Date: May 22, 2019
Author: Courtesy of Ernie Els/PGA Tour

CAPTAIN ELS: Blog Vol. 2

The past couple of months have been really exciting for the International Team, with many of our potential players producing some wonderful golf and enjoying success worldwide.

In a span of six weeks, we witnessed three PGA TOUR wins by Canadian Corey Conners (Valero Texas Open), C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei (RBC Heritage) and Korea’s Sung Kang (AT&T Byron Nelson) which have improved their chances of qualifying for the International Team to face the United States Team in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia from December 9-15.

Winning on the PGA TOUR is one of the ultimate dreams for every aspiring golfer and seeing how Corey, C.T and Sung Kang fought for their maiden wins in the U.S. was very impressive. More importantly, I was encouraged to hear all three players saying how determined they are in wanting to fight for their places in the Presidents Cup. Their enthusiasm will help generate a lot of positive buzz and energy in the team room, which is important.

I was pleased to see Sung Kang following up on his victory with a seventh-place finish at the PGA Championship while Adam Scott, who is one of our team’s stalwarts, finished T8. Another international player who has caught my attention is Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond, whom I had the opportunity to play with in Malaysia recently. This kid has got talent and at Bethpage Black, he showed us what he can do with a solid T14 finish to move up to 12th in the standings.

Though it may seem as if the world was introduced to Jazz last week, this 23-year-old has had his fair share of professional success after turning pro at age 15. He’s won three times on the Asian Tour and defeated a strong field at the Singapore Open this year. With the PGA being just his fourth PGA TOUR start, it was quite encouraging to see him perform so well under an enormous amount of pressure.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate Brooks Koepka for his impressive victory. What he has accomplished in the past few years is nothing short of remarkable, and he is going to be a formidable opponent as part of the U.S. Team in December.

Currently, our top-eight players on the International Team points list consist of four established Presidents Cup team members in Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day while Cameron Smith, Haotong Li, Justin Harding and Abraham Ancer are in good position to book their maiden appearances, with qualifying concluding in mid-August. I’ll then have four captain’s picks to round up my 12-man team in early November following the PGA TOUR’s Asia swing.

We’ve already seen on numerous occasions what Cameron can do on the golf course and I’ve been impressed by Haotong and Justin as well following some eye-catching performances. Haotong, whom I played with when he shot that amazing 63 in the final round of The Open Championship in 2017, is tenacious and fiery when he gets into the ‘zone’ and he showed a lot of heart in finishing second to Dustin Johnson in Saudi Arabia earlier this year. We all saw how he backed it up with another strong showing at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play where he reached the round of 16 following outstanding group wins over two top players in Alex Noren and Brooks Koepka.

I’ve followed Justin’s progress very closely since he started playing on the Sunshine Tour and it’s been amazing to see his rise over the past 18 months where he has won five times in Asia, South Africa and on the European Tour. He is quite a fighter with a wonderful short game and he showed all those qualities with wins over Luke List and Matthew Fitzpatrick in  the Match Play before being stopped by Rory McIlroy.

It’s been really fun to see how his confidence and game have soared to new heights and Justin showed us at the  Masters Tournament that he can become a global player with an impressive T12 finish in his debut appearance. A career first PGA TOUR top-10 at the AT&T Byron Nelson has only cemented his growing reputation and I’d be the least surprised if he seals his ticket to Australia.

I was happy to see Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace reaching the round of 16 as well at the Match Play which will put our team in good stead when we face what will be a strong U.S. Team led by Tiger Woods.

Leading as team captain for the first time requires a lot of preparation and thoughts and I believe we had a fruitful week during the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Being the only official two-man team FedExCup tournament on TOUR, it allowed our players to bond closer and also try out some partnerships in the fourball and foursomes format.

Many of our guys opted to pair up with the likes of Jason Day partnering Adam Scott, Louis teaming up with Charl Schwartzel, Justin playing with Branden, Abraham Ancer getting together with Jhonattan Vegas and Anirban Lahiri combining with Shubhankar Sharma.

We also stayed in the same hotel in New Orleans and enjoyed some fun team building sessions where the aim was to get the new guys familiarising with the more established players. As you know, our team is made up of golfers from different nationalities and cultures and it’s really important to gel as one team, hence the reason for our new International Team logo which incorporates the respective players’ national flags.

I also liked what my friend, Trevor Immelman said during our press conference together at the Zurich Classic where we teamed up. He believes our team’s diversity can be our strength which I fully agree. This is something we will continue to harness in the coming months as part of our plans to wrest the Presidents Cup from the U.S.

Speaking of Trevor, I’m delighted and honoured that he, along with Mike Weir and K.J. Choi,  have agreed to be my captain’s assistants, joining Geoff Ogilvy who we announced in November at the World Cup of Golf. I have played alongside the three guys in numerous Presidents Cups and tournaments around the world and I know they have the same passion, drive and determination to create a winning formula for our team. All of them still compete regularly on the PGA TOUR and I believe their relationships with our International players will be an asset to our team.

On a personal note, I was over the moon to become the first golfer to register 300 career top-10s since the introduction of the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986 following my T7 finish at the Maybank Championship. Admittedly, my last three or four years have been a struggle, so I was really happy I played some good golf in Malaysia.

Another player who also played some good golf recently was Tiger and I want to congratulate him for his sensational victory at the Masters Tournament. What he did at Augusta National was amazing and I could not be happier for him knowing what he has been through in recent years following his battles with back injuries. However when we meet at Royal Melbourne in December, I’ll be doing my best to outwit him.

I hear that ticket sales for the Presidents Cup has been very good and if you are an international golf or sports fan living in Melbourne or anywhere close to Australia, do make sure you buy your tickets now on www.presidentscup.comand cheer us on at Royal Melbourne!

Bye for now.
Captain Els