An emotional Ernie Els said Sunday he had nothing but admiration for his young Presidents Cup charges, tipping them to be a major force against the United States in future.
Against the odds his team, featuring seven rookies, convincingly won the opening fourballs against Tiger Woods’ star-studded United States 4-1 on Thursday and held the lead going into Sunday’s 12 singles matches.
But the big-time experience of the Americans came into play and they clinched a 16-14 victory in Melbourne for their 11th win in 13 editions of the biennial match play event.
Els said it was an important learning curve for his newcomers, who would only be better for the experience.
“I can only give them my love. They tried so hard. They played so hard for each other and the team … I really have to take my hat off to every one of them,” said the South African.
“There are a lot of young, young players, a lot of players that the world has never seen or heard but you will see them a lot in the future. I have admiration for my guys and the caddies and the wives, it’s been fantastic.”
Among the seven rookies, South Koreans Im Sung-jae and An Byeong-hun and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer were standouts, handling the pressure well and securing crucial points.
Australian Cameron Smith also held his own despite becoming embroiled in a row with former Masters champion Patrick Reed, who he called a cheat over an incident in the Bahamas last week.
Chilean hotshot Joaquin Niemann also performed well, as did impressive Taiwanese CT Pan.
The only one who appeared to struggle was China’s first Presidents Cup player Li Haotong, who was overlooked by Els for the opening two games and lost the only two matches he played.
Els said that regardless of the outcome, the future looked bright.
“Absolutely. In our team matches, the four sessions in team matches, we did as good as ever,” he said.
“Our goal was to get to 10 points by Saturday evening and get to singles — we played comfortable in singles. We’ve played well in singles in the past. We’re getting closer.
“We’ve just got to keep it up. You know, our team is not as deep as the US team. All credit to the US team. They have an absolute stacked team. They have great champions, major champions. We’re building on that.”
Veteran Adam Scott, playing in his ninth Presidents Cup, agreed that there were plenty of positives to take out of the week, despite the painful loss.
“It’s hard to digest. At the moment, it’s incredibly disappointing but generally the positivity and being optimistic are what’s happening and I like where this team is going,” he said.
“And I’ll be working really hard now to be on the team in two more years, if I can keep my game at a good enough level.”