) will continue a memorable first year on the PGA Tour by making his Presidents Cup debut. The 21-year-old’s stellar rookie season was highlighted by 16 top-25 finishes in 35 starts, a trip to the Tour Championship as the only rookie in the field and earning the Arnold Palmer Award as the Rookie of the Year.
Im continued his strong form into the early stages of the 2019-20 PGA TOUR Season, collecting top-5 finishes at the Sanderson Farms Championship (2nd) and the ZOZO Championship (T3) to further convince Els that he deserved a captain’s pick.
Im is one of five players in Presidents Cup history to compete before turning 22 years old, joining Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa (2009, 2011), Jordan Spieth (2013), Hideki Matsuyama (2013) and Joaquín Niemann (2019).
Joaquín Niemann (No.28) is a former world No.1 amateur and will be the first player from Chile to compete in the Presidents Cup after becoming the country’s first PGA Tour winner with his victory at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in September.
Niemann is the sixth player from South America to qualify for the Presidents Cup, joining Carlos Franco (Paraguay/1998, 2000) Angel Cabrera (Argentina/2005, 2007, 2009, 2013), Emiliano Grillo (Argentina/2017), Jhonattan Vegas (Venezuela/2017) and Camilo Villegas (Colombia/2009). He is one of five players in Presidents Cup history to compete before turning 22 years old, joining Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa (2009, 2011), Jordan Spieth (2013), Hideki Matsuyama (2013) and Sungjae Im (2019).
Niemann earned his PGA Tour card at 19 years old and enjoyed a successful first full season on the PGA Tour in 2018-19 that yielded four top-10 finishes in 28 starts. His win at the 2019-20 season opener was a coming-out party for the young talent, who turned a three-stroke 54-hole lead into a six-stroke victory with a final-round 64.
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