Inaugural World Champions Cup Set
Els, Furyk and Clarke lead respective teams
Bradenton, FL. The World Champions Cup is a first-of-its-kind international team golf competition that will be contested December 7-10, 2023, at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.
Inspired by the passion and tradition of the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, the World Champions Cup will feature Team International, Team USA and Team Europe squaring off over three days of competition that will renew some of the game’s most storied rivalries as the teams battle for international pride and global bragging rights. The World Champions Cup is officially sanctioned by PGA TOUR Champions and is set to air on ABC and ESPN.
The World Champions Cup is an annual three-team, three-day match play competition that will be contested across nine-hole matches featuring team formats and singles play, with points being earned for each hole won in each of the event’s 24 matches. The team with the highest point total across all matches will be crowned the champion.
Each of the teams competing in the World Champions Cup will consist of six players, including the playing captains, and all will be active PGA TOUR Champions members.
ERNIE ELS / Team International
Els, a South African native, will captain Team International. The four-time major champion and former World No. 1 was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011. Els touts an impressive resume that includes 19 PGA TOUR victories, three PGA TOUR Champions trophies and 47 international wins.
The most significant of his wins are his two U.S. Open titles (1994 and 1997) and his two wins a full decade apart at The Open (2002, 2012). The Big Easy has been a member of eight Presidents Cup teams and captained the International squad in 2019.
JIM FURYK / Team USA
Furyk will captain Team USA. During his career, Furyk has represented Team USA in seven Presidents Cups, nine Ryder Cups and served as a Ryder Cup captain in 2018.
He is a 17-time winner on the PGA TOUR, highlighted by winning the 2003 U.S. Open, and is a three-time winner on PGA TOUR Champions – including the 2021 U.S. Senior Open.
Furyk reached a career high world ranking of second in 2006 and spent 440 weeks ranked in the top 10 from 1999 – 2016. Furyk is also the owner of the lowest round in PGA TOUR history, having shot 58 in the fourth round of the Travelers Championship in 2016.
DARREN CLARKE / Team Europe
Hailing from Dungannon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, Clarke will captain Team Europe. He is most famous for his 2011 victory at The Open at Royal St. George’s, where he finished three strokes clear of the field.
In 2022 Clarke became the fourth player in history to win both The Open Championship and The Senior Open Championship, defeating Pádraig Harrington by one shot at Gleneagles in Scotland. Clarke has played on five Ryder Cup teams and served as captain in 2016 for Team Europe.
Clarke’s resume includes victories at two PGA TOUR World Golf Championships events and four PGA TOUR Champions events, as well as 15 international wins.
What prompted you to participate as a captain for the World Champions Cup event?
CLARKE: I am overjoyed to represent Team Europe as captain for the inaugural playing of the World Champions Cup.
I’ve been blessed to be a part of many team competitions all over the world and it is truly an honor to be selected as a captain along with Jim and Ernie, two of golf’s all-time great players. This is truly a first of its kind global team competition.
FURYK: I am honored to lead Team USA onto the global stage that the World Champions Cup represents. It has been such a treat being part of Team USA at different stages throughout my career.
I look forward to having the chance to captain Team USA and compete against Ernie and Darren, with whom I walked fairways for more than 20 years.
ELS: The idea for the World Champions Cup has been a number of years in the making, and when first presented with the idea, I definitely wanted to be involved. It’s really an honor to be a playing captain for the internationals.
This kind of team competition has given me some of the fondest memories of my career and I’m sure this is going to be another special week. I’m really looking forward to it.
What aspects of the event do you believe will capture the interest of both golfers and non-golfers alike?
ELS: I think golf fans will tune in and enjoy seeing us battling each other just like we have in majors, Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups these past 20-30 years. I think there’s something very appealing about that.
Also, the competitive fire that we all still have will be very obvious. We all want to win and, as every golfer knows, when you factor in the team element of this event and not wanting to let your teammates down, that always brings an added level of drama and excitement to the competition.
CLARKE: What’s not to like? Golf fans get so excited for the Ryder Cup every other year, and for the Presidents Cup in the years between – the World Champions Cup essentially combines the two, and it will be an annual event.
It’s going to be so much fun getting out there and competing against these guys and playing with something more on the line than your own scorecard. Representing Europe has always meant so much to me in the Ryder Cup, and I know the guys on Team International and Team USA feel the same way.
FURYK: The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup are my favorite events that I ever played in. To represent something bigger than yourself, to wear the American flag on your sleeve, to be a group and play for a team is something I’ve always admired. And we’re bringing that opportunity back with the World Champions Cup, which I think fans everywhere will embrace, whether they’re on site at Concession or watching on TV around the world.
I did not play rugby, and at 6’2″, 195, I’m the smallest of the captains, so I want no part of them. But I did play football, basketball and baseball growing up and still have some great friends from those teams in my life.
It’s an honor and I’m inspired coming off the Ryder Cup in September as a vice captain, cheering on our team. I saw some amazing golf from both sides. I think all of us, we enjoyed these events.
How have you kept the competitive fires burning all these years?
ELS: I’ve always said I love the competition; it’s what drives me. It’s still the case today. It’s just an innate part of the professional athlete’s make-up. It never really leaves you.
FURYK: Now that we’re in our 50s, and I haven’t played on one of these teams since I think 2014, it’s been nine years, I miss them, I really do. I’ve been a part of them as a captain or vice-captain, but I miss competing in these, so this opportunity I think we’re all grateful for.
I think the matches are going to be really friendly, but they’re going to be extremely competitive because we’re getting together 18 of the best players in the world now over the age of 50. These guys are highly competitive, they hate to lose and you have three teams that are going to want to win the Cup.
CLARKE: It’s pretty simple – I love to win! I have been part of the Ryder Cup eight times as a player or captain, and it has never been a challenge for me to get excited about playing in an event like that.
So I’m thrilled to have another chance to go to battle with my teammates in the World Champions Cup.
Concession Golf Club is the host site for the event. What is the strongest aspect of the course and how do you see your team doing at the venue?
ELS: It’s a great-looking course, a very good test. And it’s quite fitting that it’s the venue for this new match play event, with the name being inspired by Jack Nicklaus’ famous gesture of conceding the final putt to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup – one of the most iconic moments in our sport; a moment that really sums up the spirit of golf.
We’ve got a strong team and I think we have a great chance at bringing home the trophy.
CLARKE: I think the course is fabulous. The whole facility’s fabulous. The practice range, short game area, everything about it is wonderful. The golf course has a few risk-reward holes. There’s a couple stout holes on the back nine that you’re going to have to hit some shots.
The greens are sectional and very undulating, so if you get on the wrong side of some of the slopes with the speed that they’re going to be at, it’s going to be tough. You’re going to have opportunity to make some birdies with the risk-reward ones.
The last thing you want to do in a team format is to lose a hole to a bogey, but that’s a possibility with some of the holes we’re going to play. But it’s a wonderful venue. It’s going to be very exciting coming down the stretch there and playing those back nine holes.
FURYK: Jack (Nicklaus) and Tony (Jacklin) did a great job designing the course, and it’s a fitting venue for high-level competition. The PGA TOUR held an event there in 2021 and it has hosted the NCAA championships.
I think it will set up really well to provide a challenge for all three teams and create opportunities some really exciting risk-reward scenarios. We’ve got a great team, but the European and International squads are really strong as well.
Each of you has had a long and distinguished career in competing in golf at the highest of levels. What specific moment are you most proud of in achieving?
FURYK: One of the most memorable experiences for me for sure was shooting 58 in the final round of the Travelers in 2016. But as far as being most proud, I think I’d have to say my U.S. Open victory in 2003.
Winning a major and having my name on that trophy forever is hard to put into words. U.S. Open Sunday is always Father’s Day – my mother and father were with us that week and that was my first Father’s Day as a parent. Being able to share that win with my family was special.
CLARKE: This may not come as a surprise, but it’s without a doubt The Open Championship in 2011. I had waited so long to win my first major. I felt like after having multiple top-10s in majors early in my career that I was close, and it took longer than maybe I had expected, so it was really sweet.
ELS: It’s always hard to pick just one moment. Maybe my first major win in the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont. I was only 24 years of age, I didn’t really expect to win the U.S. Open so soon.
That really was a huge springboard in my career; it gave me a lot of confidence and belief that I could win anywhere in the world.
If you had a mulligan for one specific shot, you would like to replay – what is the shot and circumstances tied to it?
FURYK: During the 2012 US Open at the Olympic Club, the 16th tee on Sunday was moved up about 100 yards. I pulled the wrong club off the tee and made a very tentative swing, and hooked it left. That shot led to a bogey and ultimately cost me the tournament.
ELS: I don’t really dwell on things in that way. Ifs and buts, they don’t exist in sport.
The World Champions Club is a team event. There has been movement in recent years, via LIV and others, to expand golf into various team formats of play. How do you see this dimension moving forward and what role will the World Champions Cup play in this effort?
ELS: I think the current structure with most tournaments being traditional stroke play events is still the best way to go for professional golf, but there’s always room for other formats to exist and thrive.
That’s one of the big attractions of golf, whether you’re a player or a spectator. And I’m excited that we’ll be able to play the World Champions Cup every year. Team golf is a lot of fun and often brings out the best in the players. We don’t get a lot of chances to play team golf, so we really relish it when we do.
FURYK: I’m not really sure that I can predict the future and whether we’ll see more team golf moving forward. There has been a lot of change in golf recently.
But I love the format for the World Champions Cup, and I think it’s terrific that we now have an annual event like this that brings together all the best players 50 and older for a unique three-team competition. I know guys are really going to want to win.
CLARKE: The world of professional golf has been very interesting the last few years, with a ton of change and a lot of new ideas. I know that the World Champions Cup has been in development for quite a few years, so the idea for this to be a team competition was in the works well before some of the other things that we’ve seen come up in the golf world recently.
Maybe this will open the door for some more team events, but I do like the way it is now, where events like the World Champions Cup feel unique and special.
On a personal level — each of you have won at least one major championship. If you could add another major that you did not win which one, would it be and why?
CLARKE: I guess maybe it would be The Open Championship in 1997 at Royal Troon. I led after the first two rounds and was within two shots of Jesper heading into Sunday. Justin Leonard shot a remarkable 65 in the final round, and Jesper and I finished tied for second.
Had I been able to win that year, I wouldn’t have felt the same pressure that I did until I finally won one 14 years later. It will be fun to have Justin and Jesper here at the World Champions Cup with me. I’m sure we’ll share stories of that Open and many of the other great battles we have had over the years.
ELS: I’d have to say The Masters. I had a few near-misses there and obviously it would have been very special to win that green jacket.
FURYK: I would have liked to win them all, but if I had to single one out, I’d probably say the 2007 U.S. Open. Being so close to where I grew up near Pittsburgh, it would have been amazing to win at Oakmont.
I had been in a great battle the year before only to finish tied for second. Oakmont sort of beat everyone up that week, and coming down the stretch on Sunday, both Tiger and I had a shot but neither of us could catch Angel Cabrera. It’s still one of the most memorable experiences of my golf career.
Should senior golf lower the threshold from 50 to a lower age for eligibility?
FURYK: I think 50 is the right age. I won pretty quickly a few times as soon as I became eligible for the PGA TOUR Champions, and you see that a lot with guys who have just hit the age of 50. So I think it’s best to leave it as it is.
CLARKE: No, I think it’s perfect where it is. There are plenty of players on the PGA TOUR who are very competitive well into their 40s, so I’d be happy to see the age for PGA TOUR Champions eligibility stay at 50.
ELS: No, I think 50 is perfect. Players are in great physical condition for longer these days, so you can play the regular tour well into your 40s if you want to.
When people mention your name what’s the one word you hope they use to describe your golf career and overall impact in the sport?
ELS: People will know me as The Big Easy. That’s fine. The nickname has been attached to me for so long that I probably can’t ever escape it!
Seriously, though, I like to think that I’ll be remembered at least as much for my work with The Els for Autism Foundation as I am for the trophies I won. That’s the more meaningful legacy.
CLARKE: I don’t know, maybe “competitor.” I feel like since the beginning of my career, every time I’ve gone out on the first tee in a competitive event,
I’ve been there to win. I think that certainly showed in the Ryder Cup, which we won four of the five times I played.
FURYK: Well, I think a lot of people probably think of me for my unusual golf swing! I guess that just goes to show you that there’s no one right way to swing the golf club, and I think I’ve been able to make my swing work for me throughout my career. I guess maybe I’d say “determination.”
Golf has a lot of ups and downs, and it’s a game that can humble you pretty quickly. I feel like I’ve always been able to bounce back from those challenges and been pretty consistent throughout my career.