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Els bolsters rookie brigade

By YANG XINWEI | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-08 09:16
China's Li Haotong is seen during the first round of the 148th Open Championship in Portrush, Northern Ireland on July 18, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

China's Li and Pan will have plenty of International help at Presidents Cup

International Team captain Ernie Els is raring to unleash his young guns at the Presidents Cup after adding more rookies to his squad in the form of two 21-year-olds-South Korean Im Sung-jae and Chile's Joaquin Niemann.

Choosing Im and Niemann as captain's picks on Wednesday took Els' total of rookies to six, with China's Li Haotong and CT Pan, Abraham Ancer of Mexico and Cameron Smith of Australia the other International newcomers bound for the biennial tournament at Royal Melbourne next month (Dec 9-15).

Els is not concerned he might be relying too heavily on youth as his team tries to end a streak of seven straight losses to the United States, which this year is captained by Tiger Woods.

"I'm really excited by the new blood that's come in, and I'm really excited that we have experience, also. I think it balances the team really well, and it all happened by accident, to be honest with you," said Els.

"I told the guys at our team meetings-I'm not afraid to choose rookies and I'm not afraid to play them.

"These guys have earned their places on the team. I don't think I'm throwing them in the fire at all. Whether they get picked or not in the first session, we'll see. But I'm not afraid to play anybody.

"I didn't go looking for rookies-Joaquin and Sung-jae are 21 and even Haotong is only 22 or 23.

"But these guys' form, they made themselves a lock on this team, the way they played.

"I definitely wasn't as good as them when I was 20 or 21 years old, I can promise you that. These kids are world-class players and they have proven themselves."

Els' other captain's picks were Jason Day of Australia and Adam Hadwin of Canada.

In August, Li became the first player from China mainland to qualify for the Presidents Cup when he was automatically selected among the top eight finishers in the International Team standings along with Pan, Smith, Ancer, South African Louis Oosthuizen, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, and Australians Marc Leishman and Adam Scott.

Im's Presidents Cup debut comes on the heels of a remarkable rookie season highlighted by 16 top-25 finishes in 35 starts and a trip to the Tour Championship, where he was the only rookie in the elite 30-man field.

His performance earned him the PGA Tour's rookie of the year award, one year after being named the Korn Ferry Tour's player of the year.

The South Korean has continued his strong form in the early stages of the 2019-20 PGA Tour season, collecting top-three finishes at the Sanderson Farms Championship (second place) and the ZoZo Championship (tie for third) to further convince Els of his worthiness.

"Even as a child, it was always a dream of mine to make the Presidents Cup," Im said.

"I'm so happy to be chosen as a captain's pick. I would really like to beat the United States team."

Im's temperament has particularly impressed Els.

"I just love the way he approaches the game. You know, very cool, calm, collected," said the South African.

"He played almost every week. That's how much he loves the game, and that's another attribute for him. He's really finding the answers every week.

"He's worked on his putting, and it's come through big time. A win is just a matter of time, and it will come. He's had one hell of a year, lots of top-10s. Played his way on the team with his consistency and coming to the meetings and showing a lot of spirit with the other players."

Meanwhile, Woods is set to announce his four picks on Thursday.

The reigning Masters champion who captured his 82nd career PGA Tour victory two weeks ago in Japan, is expected to select himself. He would be the first playing captain since Hale Irwin in 1994.

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