MELBOURNE, Australia — It worked before. Maybe it will work again.
That’s the hope of an International squad desperate for a victory at the Presidents Cup. The 13th event of this team competition begins Thursday at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the site of the only win ever for the Internationals. It came in 1998, and the Americans have won eight of the nine meetings since then. The teams tied in 2003.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of it quite a few times and we want to turn it around,” said Marc Leishman, who grew up in nearby Warrnambool. “We feel like this is a good place to do it. It gives us our best chance. But at the end of the day, if we don’t play well we’re not going to beat the Americans.”
The Internationals captained by Australian legend Peter Thomson whipped the Americans 20 ½ to 11 ½ in ’98 as the team comprised of players such as Ernie Els, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Vijay Singh, Frank Nobilo and Shigeki Maruyama took a commanding 14 ½ to 5 ½ lead heading into the singles matches. The U.S. team captained by Jack Nicklaus couldn’t recover. Tiger Woods defeated Norman in an epic singles match, but it was too little too late.
“The guys just weren’t sharp,” said Woods, who was playing in his first Presidents Cup. “Unfortunately, we didn’t come in as prepared as we needed to be and the International team was loaded and they put it on us. They flat-out outplayed us and we couldn’t respond.”
The U.S. avenged that loss in 2011, when it defeated the Internationals 19-15. But that hasn’t dampened the hopes of this 2019 team that plans to feed off the home crowd and the course’s tough conditions.
Competition begins Thursday morning here (Wednesday afternoon in the States) with five Four-ball matches. One session of Foursomes is scheduled for Friday, followed by two sessions of Four-balls and Foursomes on Saturday before Sunday’s 12 singles matches.
Els, who is serving as captain of the International team, owns the course record at Royal Melbourne, a 12-under par 60 he fashioned during the 2004 Heineken Classic.
Designed by Alister MacKenzie, the course will play to a par-71 over 7,047 yards. It is a firm, fast, tactical course that can’t be overpowered and the bent grass greens will be fast and firm. There is no water on the course, offering a links-type feel in a parkland setting.
“If you’re aiming straight at the pins, it’s not going to end up near the pins,” Leishman said. “You’ve got to hit it in a certain area to get in the right part of the green with the right shape and the right spin. It’s a great golf course like that. You can’t just fire straight at the hole. You have to know where the slopes are and use them.”
A persistent wind normally from the north will add to the difficultly, making just about every shot an adventure.
“There’s going to be a lot of lag putting,” said Louis Oosthuizen, a South African competing in his fourth Presidents Cup. “It’s definitely a different style of golf course, but something I really enjoy. It’s going to be tough to be aggressive. You need to know where to not go around the greens. You can absolutely leave yourself with no golf shot.”
The layout includes at least three reachable par-4s (No.1, 372 yards; No. 6, 311 yards; and No. 11, 332 yards), while the two par-5s (No.2, 532 yards) and (No. 15, 568 yards) offer chances for birdies and eagles.
Woods, captain of the U.S. team, may take a cautious approach on the par 4s.
“If [the fairways] stay fast, you just can’t control your ball on the ground if you hit driver and try to go for it,” he said. “The ball could roll out 60, 70, 80 yards. We’ll have a pretty good understanding of what we need to do come Thursday through Sunday.”
The Internationals will be counting on the home crowd for inspiration. Problem is many of them are enamored with Woods and may not be as anti-U.S. as when the Ryder Cup is played in Europe. The Aussie contingent of Leishman, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith are sure to get plenty of support.
“To play in a Presidents Cup where I grew up is something I’ve wanted to do since being here in ’98 when the Internationals won,” Leishman said. “To be here and hopefully contribute to what’s going to what’s going to be a big team effort is exciting.”