Race for Walker Cup gets underway
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Gentlemen, start your engines.
OK, so that’s a term most associated with auto racing. But it certainly fits right now in the world of amateur golf.
Now is the time for players who harbor hopes of being selected to this year’s 10-man U.S. Walker Cup squad to rev up and come out of the starting blocks on all cylinders.
Granted, the USGA considers play over a two-year period (from the end of the last Walker Cup). Still, the desire is to get players who are playing their best this summer.
Plenty of tournaments over the next three months will provide a forum for players to state their case for selection, starting this week at the Sunnehanna Amateur in Johnstown, Pa. The following week, the Southwestern Amateur, Monroe Invitational and British Amateur are on tap. June closes out with the Northeast Amateur and the Rice Planters Amateur, and the July and August calendars are equally as full.
This year’s race for the Walker Cup is wide open, maybe more so than any other year I can remember.
Following the 2007 Walker Cup in Ireland, five players from the winning U.S. squad remained amateur. Four of those – Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Kyle Stanley and Jamie Lovemark – returned to school and competed this past college season.
However, Stanley, Horschel and Lovemark have announced they are turning pro and won’t be around for this year’s Walker Cup, to be played Sept. 12-13 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. And Trip Kuehne, the only mid-amateur on the ’07 team, pretty much hung up his competitive golf spikes after winning last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur.
That leaves only Fowler, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, who says he wants to compete on another Walker Cup team before possibly turning pro and giving up his final two years of college golf.
Fowler is a no-brainer to again be part of the U.S. contingent. Not only does he have the experience, he was 3-1 at the last Walker Cup. He also has the credentials: He is a two-time first-team All-American, won the 2008 Hogan Award (and was a finalist again this year), won the ’08 Sunnehanna, was a member of last year’s U.S. World Amateur Team squad, made the cut at last year’s U.S. Open and advanced to the Sweet 16 at the U.S. Amateur.
One spot is locked down, but there are still nine to go. It should be a real dogfight, especially the next two months.
From what I hear, the USGA plans to select the bulk of this year’s Walker Cup team – seven or eight players – following the Western Amateur in early August. The remaining spots will be announced after the U.S. Amateur on Aug. 24-30 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
For those players who hope to be at Merion, it will be a pressure-packed summer. Every tournament, every shot, could become a deciding factor in the selection process.
Though I do believe it’s a wide open race, there are a handful of solid players who I think enter the summer a little higher on the USGA’s list.
You can start with Fowler’s OSU teammate, Morgan Hoffmann, who had three college wins, was a first-team All-American and won the Phil Mickelson Award as Freshman of the Year. And how about a couple of other Cowboys in freshman Peter Uihlein and sophomore Kevin Tway.
Two other front-runners would have to be Mike Van Sickle of Marquette and Cameron Tringale of Georgia Tech, first-team All-Americans as seniors this past season.
Georgia had a great season, finishing second behind Oklahoma State in the final Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, and all five Bulldogs starters are in the Walker Cup mix. Leading the way is senior Brian Harman, a member of the winning ’05 U.S. Walker Cup team who has put his pro plans on hold in an effort to play for his country once more. Georgia senior Adam Mitchell, a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur, junior Hudson Swafford and sophomores Russell Henley and Harris English also will be considered.
Others to keep an eye on: Texas A&M’s Bronson Burgoon, the senior who was 3-0 in match play and hit the title-clinching shot in the Aggies’ NCAA Championship run; UCLA senior Erik Flores; sophomores Steve Ziegler (Stanford), John Peterson (LSU) and Scott Langley (Illinois); and freshmen Bud Cauley (Alabama) and Blayne Barber (Central Florida). And don’t count out top junior players Cameron Peck and Cory Whitsett.
Still, other than Fowler, I don’t see anyone else – at this point at least – being a sure lock, although I’d say Hoffmann, Van Sickle and Tringale are close.
While young guns again will dominate the 2009 Walker Cup team, it doesn’t mean there is no hope for mid-amateurs. (Kuehne was the only over-25 player on the ’07 squad, and there were none in ’05).
Still, you can bet this group will be battling just as hard the next few months to be a part of U.S. captain Buddy Marucci’s squad. A lot will depend on how much – and of course, how well – they play this summer but here’s a quartet to watch: Mike McCoy, Nathan Smith, Skip Berkmeyer and Carlton Forrester.
Regardless of who ends up on the U.S. squad,one thing is sure: It won’t be a dull summer.