LOS ANGELES – In each of the last three Walker Cups, the United States has failed to win a foursomes session. In fact, Great Britain and Ireland holds a 17-7 advantage in the format, which accounts for eight of 26 points available at each Walker Cup.
Two years ago at Royal Lytham, GB&I won each of the foursomes sessions by a 3-1 margin en route to a 16.5-9.5 victory.
So what is it about that particular format that gives the Americans so much trouble?
The truth is, they just don’t play it as much as their GB&I counterparts. The only U.S. junior or college events that use foursomes are the AJGA’s Wyndham Cup, biennial Junior Ryder Cup and the Arnold Palmer Cup. On the other hand, GB&I Walker Cuppers grow up playing foursomes, from county team events to higher-profile competitions such as the Home Internationals and European Team Championships.
“We’re playing three-plus events a year of foursomes,” GB&I team member Harry Ellis said, “so it’s not unfamiliar to us.”
But even though the U.S. side isn’t as experienced as the GB&I squad in foursomes, the Americans don’t buy into the fact that they are at a disadvantage in the format. To them, it’s about playing great golf and making putts.
“If you were to ask any American player why do the Europeans beat us in foursomes, the short answer is because they just played better,” said Stewart Hagestad.
That doesn’t mean, though, that U.S. captain John “Spider” Miller isn’t changing his team’s approach from 2015. The biggest thing Miller noticed at Royal Lytham was that his players caucused over shots too much, especially on tee boxes.
“So if these two are partners, they’re used to, for their tee shot, they would normally go back, stay in their own thoughts, and they would hit the shot the way they saw it,” Miller said during the U.S. press conference Friday at Los Angeles Country Club, using Doug Ghim and Braden Thornberry, both sitting next to him, as examples.
“If I go back or if their partner goes and says, ‘Leave me on the right side of the fairway’ or ‘leave me on the left side of the fairway,’ that’s a thought they’re not used to having. So we’re having the players be in their own thought and hit the shot the way they see it. … When they play their own ball, they’re used to being in their own thoughts.”
Said Thornberry: “If you do have a question on a read, I don’t think it’s the end of the world to get a second opinion. But I think what Captain is saying more is don’t get any extra thoughts in your head that you just don’t need.”
For the U.S., the rest of the strategy is simple: play golf – and better than the GB&I team. That’s much easier to do this year as the Americans have the luxury of a squad filled with a variety of talents: Cameron Champ and Norman Xiong are two of the longest drivers of the golf ball in the world, Maverick McNealy and Collin Morikawa are two of amateur golf’s best ballstrikers, Thornberry and Scottie Scheffler have great creativity and touch around the greens, and Doc Redman showed what he can do with the putter in his U.S. Amateur victory.
Miller certainly has several options of who to pair in foursomes. However, he will let his players decide. Earlier this week he had each player submit a list to him of the top three teammates they would like to pair with or felt they paired best with. From there, Miller will match each guy with another.
So what works best together? Obviously, it’s nice to have a long-hitter with a good wedge player, or a good ballstriker with a good putter. But that way of looking at pairings is more prominent in four-ball.
“There’s not quite as much strategy in foursomes,” Miller said.
The biggest thing is personalities. The GB&I players, who come from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, typically pair with their fellow countrymen and players who they’ve teamed with many times before. The U.S. players have spent most of their careers playing against each other, except for Ghim and Scheffler, who are teammates at Texas.
“The way the GB&I side has done it, and they’ve had a lot of success, is putting players together who are comfortable with each other,” McNealy said. “… It’s going to be the first match of the day, it’s going to be an uncomfortable situation, a different type of golf, and you want someone that you’re very comfortable with. … Everyone here is a great player, everyone here can hit great golf shots; it’s just who’s going to bring the other person up the most?
“We’re more personality matching this week than game matching.”
For the Americans, they’re hoping to find the perfect matches in foursomes – much like the 1997 U.S. team that went 7-1 in the format – and turn the tide in their favor.