Melville Fuller, a former chief justice of the United States, once said, “Without continuity men would become like flies in summer.”
As far as we know, Fuller wasn’t speaking about the International Team for the Presidents Cup, but he might as well have been. South African Trevor Immelman was named the 2021 Presidents Cup captain for the International squad at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.
This was a vote for team continuity as Ernie Els passed the baton to Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion, who served as understudy at the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. What Els did to breathe new life into the matches can’t be underscored enough. He created “a family dynamic” and gave the team “an identity,” Immelman said.
“We felt that over the years that might have been something that was missing,” he said. “It’s a pretty big hurdle to try and overcome when you have players coming from seven, eight, nine different countries, different cultures, different languages. It’s a big hurdle for us to have to overcome that particular week.”
True continuity, one could argue, might have been Els coming back for a second tour of duty. Instead, he threw his efforts behind a bigger and more personal cause: Els for Autism, a disease his son, Ben, suffers from. But Els did create a blueprint for Immelman and future captains – whether it be Canadian Mike Weir, Korea’s K.J. Choi, or Australians Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott.
Born: Cape Town, South Africa
Turned pro: 1999
Professional wins: 11
PGA Tour wins: 2
Major victories: 1 (2008 Masters)
Highest ranking: 12 (Sept. 2006)
“What he has created for our team, I think, is going to be so massive, not just in Charlotte but I’m talking about three, four, five, six Presidents Cups down the road,” Immelman said. “I think what Ernie did for our team, giving us something to build off of, we sure are hoping that that is going to be some kind of turning point for our team to where we can find a way to finally win this Cup again.”
While no one on the International Team, especially Els, was celebrating a moral victory in holding the lead entering Sunday’s singles before the U.S. rallied for a 16-14 victory at Royal Melbourne, Els and Co. believe they have put an end to a lopsided competition (the U.S. leads 11-1-1 in 13 matches). Someday, Els may be remembered as the International team’s version of Tony Jacklin, who accepted the European Ryder Cup captain’s role in 1983 and two years later became the inspirational leader of its first triumph in 28 years. That win ignited an intense rivalry.
And Els insisted he’s long had admiration for Immelman, who will replace Nick Faldo as lead golf analyst for CBS Sports beginning in 2023.
“My relationship with Trevor goes way back and I have always had the utmost respect for him as a player and a person,” Els said. “Trevor was an invaluable member of our team and completely bought into what we were trying to do at Royal Melbourne, so it is gratifying to see him take this next step and lead the International Team.”
Els met Immelman when he was 6 or 7 and handed Immelman a golf trophy at age 12. They are the best of friends, and Immelman, who was a teammate of Els on the International side in defeat in 2005 and 2007, considered it an honor to jump back into the fold as one of Els’s lieutenants.
“When he picked me as an assistant captain, I had no designs at all or even thoughts of possibly being a captain one day. I was just so focused on trying to help him,” Immelman said. “It just sort of organically came about.”
Immelman, 42, had his playing career curtailed by injuries. He joined CBS Sports’ golf team in 2019, and signed a new multi-year deal that begins with the network’s 2023 season, when he assumes his duties alongside Jim Nantz in the 18th tower for the Farmers Insurance Open. Immelman has been perceived as a rising star in the CBS ranks. That knowledge, as well as prior experience working with Els and as captain of the Junior Presidents Cup International team in 2017, will serve him well.
The fact remains that the U.S. side likely will be loaded again, and competing at a course they play every year during the Wells Fargo Championship (and in 2017, the PGA Championship). This will be the true test for the International side’s much-ballyhooed blueprint, just as playing away in France in 2018 exposed holes in Team USA’s master plan for regaining supremacy in the Ryder Cup.
Was Immelman the right man for this job? Time will tell, but at least it’s good to know that his father thinks so.
“He’s been a leader ever since he was a young kid,” said Johan Immelman. “He always rose to the occasion.”
That’s a trait shared with Els. Sounds like the International Team has found some continuity.