Els excited at new talents on International front for Presidents

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International team captain Ernie Els is excited at the prospect of helming a squad sprinkled with new blood for the Presidents Cup against the United States at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia next year.

Els, a 19-time PGA TOUR winner, featured in two events during the PGA TOUR’s recent Asian Swing where he kept an eye on the progress of emerging stars such as Korea’s Siwoo Kim and Sungjae Im, Australian Cameron Smith, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, India’s Shubhankar Sharma, Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira, Argentinean Emiliano Grillo, China’s Haotong Li and C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei.

With established International team members, Marc Leishman, Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Scott, showing good form since the start of the race to make the International team in August, Els cannot wait for his squad to take shape over the next 10 months.

“Those are the type of guys we want on the team,” said Els, who played in eight Presidents Cups and was assistant captain to Nick Price last year.

“Leish (Marc Leishman) is a superstar, Shubhankar is getting there and Grillo’s been knocking on the door. These guys, they’re going to be the backbone of the team. Cameron, he’s also world class now, Australian, and very familiar with Royal Melbourne and the sandhill links, so he could be another star player down there. He could be a guy to really lean on. Even if he doesn’t make the team, he’s probably going to be a pick. Shubhankar could play it next year, so it could be a real different team, young team, a lot of Asian players, a lot of international players, so I’m looking forward to going with some fresh troops.”

At the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, Leishman claimed his fourth PGA TOUR victory by tying the tournament record of 26-under-par 262 while five other International players – Grillo (T2), Abraham Ancer (T5), Louis Oosthuizen (T5), Sharma (T10) and Kim (T10) – finished in the top-10.

Four internationals – Jason Day (T5), Smith (T7), Adam Hadwin (T10) and Scott (T10) – featured in the top-10 at the CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES  in South Korea while Kiradech (T4), Day (T11), Li (T11), Grillo (T14) and Scott (T18) finished in the top-20 in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions last Sunday.

In Korea, Els played nine holes in a practice round with 22-year-old Sharma, whom the South African had encountered during a golf clinic in New Delhi some 10 years ago. He also spent time speaking to various other potential international team members, including 20-year-old Im, the 2018 Web.com Player of the Year.

In eight appearances, Els has only been on one winning team when the Presidents Cup was played in Royal Melbourne in 1998. He also played his way into Presidents Cup folklore for his famous duel-in-the-dark with Tiger Woods in 2003 in South Africa which led to the first draw in the biennial team competition. Woods will captain the U.S. team when the Presidents Cup is held from December 9 to 15 at Royal Melbourne, Australia.

Nicknamed the Big Easy, Els is prepared to unleash the rookies in Melbourne against a U.S. team which has won the last seven editions, including a narrow 15.5 – 14.5 win in South Korea three years ago when the International team was on “home” turf.

“There’s still a long way to go (to qualifying), but I’m looking forward to fresh faces.  And the veterans, hopefully they’re playing good,” said Els. “I just want them to be keen. I want them to be up for it. Obviously our team is not renowned like the U.S. team is. The U.S. team is a well-oiled team, they play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cup against us, so they’re a very mature team.

“We are going to be a young team, inexperienced, but that doesn’t scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I’ve played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course, strategy-wise, and I’m going to share that with my players. I just want players that want to be there, that want to play.  I just want players that want to get up and be shown.”

The International team race began in August and will conclude after the 2019 TOUR Championship next August, with the leading eight players earning automatic selection.  Els will have four picks.

Els, who will visit Royal Melbourne on November 25-26 for his captain’s visit, is hoping to get off on a winning note as captain. “Being captain of the Presidents Cup is a real honor and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a very diverse team with the way things are shaping up already. We’ve got another year to go, so we’re going to have an interesting new group of players that’s going to probably make the team. It’s going to be a very diverse group from probably six, seven to eight nations, so it could be a very interesting time coming up. It’s going to be exciting,” he said.

He will keep a close eye on some of the young talents coming through including Sharma and Im, who earned his PGA TOUR card through the Web.com Tour in the recent season. “Obviously him (Im) winning the Web.com, he won twice and winning the money list and now fully fledged on the PGA TOUR and having a top-five finish at the Safeway Open, so the kid is for real. He’s only 20 years old and he’s got a really unbelievable future ahead of him,” said Els. “Shubhankar has won twice in the last 12 months and he’s still only 22, so he’s another one to watch.”

Sharma, who is leading the Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity rankings,  said:  “The next Presidents Cup is going to be huge with Ernie and Tiger being the captains. The International Team could have pulled off a great win in Korea (in 2015). It definitely ranks in the top three (goals) with the majors and with the WGCs. Playing the Presidents Cup would be a huge honour.”

Leishman is also up for the challenge, saying that home ground advantage could be key in the team’s hopes of turning the tide against the U.S. team. “Being back at Royal Melbourne is going to be awesome. I’ve played in three President Cups so far, two in America, one in Korea, so to play one in Melbourne again with all my friends and family there is going to be awesome. Hoping I can continue this form, be a leader on that team. Hopefully we can give the Americans a bit of trouble next year,” said Leishman.

Scott hopes to make it a ninth appearance in the Presidents Cup, especially when he has yet to taste victory in the team competition. “I want to go back and play in Australia … Ernie and I have had such a great friendship for a long time now, to play under him would be fantastic for me. He’s very, very excited and enthusiastic about making a difference for this International Team, so I would love to be a part of that,” said Scott, a former World No. 1.

“I think there’s a big chance of that (new players making the team). I think what we’re seeing is more and more young guys, there’s a bit of that transition going on now in the internationals from some of the older guys getting on and the young guys taking their place.  Hopefully this old guy can hang on for another one.”

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