MELBOURNE, Australia — Ian Poulter is an unabashed fan of the sandbelt courses of southeast Melbourne. So it came as no surprise that he gave England's highest-ranked player at the World Cup of Golf, Tyrrell Hatton, a gentle nudge that he'd like to be on the England team.
Poulter and Hatton are among the favorites when the tournament starts Thursday at Metropolitan, one of famed sandbelt courses that includes Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath, which hosted the World Cup in 2016. Royal Melbourne was the venue in 2013.
The highest-ranked player is responsible for choosing his partner in the 28-team, two-man tournament, and Poulter wanted to make sure he was at the top of Hatton's wish-list.
"We had a chat at one of the events and I managed to persuade him that it would be a good choice to pick me," Poulter said. The sandbelt "is pretty big lure; I love it down here and I knew I wanted to make the team. Unless you've traveled to the sandbelt, you really haven't experienced golf."
CRICKET AND GOLF
India team members Anirban Lahiri and Gaganjeet Bhullar were having a bit of fun Wednesday comparing their sport with the most popular in their country, cricket.
After joking they might sledge — or taunt — their Japanese playing partners in Thursday's first round — only because they were talking about cricket, where on-field banter is an accepted part of the sport — they said they'd be going to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday to watch India play Australia in a Twenty20 match.
"Cricket is so big in India," Bhullar said. "There are a lot of cricketers on the team who actually play golf. Yeah, we both are really excited, and looking at the current form, I think India's got a better chance than Australia."
Lahiri has been to the 100,000-capacity MCG once, but Bhullar has never watched a cricket match there.
"I've watched a lot of cricket on television. I've never been inside one, but yeah, I've seen a lot of interviews in and around MCG. It looks really cool. We've always driven past it, so it will be really nice to actually go inside and witness India's victory."
And they both wonder what effect a win in the World Cup of Golf would have on the sport in India.
"Golf in India right now is picking up and right now we need a few guys to go out there on the PGA Tour, we need more faces on the European Tour," Bullar said. "We need a guy like Anirban, Shubhankar (Sharma), myself to win on the PGA Tour."
Lahiri adds: "Well, the good thing is that the cricket match finishes on Friday, we finish on Sunday, so we'll be relevant for the Monday morning papers."
Unfortunately for Lahiri's thought process, India also plays Australia in a cricket match in Sydney on Sunday night.
Matt Kuchar and Kyle Stanley are playing for the United States this week. Kuchar was coming off a poor final round of 75 at the Australian Open last week, so he put away his golf clubs and picked up a tennis racket at the home of the Australian Open.
"Had a day off yesterday, played some tennis with the family at Melbourne Park," Kuchar said Wednesday. "I got on the Australian Open tennis courts, it was a real thrill. Then kind of had a lazy afternoon with my wife. We walked a bit of the city, got a massage ..."
Kuchar arrived in Sydney last week from Mexico, where he ended a four-year title drought on the PGA Tour with a win at the Mayakoba Classic.
"Winning a tournament on the PGA Tour is hard to do and when you do it, you've got a great buzz going and a great sense of confidence and I'm hoping to keep it going," Kuchar said.
THERE'S A METHOD
Australian team members Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith play with different golf balls — Leishman with a Callaway and Smith with a Titlelist.
During the foursomes (alternate shot) portion of the tournament on Friday and Sunday, each will tee off with the other's golf ball so they are hitting their approaches to greens with their own ball.
"Except on the par-3s, when I'll hit my golf ball," Leishman said. "So I'll be teeing off the even holes, which is all the par-3s. I mean, it was a pretty easy decision, to be honest."
The Australians were asked what their strategy would be in the fourballs on Thursday and Saturday, when each team has two balls in play and the best score counts toward to the stroke total. The forecast is for rain on all four days of the tournament.
"It's looking at the weather conditions," Leishman said. "Par is going to be a pretty good score, to be honest. I think it's pretty easy to get too aggressive in fourball. You don't want to put yourself in a bad position and then put extra pressure on your partner to have to hit a good shot. It'd be nice to, even if you both have 20, 30 foot for birdie, that's better than having one guy out of the hole."