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THE PRESIDENTS CUP MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 27, 2019
CHRIS REIMER: Welcome to captain Ernie Els, just coming off of the announcement of the top eight for the international team and the U.S. Team. Before we get to our guest of honor, I'd just like to open with a few quick comments from Matt Kamienski, who's our executive director of the Presidents Cup down in Melbourne, Australia. Matt?
MATT KAMIENSKI: Thanks, Chris, and thanks, everyone, for being on the line. It's been an exciting week since the qualification cutoff, and we're thrilled with the 16 players that have qualified. It's amazing to see their excitement, engagement, and many of them making it for the first time, so we're excited to have them down here in Melbourne. It's only 102 days until we host the Presidents Cup here in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. We play in the crown jewel of the Sand Belt in the Royal Melbourne Golf Club. It will play host for the third time. It continues to be the only golf course to host the event outside the United States more than once, and they're doing it for the third time, so it's pretty exciting to be down here.
Special thanks to Visit Victoria. We wouldn't be here without them and our global partners in Citi and Rolex. We've seen some amazing, tremendous support from the fans and community in Melbourne, and we know it's just going to build over the next 102 days, and we're just very confident this event is going to be the best.
Thank you to all the media here in Australia that have covered it and will continue to cover it, and then we're just excited to host all the U.S. and international media that are on the phone now but that will also be down with us come December.
And then finally, I'd just like to thank Ernie Els for all he's done for the past in the Presidents Cup. I know that Royal Melbourne is a special place for you, Ernie, winning there but also holding the course record. There isn't anyone that's meant more to the International Team than you over the years, and playing in it eight times, captain's assistant last year with Nick. But being the captain down here, what you've brought to this team and getting those guys together is really, really exciting, and we just appreciate everything that you've done and look forward to having you down here in December.
ERNIE ELS: Thank you very much.
CHRIS REIMER: I know we share your excitement. I'll open with the first question and then we'll get to the media. It doesn't seem like that long ago we were back in Melbourne, Australia, in December of last year thinking about this event and this date, and now that you've had your first eight qualify, just some opening comments on the team that you've assembled so far that will be heading to Australia here in December of 2019.
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, thank you very much, and thanks for everybody tuning in. Yeah, I think you guys have said enough there. For me to add, obviously Melbourne, there's no secret, is one of my favorite places in the world to play golf. I probably won't be playing this Presidents Cup, I'll be captaining it, and really looking forward to getting my team assembled in the full stage when the 12 guys qualify, and then we can get down there and really start playing the golf course and getting ourselves familiar with the surroundings.
We've had a wonderful time already in the buildup to the December matches. As Matt says, we were down there last December, and I just got myself familiarized again with the town, with the city, the hotel and the golf course and the clubhouse and so forth, and we even had a chance to meet some of the members one evening after the guys played the World Cup tournament down in Melbourne.
Yeah, I mean, the eight guys that have qualified, and now we've just got to just watch intently on the other guys. It's huge for us to pick obviously the right four to join the top eight, and you know, there's already very interesting scenarios that have come up. Guys have won tournaments, guys looking from the outside in, and it's going to be interesting times ahead.
Q. Ernie, you love your cricket; who in your landscape is your Ben Stokes who can really ignite something special amongst the crowd and just get the internationals on a roll early?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think it's very important that the crowd understand that their home team for the matches is the international side. Obviously being played in Australia, the Australians that are going to be on the team who's qualified on the team already, we've got three of them in Adam Scott and Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith, who's qualified on the team, and then possibly Jason Day. We've obviously got to look at Jason who's just outside looking in. But you know, I think the Australians will play a huge part getting the crowd behind us. You know, a guy like Adam Scott who's playing in his ninth straight Presidents Cup, he's definitely the guy who's held Australia's flag flying around the world, being a Masters champion and playing unbelievably well this year to qualify, because he didn't have one of his best years last year, and he totally made it a mission for himself to make the team.
I think the way Scottie has come through this year, he's probably one of the comeback players of the year on the PGA TOUR, so it's great to see.
Q. You mentioned Jason Day; how much do you get involved perhaps in trying to help Jason's comeback? He seems to be in not the most stable place at the moment golf-wise, very up and down. How important is getting Jason in the right place?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I know very well about Jason. Obviously we'd have loved to have seen him qualify in the top eight, but I don't want to give away all my cards here, but Jason is always going to be on the list of guys we're going to absolutely look at for the top 12. You know, Jason tried a couple things in his game this year. He tried a different caddie scenario and so forth. You know, he didn't have a terrible year, he just didn't have a year like we're used to from Jason.
We've got a long time to go. Before December comes I'll have a chat with Jason personally and see where we are, and we'll make that decision when it comes. There's still a long way to go. The 4th of November is quite a long ways away, and we've got to look at how guys position themselves. You've got Erik van Rooyen and he just won a tournament in Europe and he's been an up-and-coming player. There's rookies and there's guys like Jason who's been out there before who's kind of just looking from the outside in. Branden Grace is another one, Jhonattan Vegas, there's Adam Hadwin. There's many players. There's even players -- Brandon Jones, who plays on the Japanese Tour. There's a lot of guys we're going to look at. There's a bit of time to go, but Jason is obviously one of my favorite guys.
Q. I'm wondering with your experience at Royal Melbourne and also your success and experience in match play, what do you think is the most important thing advice-wise that you can bring to some of the younger, less experienced players coming to the Presidents Cup? What do they need to bring for match play, and also, how do they need to potentially change their game coming to Royal Melbourne in those conditions which can be very difficult?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, every time we've had a team meeting in the last year or so, I've stressed to them that they've got to try and be prepared, meaning that every part of their game should be at a championship level. Basically try and prepare like you prepare for a major championship, where you try and have the whole game to be there.
You know, I've told them a bit about Royal Melbourne. I've talked to them about how I feel the golf course flows, how I feel the best way to attack the course. I've tried to tell them about the Australian conditions which can be fast and a little windy, quite warm, also. That's why short game is very important around Australian golf courses, especially Melbourne. Driving is very important around Royal Melbourne.
It's a great, classic type of Sand Belt golf course as you guys know, and I've tried to tell them a lot about the course. I'm going to give them even more information in the weeks ahead. I've got all kinds of different plans to show them how each and every hole should be played, the way I think we can get the best out of it, and then we'll take it from there.
The main thing also is that the only session where you're playing your own is in the singles. We have four sessions before we get to the singles, and it's the foursomes format and then the four-ball format. Those are the most important sessions of the whole Cup, and we haven't done too well in those in the past.
I'm really concentrating on getting the guys familiar with each other and then trying to play the foursomes format a lot.
Q. Can you let us in on some of those plans? We spoke to Tiger last week, and he had a dinner in New York recently. What are the sort of things you've got planned to bring the team closer together?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I don't want to divulge too much of what we're planning. I mean, it is a team competition. I think our strategy is our strategy. We're keeping that inside. But I think I've given you quite a lot already, where basically from my experience of playing the golf course, I'm giving them that. A lot of the Aussies and some of the guys have played the course.
But to buy into a certain way to play the golf course will be quite key for us, and yeah, I mean, the conditions could change from day-to-day. I've played the golf course in a northerly breeze, the warm breeze, and I've played it in a southerly breeze. You guys who are familiar with Melbourne, I mean, it could be a 20-degree Celsius change from day-to-day.
I've given them that warning, to expect big weather changes and so forth. But it's really getting to know each other and getting the right pairings where we can really do much better in the foursomes and the four-ball formats.
Q. And just lastly, do you have an opinion on whether you think Tiger should play for the U.S. Team?
ERNIE ELS: I can't give you my opinion. I mean, it's up to their selection process. You know, I really can't have any comment on that, can't comment on how they choose their team. So yeah, we'll see when we get there.
Q. I'm just hanging on a word you said earlier when you said you probably won't play. I understand that Adam Scott is very keen for you to play. Obviously you have a fantastic record at Royal Melbourne. Is it something that you will continue to mull over leading up until you have to make the decision in November?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I'm just -- I just say that because I don't want to put myself 100 percent out. But you know, I'm going to play a couple events now the next couple of months, and if I have an absolute -- how can I mention it? I have to at least win two, three, four times before I can consider myself to be on the team. I mean, Scottie has expressed quite a strong mention to me that I should look at myself as possibly a captain's pick, but I keep saying to Scottie, I've got a lot of other things on my mind, so it will be very difficult for me to be able to play and captain the side. There's a lot of things going on. And as I say, if I win four, five events, which is probably not going to happen, otherwise I'm not going to be playing. So there's probably a 99 percent chance I'm not going to play.
Q. I want to take you back if I can to '98, the internationals' success. I want to ask, the internationals' atmosphere around Tiger and Greg going head-to-head on that last day, what do you remember of that last day and the buildup to I guess Tiger's emergence and I guess Greg's position at the time? What was the internationals' feeling around that match?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I remember it was quite something. You know, it was, as you correctly say, Tiger's emergence. I think Tiger might have been No. 1 at that time or Greg might have been, but it was obviously the present playing against the future. You know, so it was a big deal, especially in Australia, Greg Norman, what he stands for in international golf, and especially in Australia he's got an unbelievable record. And for Greg to have played their No. 1 player, as Greg was our No. 1 player, I think it was a big deal.
I can't remember who won or what happened in the match, but I know that we had a great time, and I think the match might have been over. The points thing might have been over by the time the game got completed. I don't think it meant that much because of the situation we found ourselves in. It was quite a comfortable win.
But looking back, it was quite something.
We've had a couple of those kind of match-ups throughout the Presidents Cups around the world, but that was one of the heavyweight bouts, so to speak.
Q. Yeah, two very proud men. Do you remember Greg sort of -- I guess you guys firing him up or trying to get him up for it?
ERNIE ELS: We didn't have to get Greg up for any matches as far as I remember. He was a very intense type of a personality. You know, whenever he played competitively, he took it very seriously. You know, I could sense that there was a lot of -- he was in the zone, so to speak. He was ready to play, and I think the intensity was there. We didn't have to hype too much there.
And the team was in such a good place. We were having a ball. It's hard to believe it's so long ago that so much fun was had on the golf course in four days as a team. We had a really good time. So everybody was loose and focused.
Q. Do you view Royal Melbourne as the internationals' 13th man?
ERNIE ELS: Yes, and I want that to be known to the Australian public, that that is our trump card, is that our people are going to be the Australian public in Melbourne come December. Their team that they need to support is us, the International Presidents Cup side, who's going to represent not only Melbourne, the rest of the world. It's not many times we can play together, especially us Southern Hemisphere people have quite a reputation to beat up on each other when we can in cricket or rugby or athletics for that matter or any other sport, but this time we're playing together as a team, and Australians, South Africans, the whole world, we're playing as one team, and we would love to have obviously Royal Melbourne and the Melbourne Australian public right behind us.
Q. I wanted to follow up on the question about Adam Scott. I just wonder how important he's going to be for you in the next 100 days, not just the Presidents Cup but in the lead-up, how valuable Adam Scott is going to be and how much you'll bounce things off him in the next 100 days or so.
ERNIE ELS: You know, Scottie is -- he's in the position to have a leading role as one of the players, and already in all our meetings, I've asked Scottie every single time to say something to the players. He's got so much to give. He's playing in his ninth straight Presidents Cup, so he's the most kept player in the history of the Cup now. You know, he's got a lot to go, and he's playing great golf again. So we will be leaning on Scottie in a big way, but more than anything, I want him to have a good week. I want him to hopefully have a week like we had in 1998. Scottie in 2003 was a rookie, and I kind of took him under my wing in South Africa, and we had some success down there in the team formats playing together and really bonded as two players can. And I know Scottie has that in his mind, to get this team bonded the way we've got it done a couple of times.
It's very important to him. It's been part of his career, and for one guy to get a win, Scottie deserves one, so it would be great if they can all pull together with Adam. But he's going to be front and center, one of the leading guys on the team.
Q. You mentioned Brendan Jones before. Are there any other Australians you're looking at aside from him and Jason?
ERNIE ELS: Well, yeah, there's quite a few guys. But you know, at the moment it's hard to go much further down the list. But guys like Erik van Rooyen, that kid won -- I've said to the guys in the meetings that I'm not scared to choose rookies. If I see a rookie playing really good golf and he's up for it, then I'll go for him. I'll go get a rookie.
You know, these guys like Brendan, I even played with Lucas Herbert at the start of the year and he showed a lot of promise. He's a great talent. He's going to be good. And then you've got Ryan Fox from New Zealand, Danny Lee, these kind of guys. But they've got to really show me something to go down the list that far, because I've got guys knocking on the door like Jason and I've got Justin Harding and I've got Jazz, who's won twice on the Asian Tour this year. I've got Sungjae Im, who's played 34 events on the U.S. Tour and made it to the TOUR Championship as a rookie. So there's more and more guys down the list.
I know it's going to be difficult for me, but at the end of the day, I want to look at rookies who are showing a lot of promise and then guys who have had wins in the past, the graces and people like that. And down the list. I'll speak to the top eight. We're going to have a lot of discussion about who their new four friends are going to be because they're going to have to play together and blend as a team.
Q. I think I know the answer to this, but how much if any can you elaborate on your analytical side of picking both the picks and the pairings? We know you're sort of using a different tack there, but how much can you divulge?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, again, not too much, mate, because we're using a difference system, and a lot of it's got to do with the data of certain players and so on and matching them up that way. So you know, that's another discussion we'll have.
You know, are we going to pair up these guys? Are we going to use that kind of data? And then we'll also use a different format where we look at their respective personalities. We'll put personalities together, where that really hasn't worked that well for us in the past. I might have to go more the data way. We'll see.
Q. I know that the team has essentially crushed for years and years and getting beaten or whatever, but does that allow you to use the sort of narrative to them that they can be a part of history, they can leave a legacy? Obviously winning against a team that's supposedly unbeatable could really be something for their resume forever, right?
ERNIE ELS: Absolutely, and you know, I think you've been at maybe one of the meetings, and you know, I really hit it right to them that this could be a real -- one of the biggest events of their lifetimes because -- just because we are such a diverse team from right around the world. We have huge following. We have people from Asia, from Mexico now, we've got possibly Canada. We have an audience of billions of people if you look at the countries' numbers.
At the end of the day, we've got a bigger following than the American team, and we on paper, people are not giving us much of a chance. I mean, the whole of the U.S. Team is in the top 20. We have one player in the top 20, and that's just the way it is. But you know, somebody is going to win 15 and a half points, and at the end of the day, that's our aim is to try and get 15 and a half points somehow off of this unbelievably talented team, and that's that. You know, it's the score on the board that counts. So we've got to try and get the guys assembled, and that's the kind of mindset I want to get at them.
Q. Last year at Metro you started talking about getting the home crowd support and you did again just a couple minutes ago. Now that you've got a clear picture of who your eight and hopefully your 12 are going to be, how do you start instructing the course to be set up at Royal Melbourne given who you have on your team?
ERNIE ELS: Well, the course setup, unfortunately I can't do anything to that. You know, the TOUR staff will set up the golf course, and also the flag positions. You know, that's that.
But I've got a lot of experience around Royal Melbourne, of the winds and certain conditions, and in the practice rounds I will make it my mission to let every single player know of where to be hitting it and definitely where the Xs are where you do not want to go. So I'll be going through their notebooks myself personally and putting in notes and do as much as I can to help these guys understand the course, the conditions, the winds and so forth. There could be a lot of work that I have to do on that front because it can be quite a tricky course with certain flag positions and winds. That's kind of my job as captain to do that, and then I have to try and get the pairings matching up the best I can, and that's my job.
The rest of it is up to the team, fortunately. I've got a great set of guys. I'm going to have a great set of 12 players, and they've got to do the business. I'm going to give them as much information as I can, and then we've got to play, and then you've got to see where it falls.
Q. You mentioned previously you'd like your players to play in the Australian Open or something like that. Will there be much sort of team talk in Sydney if you all get together up there?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, that is the plan. I think we're going to have quite a nice representation at the Australian Open. Quite a few guys have committed from what I've heard. But I want the guys there on the Sunday night before we play. Some of the guys might even play in the Bahamas event, Tiger's event, so I think there's a charter that goes down there, so I'm sure the Americans will let the internationals hop on the charter, and then we'll get together on the Sunday. But we're going to have quite a nice group of players playing in the Aussie Open, so that will be really great. And then also Abraham Ancer, who's the defending champion of the Australian Open will be there as defending champion, so that will really get the crowd going, also.
Q. You were talking earlier about the diversity of the team. I'm just wondering from a language barrier point of view, if you were to pick Im, for example, there's no Koreans on the team, would that also make you inclined to pick a second Korean player, or would you just be comfortable with one guy who maybe doesn't speak very good English?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I think that's a pretty broad deal in our team. You know, we have quite a few of those kind of players on the team.
Listen, you know, Sungjae has been playing on the U.S. Tour, he's played 34 events. He won the Korn Ferry TOUR last year. He's very familiar with let's call it American English, and a lot of our players play on the American Tour. Although the English is not too great, they're familiar with each other, the team and Sungjae. So that won't be a problem.
And I think, you know, not that I will take this under consideration, but for a Korean to represent the great nation of South Korea would be great on the Presidents Cup. That's meant a lot to the Cup, as well.
But hopefully Sungjae keeps playing good and he gets himself on the team. I'm definitely looking at him.
Q. In Melbourne when you decide the captain's pick, how will you think about other Korean players? You mentioned about Sungjae Im, who played in the TOUR Championship and has had a good season, but how about players, Byeong-hun An or others?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, Sung-hoon Kang was playing really well, won in Dallas, and was looking really good. His form has slipped a little bit. I love his attitude towards the game. I even look at Ben An, Ben An's game is really great. He almost won in Greensboro this year, and he's had some really great finishes. He's one of the supreme ball strikers around the world, which I really love and which you need to do in Melbourne. Those two guys I'm definitely looking at, especially Ben An. He's on kind of my favorite list.
But you know, as I've said, anybody can still play themselves on to this team. You know, we've got some time, and there's quite a few guys that's getting hot late now, and we'll take them into consideration.
Q. Just curious your thoughts about Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, with one player from Japan this year. Along the lines of the guys you mentioned like Sungjae Im, Jazz Janewattananond, what sort of qualities will you be looking for over the next few months when you decide your four captain's picks?
ERNIE ELS: Well, I mean, there's many players. I mean, and a lot of these guys are going to be playing big events in the next couple of weeks and months. You know, from Asian players, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, he's kept his card very comfortably here in the U.S. this year. International people understand that for these players to come on to the U.S. Tour, to keep your card on this Tour is tough, especially as a rookie, and a lot of these guys have had that pressure on them this year. So Kiradech has done very well. Si Woo Kim has had some injuries. He was well in the team, but he's fallen out because of a bit of injury and so forth, but he's a tough player, he can play himself back on the team. Emiliano Grillo, Adam Hadwin, there's many other players, Branden Grace I mentioned, Joaquin Neimann, and then some of the Asian players like Jazz. Jazz is having a great year. I played golf with him in Malaysia this year. I saw his game from close by. He'd be great around Royal Melbourne. And then you've got Justin Harding.
There's quite a diverse group still out there, and we've got to get four of the best picks to complement the eight that's already qualified, and as I've said before, it's the four sessions that we have to play team golf, and my aim will be to get the four players to complement the eight guys already qualified to get the right combinations in the different formats of golf.
Q. With Mexico, China, Chinese Taipei being represented in the Presidents Cup for the first time, how much do you think this will impact the growth of the game in these new golf markets, and do you foresee that the Presidents Cup may eventually get played in some of these markets in the foreseeable future?
ERNIE ELS: I think it is so important, as you say, for these players that come from these different regions. You know, from Chinese Taipei, China, Mexico. These players, they haven't been represented in the Presidents Cup, and for the first time they're in, and this is just great stuff. I mean, can you imagine all the people that's going to be tuning in to the Presidents Cup? It's just a whole world that's going to be watching us for the first time. For what Mexico has done in golf, China has done for golf throughout the years, with the PGA TOUR going there and so forth, the growth of the game is just going to be staggering.
From that point of view, this is a very unique Presidents Cup because we're going to have potentially a billion more people watching this Presidents Cup just because of the different regions we're all from.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports