U.S. captain Holtgrieve relaxes as Edwards pushes

U.S. Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve greets his players at National Golf Links on the eve of the 2013 Walker Cup.

U.S. Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve greets his players at National Golf Links on the eve of the 2013 Walker Cup.

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— “I’m here to win,” GB&I captain Nigel Edwards said.

It’s a far cry from Jim Holtgrieve’s reason for being at the 44th Walker Cup.

Holtgrieve’s mission this week? “It’s all about building relationships. It’s not about winning.”

The U.S. captain didn’t make that statement once, but twice.

Strange outlook for a guy who captained a losing side two years ago at Royal Aberdeen. Noble perhaps, but you’d have thought of the two captains, Holtgrieve would be delivering the “I’m here to win,” message. Edwards, with a Walker Cup victory already on his resume, could have been forgiven for going down the “relationships” route.

This match is likely Holtgrieve’s last tilt at captaining a U.S. Walker Cup team. You’d have thought he’d have turned up here spouting fire and brimstone about winning being the only thing that matters.

The U.S. team is 4/9 favorites with British bookmakers Ladbrokes. GB&I are listed at odds of 9/4 with 10/1 on a tie. The odds makers might be advised to reassess those odds in light of Holtgrieve’s outlook.

The U.S. is on a bad run of losing international matches. Europe holds the Ryder and Solheim cups, while GB&I holds the Walker and Curtis cups. It’s time the U.S. started fighting back. This week would be a good place to start.

“I don’t think that’s filtered through to my team,” Holtgrieve said when asked if losses in the above competitions provide extra motivation this week. Again, he gave the “relationships” answer. “It’s a gentleman’s game,” he said. “That’s what it started all about. It’s not about winning. It’s about building relationships, and that’s what these guys are going to do.”

To be fair, Holtgrieve added a caveat when he said, “I will tell you Nathan Smith wants to win and so do I and so does Patrick Rodgers.” However, the caveat included a caveat when he added,” but there’s things that are more important about what’s going on at this historic golf site.”

Edwards has another advantage on his U.S. counterpart. The R&A refused to follow the USGA’s lead and select two mid-amateurs. Holtgrieve not only has mid-amateurs Nathan Smith and Todd White in his side, but he was instrumental in helping them make the team.

He lobbied the USGA hard for the inclusion of mid-amateurs. He wanted at least one for 2015, but got two this time around.

Smith and White are good players; Smith is playing in his third Walker Cup. However, there are quite a few players ranked higher who are not in the U.S. side.

Scottie Scheffler is ranked ninth in the world but isn’t here. Sean Dale is 17th and also hasn’t made the trip to Long Island. Bet they’re not big favorites of Holtgrieve and the USGA’s mid-amateur policy.

Edwards would never have dreamed of demanding two mid-amateurs be on his Walker Cup team. At age 45, he would have been a prime candidate for the GB&I side if that policy applied across the board.

Edwards knows the world has moved on since the days when Walker Cups were comprised of 30-something golfers. These days the best amateurs are in their late teens or early 20s. England’s Neil Raymond is the eldest player on the GB&I side at 27.

Thankfully, when the players step onto the tee tomorrow morning, they will be there to do one thing and one thing only. They are here to win no matter what Holtgrieve tells them. There will be lots of time to build relationships after they’ve taken a point off the other side.

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