ARDMORE, Pa. – Barring a Great Britain & Ireland miracle at Merion Golf Club, the United States will win the 42nd Walker Cup this afternoon minus any drama – and a lot of the blame there should fall on the shoulders of captain Buddy Marucci.
He played this match near perfect. He found two solid foursomes pairings and stuck with them, and made a key switch Sunday morning that helped keep momentum on the Americans’ side. The U.S. won both foursomes sessions 3-1 with Marucci sticking to his plan of getting each of his players at least one appearance in the alternate-shot format.
With three Oklahoma State teammates (Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein, Morgan Hoffmann) in the lineup, it would have been easy to find a workable pairing within that trio. But Marucci looked deeper.
Hoffmann joked that Marucci just “didn’t want to field too strong of a pairing,” but the decision to put Hoffmann and recent Georgia grad Brian Harman off first Saturday morning was a smart play. Both aggressive and speedy guys, Harman and Hoffmann started things off right for the U.S. with a 2-and-1 victory.
Uihlein and Nathan Smith, the 31-year-old mid-am, at first seemed like an odd pairing but got the job done in both sessions, continuing their success in the Americans’ several previous practice sessions during which they went undefeated for a few days. A mix of length and precision, excitability and stability, Uihlein and Smith showed resolve down the stretch Saturday morning to win a momentum-shifting match on the 18th hole. And they only got to the 14th Sunday morning, winning, 5 and 4.
Fowler and Alabama’s Bud Cauley, longtime friends and two guys that are always having more fun that they let on, did the opposite. They ran away with a 6-and-5 victory Saturday, then won in a barnburner Sunday, Cauley making a 6-footer that he said felt like a 40-footer on No. 18 to hand GB&I’s Stiggy Hodson his first loss.
“I think Bud had fun, at least he told me he was,” Fowler said with a smile.
Perhaps Marucci’s most surprising move Sunday was removing Hoffmann from the lineup. Instead, he paired Harman with former Georgia teammate Adam Mitchell, who had lost his Saturday foursomes match with Cameron Tringale and then sat out afternoon singles.
It turned out to be an emotional power pairing, two close friends fighting for each other on their final day of amateur golf.
“I’ve never been that fired up on a golf course,” said Harman.
The pair struggled early, going 3 down after three holes but quickly rebounded by winning the next three. Walking off the third green, Harman told Mitchell, “Mitch, we’re going to come out and win this match. This is our day.”
The Bulldogs won Nos. 12, 14 and 15 to take control, both players hitting clutch shots down the stretch.
“Yeah, that was pretty special,” said Mitchell.
“I can’t think of a better way to end my amateur career, and what a way to go out,” said Harman.
Marucci put Harman out first in each session, including Sunday singles. While Harman might be the faster player in golf, he’s also proven that he can make things happen when it matters most.
Marucci knew that. He seemed to know everything, actually.