Captain Ernie Els faces a huge task to arrest the Internationals' losing run in Melbourne. "I'll be going through the players' notebooks," he told Mark Townsend
On the upside the last time the International team won the Presidents Cup it came at Royal Melbourne, on the downside that was in 1998 and the only time, in 12 meetings, that they have got the better of the star-studded Americans.
Then this year’s captain Ernie Els was part of a stellar trio, which also contained Greg Norman and Vijay Singh, who contributed three and a half points as the hosts smashed the United States by 20.5-11.5 – Steve Elkington led the way with four.
The South African also captured the Heineken Classic there in 2002 by five shots to kick-start maybe his best year.
There have been claims from the International team’s leading player, Adam Scott, for Els to pick himself – something that Els jokingly says he’ll do if he can win four or five times in the next couple of months – but, come December 12, Els will be intent on doing everything in his power to add a second victory in one of the game’s lopsided clashes.
“I’ve got a lot of experience around Royal Melbourne, of the winds and certain conditions, and in the practice rounds I will make it my mission to let every single player know of where to be hitting it and definitely where the Xs are where you do not want to go,” explained the 49-year-old.
“So I’ll be going through their notebooks myself personally and putting in notes and do as much as I can to help these guys understand the course, the conditions, the winds and so forth. There could be a lot of work that I have to do on that front because it can be quite a tricky course with certain flag positions and winds. I’m going to give them even more information in the weeks ahead. I’ve got all kinds of different plans to show them how each and every hole should be played, the way I think we can get the best out of it.
“That’s kind of my job as captain to do that, and then I have to try and get the pairings matching up the best I can, and that’s my job.”
Els will likely be leaning on a lot of data analysis to help put together his pairings, admitting that the personality match-ups hadn’t really worked in previous matches, but the bottom line is that he wants his players to arrive in Victoria as though they were preparing for one of the biggest weeks of the year.
“Every time we’ve had a team meeting in the last year or so, I’ve stressed to them that they’ve got to try and be prepared, meaning that every part of their game should be at a championship level. Basically try and prepare like you prepare for a major where you try and have the whole game to be there.”
As for who might be in line for one of the four captain’s picks the list seems never-ending. In the space of the 40-minute sit-down Els reeled off no fewer than 18 possibles for the final four spots – Jason Day, Erik van Rooyen, Branden Grace, Jhonattan Vegas, Adam Hadwin, Brandon Jones, Ryo Ishikawa, Sungjae Im, Ben An, Lucas Herbert, Ryan Fox, Danny Lee, Justin Harding, Jazz Janewattananond, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Si Woo Kim, Emiliano Grillo and Joaquin Niemann.
As things stand the American eight who are confirmed for Melbourne are all in the world’s top 20, Els only has Scott, someone he repeatedly singled out to be his talisman, to call on.
On paper it looks even more skewed than ever and the bookies have the Americans as 2/5 favourites but Els is hoping that Royal Melbourne and the home support might swing things the home side’s way.
“Royal Melbourne is our trump card. It’s not many times we can play together, especially us Southern Hemisphere people have quite a reputation to beat up on each other when we can in cricket or rugby or athletics for that matter or any other sport, but this time we’re playing together as a team, and Australians, South Africans, the whole world, we’re playing as one team. And we would love to have obviously Royal Melbourne and the Melbourne Australian public right behind us.”
Presidents Cup international team
- Hideki Matsuyama (Japan)
- Adam Scott (Australia)
- Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa)
- Marc Leishman (Australia)
- Abraham Ancer (Mexico)
- Haotong Li (China)
- Cameron Smith (Australia)
- CT Pan (Taiwan)
Captain Ernie Els will have four wildcard picks to be confirmed at a later date.
The 2019 Presidents Cup will take place at Royal Melbourne from December 19-22.