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Walker Cup Rewind: A Win, A Windmill And A 'W'

by Jim Nugent - September 16, 2013

Reflections on the 2013 Walker Cup:

• Perhaps the only people more surprised at the outcome than the GB&I squad were the Americans. Fact is, the USA team came in as the underdog, and it came in limping. Nathan Smith had a below-average summer by his standards, and Michael Kim had developed an untimely case of the driver yips after finishing as low amateur at the U.S. Open. One player broke up with his girlfriend on the eve of the match, while Justin Thomas’ back began acting up early in the week of the competition.

• Like Merion earlier this year, the National Golf Links of America was a revelation for a generation of golfers. Few in the impressive galleries, and even fewer of the global television audience, had ever laid eyes on the place, much less walked it. The course was majestic, in person and on television.

• Say what you will about his politics and his place in history, former President George W. Bush demonstrated that at heart he is just a regular guy, and a serious golfer. In attendance Saturday with his wife, daughter, and grandchild, Bush stayed for hours, camping out on a golf cart at certain spots to watch each group go by. On one hole, he gave mid-amateur Todd White thumbs-up as White walked onto the green to mark his ball. White returned the signal. When White holed his putt to halve the hole, Bush yelled out, “That’s what I’m talking about,” and walked over to have a brief visit with him.

• It was widely understood that the National Golf Links was a second-shot golf course. The landing areas off the tee were generous, and so success would depend on where the ball was placed on the approach shot. But this match was won – and lost – on the greens. Simply stated, the American squad putted almost as well as the GB&I team did at Royal Aberdeen in 2011. And for whatever reason, the GB&I lads didn’t make many putts at all.

• That the GB&I team struggled at the National came as a bit of a surprise. The style of the golf course was likely to be more familiar to them than to the Americans; the GB&I guys see golf courses like the National, with all its humps and bumps, quite frequently in the UK. But they never could adjust to the speed of the greens. That’s something they do not see with any frequency in the British Isles. They were also likely flummoxed by the lack of wind; both days were played in relatively benign conditions.

• The tide turned on Saturday afternoon, when the Americans won 6½ out of 8 singles points. Nobody saw that coming, and it was a direct hit to the solar plexus for the visiting team. The morning foursomes that day resembled the first session at Royal Aberdeen, where the Americans quickly fell behind. The reversal of fortune seemed to stun the GB&I team, and it never really recovered.

• A close observer of the elite American amateur game was shocked at how the Yanks’ younger squad members played the golf course. Despite a week’s worth of practice on the hallowed grounds, the U.S. kids used their big-air game and flag-hunting skills. Very few knockdown shots were attempted, and using the ground remains a foreign concept for most American college players. What this observer found equally surprising was that the GB&I players followed suit – they threw the ball in the air and really didn’t rely much on the ground game. Perhaps the lack of wind made playing through the air just too tempting.

• To no surprise at all, the week following the Cup has seen numerous players turn professional. On the American side, Thomas and Max Homa announced, while on the GB&I side, Neil Raymond, Kevin Phelan and Max Orrin began their pro careers.

• There was a rumor last Monday morning, unconfirmed, that the Walker Cup itself, reeking of champagne, made a near-dawn visit to the famed windmill at the National. Just a rumor...

• The final word on U.S. mid-amateur participation might have come in an unsolicited email U.S. Captain Jim Holtgrieve received on Monday morning, just hours after the competition had ended. It read as follows, misspellings and all:

Mr Holgrieve, Thanks for putting mid-Ams on the team. As a 29 year old getting back into the game it was inspiring for me to see Mr Smith win the final point. I’ve always hoped that golf was a sport where dreams were for everyone, not just children. I’ve dreamed that with hard work, dedication, raw talent, and the blessings of health anyone at almost any time can enjoy success at the highest levels of golf. I had never seen Nathan Smith play since I’ve been away from the game since I was a teenager but it was inspiring to see you include these ‘older’ players on your team. You and your players are an inspiration to all of us ‘older’ players out there who refuse to let our childish dreams die with age. Thanks for keeping us alive.

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