2022 Presidents Cup: Potential for U.S. team domination among nine storylines to watch at Quail Hollow
Presidents Cup week is here, and while it doesn't hold the excitement everyone thought it would after the United States narrowly eclipsed the international team in Australia three years ago, team golf at the highest level is always a thrill.
The heavily favored U.S. side seems poised to rout Trevor Immelman's International squad, but the projection of a rout is something that has often led to some of the greatest moments in sports history. Davis Love III is leading the stars and stripes into a true David vs. Goliath situation this week in Charlotte. The level of play on both sides is inequitable, but there are still plenty of storylines to pay attention to this week at Quail Hollow Golf Club.
This event also represents a reprieve from the long, (sometimes) slow slog of individual stroke play that we get throughout the year. Even in a massive victory back in 2017 at Liberty National Golf Club, the days were still compelling. We got to see future U.S. stars, a variety of pairings on both sides and the types of exhilarating celebrations match play golf often offers up.
Let's take a look at a few narratives that could develop this week at Quail Hollow and break down what we'll be watching over the remainder of what should be an awesome week of golf.
1. Over by Saturday? We know the first few days of golf will be a blast because the first few days of Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups are always fun, no matter the matchup or score. You always get insane hole-outs, weird, golf-y celebrations and interesting pairings that may or may not foreshadow the future of either team. In 2017, however, the U.S. led 14.5-3.5 after the Saturday matches, and the entire event was completely over going into singles play. That's a rarity, even when teams are mismatched like this; team competitions are normally close until the last few hours of the week. Hopefully this one will be, but the threat of a boat race exists here in a way that it has not in most recent team competitions (specifically the Ryder Cup last year at Whistling Straits).
2. Who's not there: Normally at team events, we discuss who got snubbed by one of the captains. Instead, this year is about who snubbed themselves. No LIV Golf League players are permitted at the Presidents Cup, which means that international team stars like Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Abraham Ancer and Louis Oosthuizen will be watching from home and possibly texting with LIV Golf colleagues Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, all of whom were Team USA pillars over the last five years. While this should not (and will not) be the primary talking point of the week, it's another way LIV has permeated into every crevice of the golf world, including one of the handful of sacred team weeks that we have every year.
3. Course fit: One of the big talking points going into this week is that even with the international team at full strength, the U.S. advantage at a long, brawny track like Quail Hollow would be too much for them to overcome. One reason they nearly broke a now-24-year winless streak at Royal Melbourne is because the golf course played away from the advantages of the U.S. team (length) and into the hands of a crafty, feisty international team. Of the top nine golfers historically at Quail Hollow who are also in this event, seven are Americans. Furthermore, of the top 10 best fits for this course in the event this week, eight are Americans. It's difficult to envision either the course or the way it's set up as anything other than an advantage for Love's team.
4. Rookie ringers (on both sides): I'm more intrigued than normal to watch the first-timers this time around. On the U.S. side, Sam Burns, Max Homa, Billy Horschel and Cameron Young are all interesting not only as players but also potential future U.S. anchors (especially in the case of Burns, Homa and Young). Burns, Homa and Horschel are all fairly animated competitors that I expect to thrive in a team environment. For the International Team, they'll lean on eight rookies, but the most compelling are 20-year-old Tom Kim, Corey Conners, Taylor Pendrith and Cam Davis; the latter two were selected because they can match some of the firepower on the U.S. side. If those four play to their relatively high ceilings, the internationals could be a little plucky.
5. U.S. leaders: Want to feel old? Jordan Spieth is the most experienced U.S. player ... by three events (Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup). Even with the LIV players in the mix, Spieth and Justin Thomas would have likely been the heart and soul of this U.S. squad, but it's unquestionably true now with D.J., Koepka and DeChambeau out of the picture. Phil Mickelson talked about Spieth as the future guy for the U.S., and it has turned out to be true. It will be especially true this week without Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson around as assistant captains. J.T. and Spieth are an interesting duo. The latter a chest-thumping monster who is 10-2-3 in team sessions at these team events, and the former a calm, confident presence in the press tent and, presumably, the locker room for players who aren't much younger than him. They should be who we thought Mickelson and Woods were going to be for the next 10 years of U.S. team golf.
6. Top Scheff: I joked that the best player in the world and Jon Rahm were playing the singles match of the Ryder Cup last year, and this year it turned out to not be a joke as Scheffler rose to the top spot in the OWGR after four wins early in the year. He was perhaps a bit of a surprise hero last year at his first U.S. team event as he went 2-0-1, but he'll sneak up on nobody this year. My question is whether he can lead from out in front as one of the Americans with the biggest targets on his back.
7. Foursomes advantage: The big problem for the international team -- other than the fact that it has three players ranked in the top 25 of the OWGR and the U.S. has 12 -- is that it has been unable to compete in foursomes at this event over the last two decades. The stat below is jarring. The internationals have actually outperformed the U.S. team in singles play and tied them in fourballs over the last 15 years, but have been absolutely torched in foursomes. That's something to keep an eye on going into the week.
8. U.S. pairings: I care way too much about the in-the-weeds minutia on the U.S. side of things, and I think we're probably going to get some pairings this week that we've either already seen at the Ryder Cup or will see again next year in Rome. Here are the pods for the first two days of practice rounds for the U.S.
Burns-Scheffler is an obvious pairing. So are J.T.-Spieth and Cantlay-Schauffele. Finau is so pliable from a personality standpoint that you could plug him in with any of the three guys in his pod and it could make sense. Kisner and Horschel are pretty interesting, and though they're not necessarily off the charts statistically at Quail Hollow, they would be a nightmare to go up against. Morikawa-Homa is a ball-striking extravaganza. I cannot wait to see how these play out.
9. What does U.S. future look like after optimistic Whistling Straits? I wrote about the U.S. Dream Team that invaded Lake Michigan this time a year ago. In that moment, the future looked indelible as the red, white and blue looked unbeatable. However, nearly half that team is gone (either to LIV or to injury), and in their place steps some question marks. This year's Presidents Cup won't determine what the future of U.S. team golf looks like, but it might actually be more representative of what the next five years will look like than last year's Ryder Cup did. It would be surprising if that resulted in a more optimistic outlook given the talent on that team and what has been lost, but it could result in a similarly unified group that moves into the future of Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups against the best players from the rest of the world.