OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – The setting this week at Olympia Fields Country Club is nearly perfect.
Two courses side-by-side with the clubhouse positioned between the two creates an environment that is tailor-made for a U.S. Amateur Championship, an event that includes a total of 312 golfers who have assembled for the 115th edition of this championship.
For a large percentage of those 312 players participating this week, it is simply a goal that can be checked off their to-do lists. For others, much more is at stake. The winner will have his name cemented in history, earn a trip to Augusta next spring and most likely reserve a spot on the United States Walker Cup team, provided he is not an international player and has not already been picked.
Last week, the USGA announced five players that would make up half of the upcoming Walker Cup squad that will compete against a team from Great Britain and Ireland later this fall in Lancashire, England. That leaves five players to be announced at the conclusion of the U.S. Amateur.
With the first five picks, the only surprise might have been the absence of one name: Robby Shelton. Which prompted one college coach to text me: “silly.”
Strolling the grounds today here at Olympia Fields, that was the consensus thought. Not necessarily that it was silly, even though it sort of is, but rather surprised that Shelton was not in the initial wave of invites. Shelton, who will be a junior at Alabama this fall, has the credentials. He left junior golf as the top-ranked junior player, was then named college golf freshman of the year and tabbed as a first-team All-American. Not to mention a recent third-place finish at the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship earlier this summer.
When the final team members are listed one has to think it is safe to pencil in Shelton’s name as one of the remaining five picks.
There is little debating the credentials of the first five players named to the team.
A couple were no-brainers, beginning with Bryson DeChambeau, who won the NCAA individual title, and Maverick McNealy, college golf’s top-ranked player and No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Also high on the list: Lee McCoy and Hunter Stewart, Nos. 4 and 5 in the world, and Beau Hossler.
U.S. Walker Cup captain Spider Miller said chemistry is very important.
“I want to find 10 players who want to be with each other, want to play together and coalesce as a team,” said Miller.
So, the job now is to find four more players, if we consider Shelton a lock. Miller and the committee look at a two-year window with the last year carrying more weight.
A move by the USGA to place at least two mid-amateurs on the team began in 2013. The favorites for those spots would be Nathan Smith, Todd White and Scott Harvey, the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. Smith and White were part of the winning squad in 2013.
Smith is a three-time veteran of the Walker Cup team, and White played on the 2013 squad. These two are the favorites and are likely to take up those two spots.
Now is where it gets a little tricky. If the above holds form that would lock in eight spots with just two slots left. The winner this week here at Olympia Fields is likely to see his name on the team. Which would leave just one pick from a few names that all appear to be worthy of having their name on that USA bag.
Names such as: Jordan Niebrugge, Denny McCarthy, Scottie Scheffler and Matt NeSmith.
Niebrugge is a past Walker Cupper and his low amateur honors at the British Open should carry a lot of clout. He could be the favorite to grab one of those last spots.
NeSmith is one who is thought to be on the radar as well.
“Hopefully I will let my golf clubs do the talking and win my way on the team,” NeSmith said after an opening round 5-under 65 on the Olympia Fields South course.
NeSmith may have a good plan. Bottom line here this week is if you hope to make the team, a win might be needed.