LAS VEGAS PREVIEW: STARS ALIGNING FOR CLEEKS IN DESERT
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – The stars seem to be aligning very nicely in multiple ways for the new-look Cleeks as they prepare for this week's LIV Golf Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert.
The all-European combination is already enjoying great chemistry, despite having played just one LIV Golf League event together as a revamped team, and collectively they love the old-fashioned appeal of the par-70 Las Vegas Country Club layout.
Add to that the confidence that both captain Martin Kaymer and veteran Richard Bland have in the Cleeks' potential to be the LIV Golf League's "dark horses" this season, and it is no wonder that the team is oozing excitement ahead of Thursday's opening round.
"We definitely have high hopes," said Kaymer, the German former world No. 1, during the team's press conference at Las Vegas Country Club on Wednesday. "We have big expectations because we know what kind of golf we can play, and I definitely think we can compete."
Englishman Bland, who celebrated his 51st birthday on Saturday, added: "I'm just excited. I think the Cleeks could be the dark horses this year. I really do. I don't think it's going to be very long before we're in contention there down the stretch."
Cleek GC made two significant changes to its roster for this season with 2023 DP World Tour Player of the Year Adrian Meronk and 2023 LIV Golf Promotions champion Kalle Samooja coming in to join forces with Kaymer and the ultra-consistent Bland.
Straight away, there were several encouraging signs for the new-look Cleeks at the season-opening LIV Golf Mayakoba in Mexico, which concluded on Sunday.
Bland and Kaymer each ended the week on a strong note by shooting 4-under 67s at El Camaleon while the team fared a great deal better than they did at the same venue a year ago, finishing eighth out of 13 in the standings with a 9-under total. Twelve months ago, Cleeks GC was the only team to finish over par.
Bland tied for 11th on Sunday, Kaymer shared 28th place and Samooja of Finland was joint 32nd after ending the tournament ranked top-five in driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Poland's Meronk was the sole Cleeks player to endure a challenging week as he wound up in 47th spot, but he had only signed his LIV Golf contract earlier that week and also had to contend with food poisoning in Mexico.
"We started last week with great team spirit," said Kaymer. "It takes some time, especially for Adrian, who was just thrown into the LIV world. You've got to give the guy some time to get used to the new format, the new people, the new faces, a new kind of golf. You still play 18 holes, but it's a different way of playing and it takes a couple tournaments to get used to it, for both Kalle and Adrian."
Bland, whose final-round 67 on Sunday was highlighted by an ace at the 152-yard eighth hole, already likes the look of the revamped Cleeks roster.
"This year we've got a great set-up with Kalle coming on board and then Adrian," he said. "We all know what Adrian can do. He's world class, and I think he's going to have a great year. Then we've got this guy to my right here," Bland added, gesturing to Kaymer. "You can't say enough about Martin. His CV speaks for itself. I'm just the old man of the group! I'm just trying to sweep up and make the coffee!"
Importantly, all four Cleeks players loved the look of the tree-lined but soft Las Vegas Country Club layout when they played the back nine on Tuesday.
"That kind of golf I really like," said Kaymer. "It's a very old-school golf course and it's in great shape. I think the scoring will be very low this week because it's fairly short, greens are perfect, not much rough.
"It's a golf course where there's a green light pretty much on every hole. I haven't seen 18 holes yet, but we're going to play the front nine later today. It's definitely a golf course where you should not hold back. You can really go at a lot of flags. Chipping around the greens is not very tricky."
Bland was in fulsome agreement: "It's the kind of course I feel like I can do well. There are some holes where, if you do hit it long, it's advantageous, but I think just keeping the ball in play is going to be key too. It gives me a lot of chances with the short irons, which is hopefully one of my strengths. As Martin has just said, I expect the scoring to be very low."
If the Cleeks can match the quality of their golf over the next three days with their pre-tournament excitement and great comfort level at Las Vegas Country Club, they are likely to enjoy a very successful week in Nevada.