Country’s Top Amateurs Gear Up For Walker Cup

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The country’s 10 best male amateur golfers descended on Southampton last week for practice rounds at the National Golf Links of America in advance of the 2013 Walker Cup match in September.

Chosen to represent the United States in a two-day battle with the top 10 amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland were: Jordan Niebrugge, 20, of Mequon, Wisconsin; Nathan Smith, 35, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Michael Weaver, 22, of Fresno, California; Todd White, 45, of Spartanburg, South Carolina; Bobby Wyatt, 21, of Mobile, Alabama; Max Homa, 22, of Valencia, California; Michael Kim, 20, of Del Mar, California; Patrick Rodgers, 21, of Avon, Indiana; Justin Thomas, 20, of Goshen, Kentucky; and Cory Whitsett, 21, of Houston, Texas.

The teams will square off in the 44th edition of the Walker Cup match on September 7 and 8.

On September 7, there will be four foursomes (alternate-shot) matches of 18 holes each in the morning, and eight singles matches of 18 holes each in the afternoon. The following day, there will be four foursomes matches of 18 holes each in the morning, and 10 singles matches of 18 holes each in the afternoon.

This year’s Walker Cup will be a homecoming of sorts, as the first Walker Cup match was held in 1922 at the National. Led by playing captain William C. Fownes Jr., the United States won that inaugural match, 8-4.

The United States currently leads the series, 34-8-1, although Great Britain and Ireland won last year, beating the U.S. team, 14-12, at the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Aberdeen, Scotland. Prior to that, the United States had won three consecutive Walker Cup matches dating back to 2005, with the competition held every other year.

The competition began in the wake of World War I, and it came together following a series of meetings with the USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the purpose of which was largely to look at modifying the rules of golf. As part of the meetings, an international team competition was discussed, much like what was already taking place between the United States and Canada, in 1919 and 1920.

Among those attending the meetings at The R&A was George Herbert Walker, USGA president in 1920. The idea of an amateur team competition appealed to Walker, and he soon presented a plan and offered to donate a trophy. When the press dubbed the trophy the Walker Cup, the name stuck.

The National, George Herbert Walker’s home club, was the obvious pick to host the inaugural match.

On August 22, the American team got a head start on its overseas competition with practice rounds at National, led by captain Jim Holtgrieve. Holtgrieve is a Walker Cup veteran in every sense of the world: He served as the U.S. captain in 2011, and played on three victorious U.S. teams, in 1979, 1981 and 1983. He has an overall Walker Cup record of 6-4-0, including 3-1 in singles.

Nigel Edwards returns as GB&I captain for a second time. He guided the team to in 2011. Edwards played in four consecutive Walker Cups from 2001 through 2007, including a pair of wins.

This year’s U.S. team is made up mostly of players in their early 20s, with two exceptions, White and Smith. Smith, 35, is a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and holds the record for the most victories in the championship. He won the Mid-Am title at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton in 2010. White, 45, has competed in 11 USGA championships, including four U.S. Amateurs, two U.S. Mid-Amateurs, four USGA State Team Championships and one U.S. Open.

In a short press conference in the National clubhouse last week, Holtgrieve spoke about his belief that mid-amateur players like Smith and White should be taken seriously as contenders for Walker Cup teams, mainly because he believes those players can bring their Walker Cup experience back to their communities and help grow the game of golf. He helped convince the USGA to save room for two mid-amateur players on this year’s team, and he said he’s received positive feedback about that decision.

“The Walker Cup is not a stepping stone to the pro ranks,” he said. “It’s about playing for your country.”

Holtgrieve also spoke about the personalities of the 10 men on his team and the chemistry they’ve developed since joining together to represent the United States. He called Thomas and Smith the team “jokesters,” adding that Smith also brings experience and calm to the team, in addition to some off-the-course antics.

He referred to Rodgers as one of the team’s most cerebral players. “He’s very cognizant of what the yardages are, where the hole locations are,” Holtgrieve said. “He’s a very smart player. He just attacks a golf course with some wisdom and forethought.” He said he’s expecting Rodgers to be a leader, along with Homa, who was instrumental in a very successful season for the Cal golf team.

White, who is a history teacher by trade, “brings some quiet” to the team, according to Holtgrieve, who added that the oldest member of the team “really relates to the young people” and is also very outgoing. Niebrugge is the “new guy” and is shy, Holtgrieve said, but earned instant respect after winning the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links championships this year.

As for what they’ll need to do on the golf course, Holtgrieve said the players will need to pay close attention to how they hit the ball on and around the greens. Holtgrieve referred to the National as a “chipping and putting” golf course, and said that, more generally, players will need to put a lot of thought into every shot—something he loves as a captain.

“It really makes you think,” Holtgrieve said of the National, and of older golf courses like it more generally. “That’s why this year’s [men’s U.S. Open] at Merion was so successful. You had pros complaining about this or that, but that’s because they had to think. Our guys are going to have to think around here.”

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