CHARLOTTE — They said it six times. So, we have to believe them. The American team left Quail Hollow Club Saturday night “pissed off.” And they had reason to be.
Leading 8-2 after the first two days of the 14th Presidents Cup, the U.S. looked like it would waltz to its ninth straight victory over the International team. A strong effort on Saturday and Uncle Sam’s dozen likely could have had it sewn up early in Sunday’s singles competition. Instead, the Internationals, led by fiery youngster Tom Kim, showed some fight, the Americans failed to respond and a potential eight-point lead was cut in half, 11-7. Now the U.S. has a battle on its hands.
A four-point lead on Saturday usually represents an insurmountable advantage. Usually. But it’s worth noting that the U.S. rallied from four down to beat the Europeans in the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Even more recently, and poignantly, the Europeans turned the tables on the Americans in 2012 at Medinah. A late rally on Saturday enabled the visitors to climb within four points, and the Europeans won 8½ of the available 12 the next day outside of Chicago to stun the Yanks.
The captain of that American team was Davis Love III. So he knows that the International squad remains dangerous.
“Yeah, four points is four points. It’s been a big number,” Love, the U.S. Presidents Cup captain, said Saturday night after he watched his team lose three of four afternoon four-ball matches following a 2-2 split of morning foursomes. “I’ve been four behind before too, you know. We’ve been four ahead, four behind. We’ve watched the Solheim Cup be four ahead. So it’s a magical number.
“They got some momentum today,” Love added. “They started making some putts, and we’re going to have to turn around tomorrow and come out hot and try to get the momentum back.”
The way it sounded when Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele entered the interview room early Saturday evening, they already were hot.
“We’ve got a lot of pissed off guys that want to come out really strong tomorrow,” said Spieth, who with his pal Thomas were the lone bright spots for the Americans, winning two matches to finish the week 4-0-0 in team play.
Schauffele was definitely one of the perturbed. He and Patrick Cantlay lost for the first time after winning each of their matches the first two days. The duo was 1 up with three to play against Si Woo Kim and Tom Kim but watched the latter sink a clutch 10-footer for birdie on the 18th hole to flip a key match.
“Yeah, I guess I’d be one of those pissed off guys,” Schauffele said. “Thanks for the tee up, Jordan. Yeah, I mean, these two boys next to me, they did their job. They got points for us today in good fashion. Wasn’t very pleased with myself personally. I can probably speak for my partner as well, who is absent currently. Yeah, we didn’t get a point, and that one hurt us. So, we’re definitely looking forward to tomorrow.”
Love was confident that this group of Americans is prepared to respond in a way that his U.S. team didn’t in 2012. That team was still feeling good about their prospects only to crumble. This young American squad is different.
“Yeah, they were pretty mad,” Love said. “We wanted to win every session, and we tied one and lost one today. So that wasn’t part of our plan. This is one of our best formats, and they’re going to come out mad tomorrow. So I hope they’re mad. I’m confident that they will channel that into playing tomorrow.”
Channeling anger wasn’t quite Schauffele’s plan. “I don’t play very well pissed off. I play like a toddler when I’m pissed off,” he explained. “So I play my best when I’m focused and, you know, very present. So, use tonight, get rid of it, sit in an ice bath until I can’t feel my body, and then I guarantee I won’t be pissed off anymore.”
Spieth gave kudos to the young International team, which sports a record eight rookies, for mounting a comeback and thought it was a “cool moment” when they celebrated their afternoon four-ball successes. But he felt confident that his team would have the final say in who holds the Cup Sunday afternoon.
“I thought that was their moment, and they should be excited. And I think for us it’s just getting regrouped,” he said. “I think I said it in the cart ride on the way back in. I wouldn’t pick any of their players to play against any of our players and take them by any means. You put any of our guys against any one of theirs, I’d still tell you I think our guy’s going to win.”
“We’re still leading the Presidents Cup, and we’re in great position to win tomorrow,” Thomas said, taking a measured look at the situation. “So we all just got to put our heads down and get after it.”