The U.S. has more than its share of major figures capable of carrying the torch during the Presidents Cup golf match this coming week: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, the Statue of Liberty . . .
As if the Americans did not have enough of an advantage with a star-filled lineup — Johnson, Spieth and Thomas all are among the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking and Mickelson is making his 23rd appearance in a U.S. uniform — the setting at Liberty National in Jersey City could be enough to put them way over the top against the Internationals.
Lady Liberty will be clearly visible from the course, hovering over the four-day team event, adding a tall helping of symbolism. “I just think it’s an unbelievable spot,” U.S. captain Steve Stricker said. “It’s the melting pot of our great country. Many people came through New York to come to our country. We see the city in the background. We see the Statue of Liberty that signifies freedom. It’s just a great place.”
Add to that the fact that the U.S. is 9-1-1 all-time in the Presidents Cup and you get the idea one side will be an overwhelming favorite. Which could be the greatest problem. “We can’t be complacent,” said Mickelson, who played well enough in the FedEx Cup playoffs that Stricker chose him as a captain’s pick. “If we play our best and we’re prepared, I believe we’ll come out on top, for sure. But they are an incredibly talented team and if we’re not ready and we don’t play our best . . . we’ll get beat.”
In that sense, the pressure will be on the side that figures to receive a pronounced boost from an expected sellout crowd. In Spieth, Thomas and Brooks Koepka, the U.S. has three-fourths of the 2017 major champions, the Internationals have none. The Americans have seven of the top 20 in the world ranking, the other side has three.
Golf experts believe that Internationals captain Nick Price’s best strategy is to play up the underdog role. Make his players feel like poor, tired, huddled masses. “I would be talking about what a year this has been in terms of upsets,” Brandel Chamblee, an analyst on Golf Channel, said during a conference call. “Donald Trump winning, England leaving the (European Union). Si Woo Kim winning the Players Championship.”
The Internationals do have Hideki Matsuyama, ranked No. 3 in the world, as well as Kim and Marc Leishman, who won the FedEx Cup event outside Chicago last week. Still, they probably will not face a complacent team. Six of the Americans are rookies who are pumped about the event, even though it is not as intense as the Ryder Cup (U.S. vs. Europe, held on alternate years).
At the Northern Trust on Long Island last month, fellow golfers said that Daniel Berger had been talking about almost nothing other than the Presidents Cup for weeks.
Then there is the matter of another major figure who will be in the team room, as one of Stricker’s assistant captains: Tiger Woods. “If he’s whispering something in your ear that week in New York City,” said Jim (Bones) Mackay, Mickelson’s former caddie and now an NBC analyst, “it’s going to be a moment these guys will never forget.”
Hideki Matsuyama, Japan
Jason Day, Australia
Adam Scott, Australia
Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa
Marc Leishman, Australia
Charl Schwartzel, South Africa
Branden Grace, South Africa
Si Woo Kim, South Korea
Jhonattan Vegas, Venezuela
Adam Hadwin, Canada
Emiliano Grillo, Argentina
Anirban Lahiri, India