Editor’s note: This column appeared as Inside the Ropes in the May 10 issue of Golfweek
It’s time to consider picking a college coach to captain the Walker Cup team.
The collegiate game emphasizes the team concept. With the NCAA Championship being decided by match play, the best college coaches stand out as highly qualified to guide a Walker Cup team, which uses a match-play format similar to the Ryder Cup’s.
Coaching golf at the collegiate level has become serious business. No longer are the coaches simply driving the van and dispensing hot chocolate. They serve many roles and can lead a Walker Cup roster loaded with college all-stars. After all, guiding a team is what they do 365 days each year. They are pros at it.
Captain Jim Holtgrieve, a former U.S. Golf Association champion and former touring pro, brings top credentials to the U.S. Walker Cup team for the Sept. 7-8 matches against the Great Britain & Ireland at New York’s National Golf Links on Long Island. There is no pressing need for change, though GB&I has won four of the past seven matches in a series that the U.S. leads, 34-8-1. It’s just that college coaches should be considered.
Rickie Fowler, a PGA Tour winner who has played in the Walker and Ryder cups, called the idea “a cool concept.”
“They’d be a little more relevant, having done the recruiting and being around college golf,” Fowler said. “Most of the players are coming from the college ranks.”
Many college coaches fit that profile. For a proven coach who has succeeded as a player, there’s Florida’s Buddy Alexander, who won the 1986 U.S. Amateur, and Illinois’ Mike Small, who still competes nationally and has won nearly $2 million. SMU’s Josh Gregory guided Augusta State to consecutive NCAA titles and built a strong amateur resume. Oregon’s Casey Martin played on the PGA Tour.
Alabama’s Jay Seawell, Washington’s Matt Thurmond, Oklahoma State’s Mike McGraw, Georgia’s Chris Haack, Georgia Tech’s Bruce Heppler, Iowa’s Mark Hankins and Stanford’s Conrad Ray have created winning environments with their programs. Many others could be candidates, based on their ability to coach players in preparing to play an unfamiliar golf course and compete in various conditions.
If not a college coach as captain, then the USGA should consider one as an assistant. Their knowledge of the players and what it takes to assemble a team would benefit the U.S. and regain the match momentum from GB&I.
The main objective, though, is to create an environment in which players can thrive at the Walker Cup.
The best coaches in college golf could deliver, if given the chance.