As the International Team Captain and a proud South African, I was thrilled to see my countrymen Dylan Frittelli and Christiaan Bezuidenhout secure their maiden victories on the PGA TOUR and European Tour recently.
I have gotten to know both players quite well and followed their golfing journey over the years, so it was a joy to see Dylan secure a wonderful victory at the John Deere Classic and Christiaan doing likewise with a great win at the Andalucia Masters.
Dylan’s breakthrough on the PGA TOUR has given him a chance to play his way into the International Team where he is now ranked 24th on the points list. With three more weeks to go before the top 8 qualifiers are determined, he needs to play well in the FedExCup Playoffs to improve his chances and I’ll be interested to see how he responds to the challenge.
Since his amateur days, Dylan was rated amongst the top South African players. He’s won at junior level, international amateur level and also collegiate level in the United States where he studied at University of Texas and contributed the winning point in the team’s win in the 2012 NCAA Championship.
I wasn’t surprised at all to see him enjoy early success on the Sunshine Tour at home before subsequently establishing himself on the European Tour where he won twice in 2017. As you can see, his career has been trending nicely and culminating to his two-shot triumph at the John Deere Classic where he signed off with a final round 64.
Likewise, I have known Christiaan for some time. He went through a tough spell after receiving a drug suspension for testing positive for beta blockers in 2014 which he had used to treat anxiety and a stutter after accidentally drinking rat poison when he was a child.
I remember him joining us at the Ernie Els Fancourt Foundation, which we set up way back to help develop young golfers who are less privileged and to see him come of age with his Spanish win was quite a thrill for everyone associated with our foundation, including myself. It might be tough for Christiaan to play his way into this year’s Presidents Cup as he’s way back on the points list but I have no doubt he has the potential to become one of our team’s stalwarts in the years to come.
Still on South African golf, it was tough to hear news that our four-time team member, Charl Schwartzel, was taking an enforced break from competitive golf until the end of the year to recover from a wrist injury. Charl has been one of the pillars in our team and we’ll miss his presence this December. I wish him a speedy recovery and I’m sure we’ll see him back in action very soon again.
As I mentioned earlier, our top 8 players will be determined on August 19 and I’m anticipating an intense fight especially amongst those players who are sitting on the bubble. I’ll be monitoring the FedExCup Playoffs very closely to see how our players perform and react under pressure.
It was great to see our current points leaders Marc Leishman enjoying a solid third-place finish at the recent World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis. Since our team qualifying process began last August, Leish has truly been a model of consistency. He won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in October and rode on the momentum to add three top-5 finishes at the start of the year. His strong showing in Memphis is just another reminder of what he can do for our team at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in December.
My good friend, Louis Oosthuizen, is on course to make his fourth Presidents Cup team appearance where he currently sits in second place on our points list. With a T7 at the recent U.S. Open, I’ll be counting on him to hit top form at the end of the year.
Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama have looked really solid all year, with Adam enjoying two top-10s in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship and Hideki producing some really good stuff with five top 10s and have missed only one cut all year.
As the player with the most appearances for our team – Adam has been in eight previous teams – it is a given that he will be one of the leaders of our pack when our guys are out on the golf course battling for the International Team’s pride and honour.
In a competitive environment, we need players who will show up with courage and heart and I really liked how Cameron Smith has responded in recent weeks after he slipped out of the top 8 bracket. He acknowledged it was a timely wake-up call and subsequently dug deep to finish a commendable T20 at The Open Championship and T12 in Memphis over the past two weeks which have since pushed him back into sixth position on the points list.
As the reigning Australian PGA Championship winner, Cameron’s presence at Royal Melbourne can help ignite the home fans to truly get behind our team which can be a huge motivating factor in our attempt to wrest the Presidents Cup from the United States Team.
Haotong Li, Jason Day and C.T. Pan are currently within the top 8 and I’m sure those behind them on the rankings including players who have qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs such as Abraham Ancer, Sungjae Im, Sung Kang, Emiliano Grillo, Si Woo Kim and Kiradech Aphibarnrat will be snapping at their heels.
I’ll be following the action very closely over the next few weeks as the top 8 will undoubtedly form the core of our International Team. And in early November, I’ll name my four captain’s picks and in the 12 players, I will put my utmost trust on them to deliver a win for us.
For golf and sports fans in Australia, remember to buy your tickets on www.presidentscup.com and we are counting on your support and presence to cheer us at Royal Melbourne. Bye for now.
International Team Captain