Scouting talent for golf competitions tricky business

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Who says captains are irrelevant to the outcome of team golf competitions?

Hal Sutton’s choice of Stewart Cink as one of his captain’s picks for the 35th Ryder Cup Matches certainly lit a fire under Cink. He went out the next week and won the WGC-NEC Invitational, leading wire to wire. Not a bad confidence boost heading into the Sept. 17-19 matches at Oakland Hills.

Bob Lewis, the U.S. Walker Cup captain, has been on the prowl this summer, scouting high-profile amateur tournaments. Lewis hopes to have a practice session for potential team members in the Sunbelt in January. He got burned in 2003 when several of his top candidates who participated in a similar session in November 2002 turned professional immediately after the NCAA Championships the following June, three months before the Walker Cup at Ganton, England.

Choosing the 2005 team will be even more challenging because the 40th Walker Cup Match, at Chicago Golf Club, is scheduled for Aug. 13-14 – eight days before the U.S. Amateur begins at Merion Golf Club. Lewis wants the team to be selected by late July, allowing time for a practice session at Chicago Golf before Walker Cup week. Assuming he’ll again lose candidates after the NCAAs, Lewis would have only a handful of national tournaments at which to evaluate the remaining talent.

It might make sense for six or eight players to be named to the 10-man Walker Cup team before the Western Amateur, which is played the last week of July in southwestern Michigan, and the remaining players chosen based on performance in the Western Am. Those named to the team early, plus the short list of candidates, would be required to compete at the Western, and the finalized team could make the short trip to Chicago for two days of practice at the conclusion of the tournament. (Match-play losers at the Western could simply move on to Chicago Golf Club for additional practice before the formal session.)

Lewis acknowledged that U.S. Amateur runner-up Luke List’s stock rose signficantly at Winged Foot. He’s also high on Spencer Levin. Lewis would be overjoyed if a mid-amateur such as Trip Kuehne or Danny Green stepped it up a notch. He’d be ecstatic to have Ryan Moore on the squad, but chances are Moore will have turned professional by then.

It was suggested to Lewis that since Moore earned exemptions into the 2005 Masters, U.S. Amateur and British Open, he might hold off turning pro for an additional six weeks, until after the Walker Cup and U.S. Amateur. Lewis isn’t counting on that.

“It’s so hard to tell with these players,” he said. “For someone who’s had such a phenomenal summer, it’s hard to say what he’ll do. I’d love to have him stick around, but I can’t get my hopes up anymore.”

Instead, he’ll continue to pound the fairways, hoping to discover the Ryan Moore – or the amateur version of Stewart Cink – of 2005.

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