Holtgrieve hopes U.S. team does more than win
ABERDEEN, Scotland - For the longest time, Jim Holtgrieve has had a special place in his heart for Scotland, in particular, for golf in the country that is the home of the game.
Walker Cup: Meet the teams
The U.S. and GB&I Walker Cup squads feature some of the best amateur players in the world. Get to know the 20 men battling for the Cup this week at Royal Aberdeen.
It began when he first traveled to this country in 1979 to play in the first of three consecutive U.S. victories in the Walker Cup at Muirfield. It grew when he came back in 1983 to play in the British Amateur at Turnberry, where he was runner-up to Welshman Philip Parkin.
So when the USGA named him captain two years ago, and he saw the 43rd Walker Cup Match would be played at Scotland’s Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, he was overly ecstatic.
Holtgrieve, 63, of St. Louis, called it “truly the biggest honor I have ever received.”
He and his 10-man team arrived in Scotland on Sept. 2, spent a couple days in the St. Andrews area playing golf, and then came up to Royal Aberdeen last Sunday afternoon to begin preparing for Saturday’s start of the Walker Cup against Great Britain & Ireland.
“I can’t get over the fact I am here as the captain,” Holtgrieve said earlier this week. “I’ve been asked if I wished I was captain and have the match in the United States, but I said ‘Are you kidding me?’ I’m the captain of the American team and I’m taking that team to Scotland, where golf was born. God could not have blessed me more than letting me be captain here.”
In July of 2010, Holtgrieve and wife Kristine vacationed in Scotland. It was a scouting trip for Holtgrieve. He played Royal Aberdeen twice, taking notes and pictures and lasering yardages.
He put together his own yardage book from that visit and gave a copy to each of his players to study on their incoming flight.
“There are a number of blind tee shots, so course knowledge is imperative at Royal Aberdeen and I wanted the guys to get a feel for what to expect once they got here,” said Holtgrieve, who, as a player, was 5-0 in U.S. team competitions (:1979, ‘81 and ‘83 Walker Cups and 1980 and ‘82 World Amateur Team Championships).
Holtgrieve was among the nation’s leading amateurs in the '70s and ’80s. In addition to his runner-up at the British Amateur, he was a semifinalist at the 1980 U.S. Amateur and winner of the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1981. He played in five Masters as an amateur, making three cuts, and qualified for the 1978 U.S. Open.
He turned professional in 1998 and played the Champions Tour from 1999 to 2005. However, he said he was “playing golf for the wrong reasons” as a professional. So, he sat out two years and applied for amateur reinstatement, which the U.S. Golf Association granted in 2007.
Walker Cup: Royal Aberdeen
Take a look at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland, the site of the 2011 Walker Cup.
“I made a big mistake one time turning professional,” Holtgrieve said on the eve of this year’s Walker Cup. “I went to play only for money and forgot about having fun. So, to get a second chance to come back to amateur golf, I’m very blessed and very honored about that.
“Amateur golf, to me, is the purest form (of the game). And the Walker Cup is what pure amateur golf is all about. It’s the best event in amateur golf. It’s the founding of team play in the game and was born (in 1922) for the right reason, to bring friendship and build relationships between two continents after World War I.”
And, for Holtgrieve, being captain and bringing his team here to Scotland is more about simply winning.
Oh, you can bet he wants to win, just as much as his captain counterpart Nigel Edwards of the GB&I team. The players from both sides certainly want to win.
But, for Holtgrieve, the Walker Cup goes beyond the final score.
“Everybody comes to compete and win and we will be doing the same,” he said. “But for me, it’s not the most important thing. What is most important is for these young men to come to Scotland and play in an event which will have an impact on their careers going forward. It is the opportunity for them to enjoy and savor the experience of playing for their country in a Walker Cup.”
Holtgrieve and his team will be very much under the gun this weekend, considering the U.S. has won the last three Walker Cups, leads the series 34-7-1, and is considered a strong favorite, boasting a squad that features six of the top 10 players in the World Amateur Ranking, including the top four.
“There is no doubt I want to win,” Holtgrieve said. “But my goal is for the players to come away with an experience of life. Through the Walker Cup I have the opportunity to take 10 young me to a great part of the world to play golf and hopefully teach them about life. Win or lose, I want them to leave here knowing just how fortunate they are to play the game.”
The Walker Cup is all match play - four foursomes (alternate shot) and eight singles on Saturday and four foursomes and 10 singles on the final day Sunday. And, while the U.S., on paper, looks to be the favorite, Holtgrieve and his players know that in match play anything can happen.
“I don’t think we have the upper hand at all,” said Harris English, who earlier this summer won a Nationwide Tour event. “We are here in Scotland, GB&I has a great team and we are playing match play. So really anything can happen.”
You definitely won’t get Holtgrieve to argue that point.
“It’s all match play so when we get to the first tee tomorrow we are all square,” Holtgrieve said. “Everything is even. I feel our guys are ready and I’m sure the GB&I guys are ready.”