ATLANTA — Trevor Immelman has been working on the phone for months trying to learn the latest happenings with LIV Golf. It’s not that the captain of the International Presidents Cup team cares about the success or failure of the Saudi-backed circuit, but rather what any defection means for his roster as he’s preparing for next month’s game at Quail Hollow.
“I’ve called players, caddies and agents to try to be as prepared as possible,” Immelman said Wednesday when reached by phone.
The 42-year-old South African should only wait a few days before finding out who is staying and who is leaving. Multiple reports suggest that up to seven PGA Tour players who made the FedEx Cup Qualifiers will announce they will join the rival Saudi-backed tour after the Tour Championship in Atlanta. The new recruits are believed to next play LIV Golf’s next event outside of Boston on September 2-4. These players will be banned by the PGA Tour and become ineligible to play in the Presidents Cup, which takes place September 22-25 in Charlotte.
“The timeline is falling on us now,” Immelman said, “and I think we’re about to get a lot of clarity on who’s going to be in Quail Hollow.”
Among the seven who would leave for LIV is Australian Cameron Smith, the No. 2 ranked player in the world who won The Players Championship in March and The Open Championship at St. Andrews in July (Smith didn’t not denied the information). Smith’s compatriot Marc Leishman is also said to have joined the Greg Norman-led LIV Tour.
It’s safe to say that Immelman is on high alert. “I don’t know if ‘nervous’ is the right word…maybe it is,” the 2008 Masters champion noted. “I’m a bit anxious but also excited.”
Eight automatic international team qualifiers have been finalized – including Smith, as well as Hideki Matsuyama, Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann, Tom Kim, Corey Conners, Adam Scott and Mito Periera – while four captain picks are to be made on September 6. . USA captain Davis Love III has six qualifiers in place (Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Sam Burns, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau) and will round out his roster with six captain picks on Sept. 7.
If Smith were to drop out of the mix, it would be a blow to the Internationals, given the 29-year-old is playing the best golf of his life. He was also impressive on his 2019 debut for Royal Melbourne, beating Justin Thomas in singles. His elite putting is made for match play.
Immelman was also eyeing Leishman, a six-time PGA Tour winner who was 17th on the points list but has been a key contributor to the Internationals’ team morale in his previous four Cup appearances, as the captain’s pick.
Using his time on the road this year as a PGA Tour commentator for CBS to bond with team candidates, Immelman is confident he can assemble a competitive team even if he has to dip in the standings. Justifiable captain picks could include South Korean KH Lee, as well as South Africans Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout. There are also a few heavy hitters on the roster whose driving distance could come in handy during the long Quail Hollow, including Canadian Taylor Pendrith and New Zealander Ryan Fox.
“There’s a ton of depth, but we’d be silly not to recognize players who can go to [LIV] have the potential to hurt our team,” Immelman said.
At the Tour Championship on Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was enthusiastic about both teams, but also pragmatic about the implications of LIV. “There is so much depth right now, [but] I think both captains and both teams recognize that there is a next player philosophy,” Monahan said.
The banning of LIV golfers by the PGA Tour has sparked an old discussion about whether the international team should work separately from the Tour. After a lopsided loss in the 2017 Presidents Cup at New Jersey’s Liberty National, then-captain Ernie Els said his successors would have to “make our own decisions” on things like the selection process and the course configuration when the Cup is played outside of the United States. the international team had its own governance structure, LIV golfers such as Abraham Ancer, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel could still be allowed to compete. Inconvenient as it may be for circuit officials, the inclusion of these top players would strengthen the international team and, in doing so, the event.
But Immelman said rules were rules.
“We had conversations [with golfers such as Els] over the past five years on the possibility of the international team becoming self-sustaining. While that sounds good, it’s not that simple,” he said. “There are a ton of moving parts. I don’t think people realize all the hard work that goes into making the PGA Tour events run smoothly.
The future of the Presidents Cup may not be as bright as when Tiger Woods led Team USA to an emotional victory as captain at Royal Melbourne in 2019. This hotly contested edition brought an event to life unbalanced plagued by the fact that the Internationals have won only once (1998) in 13 tries.
But Immelman is ready to roll up his sleeves for a fight against an American team. “The 12 internationals we end up with will be the 12 who have decided to make our squad,” Immelman said, “and that’s who I want to go into the trenches with.”