LIV Golf just keeps adding to its stable of players. On Tuesday, the Saudi-backed league announced the signing of five more pros, including Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann, as the league preps for its fourth tournament of the season. Marc Leishman, Harold Varner III and Anirban Lahiri joined the two young stars in defecting from the PGA Tour.
In the long term, the signings of the likes of Smith and Niemann have to sting for the Tour. They are two of the brightest young stars in the game, and they should be some of the biggest names in the sport for years to come.
In the short term, however, these signings have a different sort of impact — specifically as it pertains to the Presidents Cup. The biennial event between the U.S. and International squads (minus Europe) is run by the Tour, so any player competing in a LIV tournament is barred from participating.
“It’s been tough to see my sport get divided over the past year,” said Trevor Immelman, captain of this year’s International squad, on a recent episode of GOLF’s Subpar Podcast. “From a Presidents Cup standpoint, it’s made it uber-tricky.”
Smith and Niemann had already qualified for the team, and figured to be stalwarts for the international side for years to come, while Leishman and Lahiri were in the running for captain’s picks. That’s not to mention the loss of talent the internationals had already experienced with LIV signing Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz and Branden Grace earlier this year.
Now with just three weeks until the Presidents Cup kicks off, the International team is left with some gaping holes in its lineup. However, while LIV has poached some of the top international talent, there are still a few options for captain Immelman to fill out his squad.
Here’s how the team could shake out.
These six pros have already automatically qualified and will suit up for the International side at Quail Hollow — and it’s a group with plenty of talent. Matsuyama and Scott are former major champs with past Presidents Cup experience, while Im (also a former Presidents Cupper) and Conners are two of the best ball strikers in the game. Add in the high upside of Pereira and Kim and you’ve got a solid top six in the lineup.
With the defections of Smith and Niemann, Immelman will now have six captain’s picks to fill out the remainder of his team, and there are a few directions he could go with them. Let’s take a look at his options.
These six are the “safest” picks Immelman can make. This group consists of the next six in the Presidents Cup standings, excluding LIV players and Erik van Rooyen, who’s been injured since July. Filling out the team with these six would certainly be the easiest thing to do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would field the strongest team. While some on this list are sure to be picked, don’t count on all of them making the team.
Si Woo Kim
These six haven’t played their best golf this season, but they have one thing that few others up for consideration do: experience. Each of these six has appeared on a Presidents Cup team in the past, so they know what it takes to compete in a hostile team-golf environment. In normal times, these players wouldn’t sniff consideration for a captain’s pick, but if Immelman wants to stack his team with experience, these are his best options.
Min Woo Lee
Immelman could also send a jolt of energy through his team by picking a few young (and hungry) up-and-comers to fill out the roster. None of these 20-somethings have any Presidents Cup experience (hell, some of them don’t have any Tour experience), but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t make a difference. It would be a little unconventional to pick any of these pros, but there would be some upside should Immelman call any of them up.
This team is a far cry from the one Immelman likely envisioned when he was named captain in 2020, but with recent developments, we’ve learned predicting the future in pro golf isn’t easy these days.