Walker Cup reaction: 'Pinnacle of amateur golf'
Patrick Rodgers was nearly at a loss for words.
"It's the pinnacle of amateur golf," the Stanford junior said.
Max Homa was overcome with pride.
"I'm so honored to wear the Red, White and Blue and represent my country," the 22-year-old former Cal star said.
Justin Thomas was already thinking about his first-tee introduction.
"There is nothing like hearing, "Now, on the first tee, from America . . ." the Alabama All-American said.
Rodgers, Thomas and Homa were three of the five U.S. Walker Cup selections announced by the USGA's Tom O'Toole on Wednesday morning, joined by Alabama's Cory Whitsett and Cal's Michael Kim.
The rest of the team – five spots, including two required mid-amateurs – will be announced in the coming weeks. The Walker Cup will be played Sept. 7-8 at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y.
“We felt at this time they had shown enough performance to make the announcement. There’s still quite a few very important events before the U.S. Amateur for others to step up. We’ll sit down at the U.S. Amateur and continue our process," said Dan Burton, vice president of USGA Executive Committee.
Rodgers will play in his second consecutive Cup, a part of the team that lost 14-12 to GB&I at Royal Aberdeen in 2011. The U.S. had won three straight heading into 2011, and holds a 35-8 overall advantage. Yet, the Americans have a little bit of a chip on their shoulders.
"I'm excited as hell to go to New York and bring that Cup back," Rodgers said.
"(The U.S.) had a great run for awhile in Walker Cups. So, maybe in the past, we'd treat it as another fun week," Homa said. "But they have the Cup. We are going to be really determined to get that thing back. I'd love to help. It'd be a real honor to be on that team that brought it back to America. I relish the opportunity."
Homa has also put off another opportunity – turning pro – in order to accomplish his life-long goal of making the Walker Cup squad. The 2013 NCAA individual champ has felt pressure since his impressive display at the Capital City Club in June to give up on his last amateur summer and accept sponsor exemptions as a pro. His stubbornness paid off when he got a call a couple of days ago to tell him he had been picked to the U.S. squad, setting off some tears from his parents.
"I feel pretty proud. I had that decision to go pro early. There was a lot of thinking involved, because the Walker Cup is a hard team to make," said Homa, who played in the U.S. Open at Merion in June. "But I thought to myself not to run away from a good challenge. Some thought I was immature not to go pro and take some exemptions. I am proud of the decision I made.
"I wanted this really, really, really bad. It was my biggest goal in life so far. I don't know what happened, but someone is looking down on me, helping me out. It's a perfect way to go out. "
Cal head coach Steve Desimone knew it took guts for Homa to stick to his guns.
“This is a little extra special for Max,” Desimone said. “His decision to remain an amateur for this is clearly one of the greatest decisions of all time.”
Homa wasn't the only one pining for a spot, as Thomas had waited two long years to be named to the squad. An up-and-coming junior star at the time, Thomas says he pushed himself too hard in 2011, constantly thinking about how his results would affect whether he'd make the team.
"Every week, I would tell myself, 'Play well for the Walker Cup,' instead of for myself," said Thomas, a Haskins Award winner (2012) and national champion (2013). "Over the last couple years, I worried about playing solid and not the result or how I finished."
Whitsett, who has won the Northeast Amateur and finished second at the Sunnehanna Amateur this summer, remembers driving back home after Thomas' first collegiate victory at the Carpet Capital and the two of them watching Walker Cup highlights on TV – giving both an extra bit of motivation to be in those spots in 2013.
"He told me, 'I'm going to make that team in two years,' " said Whitsett, who missed the congratulatory call from Barton on Sunday night because he was at a movie (Grown Ups 2) with his sister.
"We kept each other accountable over the last two years. We put in a lot of hard work."
Kim didn't have to worry about people noticing how hard he worked during the 2012-13 college season, winning both the Jack Nicklaus and Haskins Awards. The All-American also was the low amateur at the U.S. Open, flirting with the lead during the second round and ultimately finishing T-17, good for low-amateur status.
VIDEO: Michael Kim wins 2013 Haskins Award
“I’m definitely honored to be named a Walker Cup player. It’s truly an amazing feeling. This has been a goal of mine since 2011 and now for it to happen is just great," said Kim.
Rodgers also had a week to remember among the pros, making his first PGA Tour cut at the John Deere Classic last week and even gaining a share of the lead at one point. He finished T-15 at 14 under. But with the spotlight on both he and Justin Thomas in terms of whether they intend to go pro after the Walker Cup, Rodgers is staying focused on the tasks at hand: an impressive summer schedule (Porter Cup, Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur) and squaring up his record as a Walker Cup team member.
"I'm not thinking beyond my summer, but I plan on going back to school in the fall," said Rodgers. "I'm just excited about the next couple of months."
Meanwhile, Thomas says that he will be discussing his future with his parents next week – one of the few he has had off this summer.
"We will sit down and see what is best for me," said Thomas. "We will weigh all the options and see what is best for my future."
What we do know, is that future includes the Walker Cup, and Thomas will be able to lean on his buddy Rodgers for some advice on how to deal with the adrenaline that comes from the huge galleries – something you don't see a lot of at most summer amateur tournaments.
"The Walker Cup is a totally different feeling, it's not like anything else," said Rodgers. "It's cool to play on that stage. There's lots of people out there."
That was music to Homa's ears.
"It gets me going. I've watched the Ryder Cup my whole life. In some tournaments, (fans) are rooting for this guy and that guy. But, (at Walker Cup) everyone is rooting for you, because you are from America," said Homa. "That excites me more than anything, to feel that first roar or cheer. I can't wait for it to be honest."
– Ron Balicki contributed to this report