Editor’s note: This story appeared in the February 2017 issue of Golfweek Magazine.
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SEA ISLAND, Ga. – The last American junior golfer to play in a Walker Cup?
There actually were two: Jordan Spieth and Patrick Rodgers competed in the 2011 edition, which the U.S. lost 14-12 to Great Britain and Ireland at Royal Aberdeen.
Having juniors in the biennial matches isn’t common. And when it does happen, the junior tends to be a player such as a Spieth, or a Rickie Fowler, or a Rory McIlroy, who played for GB&I in 2007 as an 18-year-old.
But when the Walker Cup heads to Los Angeles Country Club in September, there’s a chance a junior could be part of the mix for the American side.
While walking around Ocean Forest Golf Club during the Feb. 3-5 Jones Cup, U.S. captain John “Spider” Miller said there were some juniors on his radar. He had a good look at four in Sea Island – Noah Goodwin (ranked 17th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking; he was eighth a week ago), Davis Shore (32), Wilson Furr (78) and Cole Hammer (83).
For the most part, they played well. Hammer, who played in the 2015 U.S. Open, finished third. Shore tied for eighth with three others, including Walker Cup hopeful Sam Burns. Furr, the 2015 Mississippi State Amateur winner, played in the final group before falling back to T-13. And while Goodwin didn’t have his best stuff (he finished T-41), the AJGA Rolex Junior Player of the Year currently has the best credentials of the bunch, including a runner-up finish at last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur.
“There’s some good talent in the older junior division, and it showed this week,” Hammer said. “We’re not too scared of these guys.”
Said Shore: “I think someone has a chance if they can step it up in amateur golf this summer.”
High-level junior golf isn’t as far from top amateur and college events as some may think. According to the World Amateur Golf Ranking, there were only five elite-strength and 30 A-strength amateur events in 2016. Among the B-strength events was the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, and 10 junior events were C-strength.
“The depth of field is better in amateur events,” Furr said, “but I think the leaders aren’t too far apart.”
Regardless, these juniors know they’ll have to play well in amateur – and not junior – events to have a shot at making the 10-man U.S. team in August. Which is why they each have an amateur-heavy schedule planned, with events such as the U.S. Amateur, Northeast Amateur and Sunnehanna Amateur on the radar.
“It’s definitely a step up,” Shore said. “College players have the best facilities and get to practice a lot, so you really have to step up your game, especially ballstriking because these courses are a lot longer. …
“But I think that I’ve got what it takes to win one of these tournaments.”
Shore isn’t alone. These kids are good.