Presidents Cup International team at Quail Hollow shredded by Greg Norman’s LIV vendetta

LIV shreds Presidents Cup International team at Quail Hollow

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2022 Presidents Cup

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Greg Norman once complained that, after playing in two Presidents Cups and captaining the International team twice, he had been summarily cut loose. It took him nine years to exact his revenge, but it has been served duly cold.

Not only the International squad but the event itself has been weakened since Norman started splashing his Saudi blood money around in furtherance of his vendetta against the PGA Tour. The biggest American defections to Norman’s Saudi-backed LIV Tour have been either struggling or past their primes, but this summer’s golf civil war cost the team Norman once captained — and led to its only win as a player — some of its best talent at Quail Hollow.

British Open champion Cameron Smith, gone. Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, both top-25 players, out. Veterans like Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman, unavailable. The International team is missing not only its best player in Smith but four veterans who nearly pulled an upset on Norman’s own home turf in Melbourne in 2019.

Cam Smith Auastralia 2022 Masters first round
Cameron Smith of Australia handles his golf ball after putting on No. 2 during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, Thursday, April 7, 2022. Sam Greenwood Sam Greenwood/Augusta National

Meanwhile, there’s not really anyone the United States is missing. None of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka or Patrick Reed have been playing even vaguely well; there maybe could have been a historical argument for Johnson or Reed as a captain’s pick under normal circumstances, but even that would have been a massive stretch.

What’s left — a nearly full strength US team against a cobbled-together International team full of first-timers — vaguely recalls the less-than-glory days of the Ryder Cup, before all of Europe was invited to the party, when the Americans used to beat the snot out of the Brits and Irish on a regular basis, losing three times in 50 years thanks to a talent differential that was almost impossible to overcome.

Things have obviously been different in the Ryder Cup since 1979, and that newfound competitiveness is what transformed it from a largely ceremonial — albeit still dramatic as often as not — event to the biennial highlight of the golf calendar. That’s also what’s been missing from the Presidents Cup, where the International team has struggled to gain the same traction as its European counterparts.

The last matches in Melbourne in 2019 had some real thrill, and the growth of international golf figured to put real pressure on the Americans in Charlotte, right up until Norman’s transformation into straw-haired Bond villain took a bone saw to the roster. The timing is terrible.

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Joaquin Niemann lines up a putt on the 13th green during the final round of the LIV Golf Invitational-Boston tournament, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022, in Bolton, Mass. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm) Mary Schwalm PA

Whatever the LIV breakaway has meant for golf at large, it has put a massive damper on this particular tournament. The state of golf in The Rest of the World is strong, but top-heavy. There’s neither the depth of talent nor experience to easily replace players like Smith or Niemann or Ancer, three of the top six International players in the world golf rankings.

Nor are there veterans like Leishman or Anirban Lahiri, potential captain’s picks, just sitting on the shelf, just the wrong Australian Cameron (Davis, not Smith).

The US, meanwhile, never blinked, not when the LIV players left, not when Will Zalatoris got hurt. Kevin Kisner, the last American in the boat, would be the sixth-ranked player on the International team after the LIV defections. Nine of the 12 US players are ranked ahead of Hideki Matsuyama, tops among the Internationals.

In the end, none of that matters. The PGA Tour and LIV Tour will continue to fight their proxy wars elsewhere. This tournament will be played, as scheduled, and just because the United States is expected to win easily doesn’t mean it will win, or if it does, that it will be easy.

Match play has a way of evening things out. Norman knows that. Even in 1998, when his International team won for the only time, he lost his Sunday singles match to Woods, in his own backyard.

RBCHeritage2_Abraham Ancer.jpeg
Abraham Ancer pitches to the 9th green during the second round of tournament play of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Friday, April 16, 2021 at Harbor Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island. Scott Schroeder For the Packet

INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS

What the 12-man International roster for the Presidents Cup would have looked like with players who left for the LIV Tour. Official World Golf Ranking in parentheses; defective players in bold italics. The lowest-ranked US player, Kevin Kisner, is 27th.

Cameron Smith, Australia (3)

Hideki Matsuyama, Japan (16)

Sungjae Im, South Korea (18)

Joaquin Niemann, Chile (20)

Tom Kim, South Korea (21)

Abraham Ancer, Mexico (24)

Corey Connors, Canada (25)

Adam Scott, Australia (30)

Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa (33)

KH Lee, South Korea (41)

Mito Pereira, Chile (49)

Cameron Davis, Australia (63)

Sebastian Munoz, Columbia (65)

Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa (66)

Si Woo Kim, South Korea (74)

Taylor Pendrith, Canada (107)

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This story was originally published September 19, 2022 5:49 AM.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock joined The News & Observer in 2000 and has covered six Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He is the current president of the US Basketball Writers Association, was the 2020 winner of the National Headliner Award as the country’s top sports columnist and has twice been named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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