U.S. team spirit runs high at Merion

Bud Cauley, U.S. captain Buddy Marucci, Rickie Fowler and Peter Uihlein march off the course after taking a 3-1 lead in morning foursome matches.

ARDMORE, Pa. – Three years ago, Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein, Morgan Hoffmann and Bud Cauley were all in a buffet line at Sea Island Golf Club, having just finished their second rounds of stroke-play qualifying at the 2006 American Junior Golf Association’s Polo Golf Junior Classic, all of them within the top 8 on the leaderboard. They ate, laughed, went back for seconds, and eventually joined in some of the ping pong and hoop shoot games set up in one of the lobbies.

They acted like hungry, happy teenagers, certainly not thinking about the day they would all go undefeated for the United States at the 2009 Walker Cup.

“All four of us are very close, we’ve grown up together,” said Uihlein, 20, who delivered two of the 7 1/2 points this fab foursome totaled on Day 1. “It’s kind of funny, three years ago if you would have told us we all would have been standing here. No way.”

Uihlein stole the show for the U.S. in morning foursomes, rolling in an 18-footer for par on the 18th hole to give the U.S. a 3-1 lead heading into the afternoon. He followed with a 2-and-1 singles victory over Tommy Fleetwood, slamming a 5-iron to 7 feet for birdie on the 17th to close out the match and help set the Day 1 lead at 8-4.

Cauley and Fowler, who struggled together during practice rounds earlier in the week, teamed up for a 6-and-5 rout of Luke Goddard and Dale Whitnell in the morning, which only proved to be an appetizer. Fowler, 20, torched Sam Hutsby, 7 and 6, while Cauley, 19, made two late birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to beat Niall Kearney, 2 and 1.

The four would have ended the day perfect had Hoffmann, 19, who earlier in the day teamed with Brian Harman for a 2-and-1 victory over Hutsby and Wallace Booth, got up-and-down for par on No. 18 in his singles match against Matt Haines. Instead, Hoffmann walked away with a tie and a half point, leaving him and his boys at 7-0-1 for the day.

Fowler, Uihlein and Hoffmann might all be Cowboys, teammates from Oklahoma State, but toss Cauley, a sophomore at Alabama, in the mix and they’re just boys – or however the kids are putting it these days.

“(Cauley’s) definitely in that group,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw, who is also hanging out at Merion this weekend.

“I think it’s pretty incredible none of them lost (today),” he said. “You wouldn’t have expected that coming into today, I don’t think anyone would have. ... 2007 (Fowler) and 2008 (Uihlein, Cauley, Hoffmann) were pretty good recruiting classes.”

Much has been said this week about the Great Britain & Ireland side being stacked with seven Englishman that are accustomed to playing team golf together.

Don’t forget that most of the players on the U.S. side are college guys used to playing in the same events both in college and on the summer amateur circuit. Just because they often compete against each other doesn’t mean they don’t get along.

Oklahoma State and Georgia, for example, play almost the same college schedule, which is why Fowler says you might as well count Bulldogs Brian Harman and Adam Mitchell among these friends.

“We’re always hanging out,” said Fowler.

And it’s been the same this week. During the rainstorm Thursday, Fowler and Harman watched a movie in the locker room as some of their other teammates practiced on the course and the putting green. Later on, all 10 team members joked around in the locker room while Drew Weaver led them in stretching exercises.

“I don’t think we can get much closer than we are,” said Hoffmann. “This is like a dream come true for all of us who played together and know each other so well. It’s unreal.”

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