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Monday, September 11, 2017

Star-studded U.S. team wasn't going to be denied a Walker Cup win

   Anyone who paid attention to the college golf scene in the last couple of years could see this coming.
   A very strong United States team completed an impressive 19-7 victory over a Great Britain & Ireland side that was no pushover as the Walker Cup Match concluded Sunday at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course.
   The U.S. won three of the four foursome matches Sunday morning including wins for Captain Spider Miller’s formidable duos of Norman Xiong and Collin Morikawa and Doug Ghim and Maverick McNealy. And then the U.S. won seven of the 10 singles matches, halving two others and losing only one outright.
   It was a little bit of redemption for Captain Miller and McNealy, who were part of a 2015 U.S. team that got beaten pretty thoroughly, 16.5-9.5, at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club.
   McNealy of Portola Valley, Calif. has been one of the top amateur players in the world for the last few years. It was a bit of a disappointing senior season at Stanford for the son of the founder of Sun Microsystems, but he did tie the Stanford career record for tournament victories set by that Tiger Woods fella with 11.
   McNealy announced last week that he will turn pro, but he wasn’t going to cheat himself out of a winning Walker Cup performance in his native California to punctuate his amateur career. McNealy, fellow Californian Morikawa, a junior at California, and Doug Ghim, a senior at Texas, all had 4-0 records. There have been teams on both sides with two players boasting 4-0 records. Never has a team had three players with perfect 4-0 marks.
   “I think it starts with the U.S. team getting that big trophy and that was our goal at the beginning of the week and I’m so excited to be part of the 2017 winning Walker Cup team,” McNealy told the USGA website. “That’s what’s most important to me. I’m so glad we could win this for our team, win this for Captain Miller and win this for the country.
   “It’s been unbelievable. I’ll never forget this week. It’s the end of my amateur career, but it means so much more than that to me, it’s been incredible.”
   Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge, Calif. has been a member of some California teams that have struggled in a powerful Pac-12 Conference against the likes of McNealy’s Stanford teams and Xiong’s Oregon team last spring.
   Oregon won an NCAA title the spring before Xiong arrived and he very nearly led the Ducks to a repeat as they made it all the way to the final before falling to Oklahoma last spring at Rich Harvest Farms.
   Ghim of Arlington Heights, Ill. was a sophomore on a very talented Texas team that lost in the NCAA championship match to Oregon in the spring of 2015. His considerable ability and grit were on display last month when he fell to Clemson sophomore Doc Redman of Raleigh, N.C. on the 37th hole of the U.S. Amateur final at Riviera Country Club in a heartbreaker.
   And while those will be the names that get the headlines coming out of this Walker Cup, it was a team effort.
   Those of us who watched Stewart Hagestad rally from 4-down with five holes to play to win the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall against Scott Harvey weren’t surprised to see Hagestad come back from 2-down after two holes to claim a 2 and 1 victory over Englishman Jack Singh Brar.
   Hagestad had to have in the back of his mind at Stonewall that a win in the U.S. Mid-Am would almost certainly earn him a berth on the U.S. team for a 2017 Walker Cup Match being played at a L.A. Country Club North Course he played growing up.
   Hagestad mentioned when he was the low amateur at the Masters, the first mid-am to do so, that he was proud to represent mid-ams around the country. He represented quite well at Augusta and he did it again this weekend on his home course.
   Ghim’s Texas teammate, Scottie Scheffler, a senior from Dallas, got a 1-up win over Scotland’s Connor Syme, who had knocked off McNealy in the U.S. Amateur at Riviera. Scheffler, the low amateur in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, might very well be the best player in Division I golf.
   And how many college golf teams have two members from a U.S. Walker Cup that just claimed a resounding win? Just one, those Texas Longhorns.
   The NCAA individual champion, Braden Thornberry, a junior at Mississippi, rolled to a 6 and 5 victory in singles Sunday over Paul McBride, a senior at Wake Forest from Ireland. He also authored the shot of the weekend, a 200-yard approach to a foot on the 18th hole of his Saturday singles matches against Harry Ellis, The Amateur Championship winner who is a senior at Florida State.
   GB&I made a strong bid to get back in the hunt during the Saturday singles matches. Thornberry’s shot, which gave him a 2-up victory, took a little of the wind out of their sails.
   Wake Forest’s Will Zalatoris, a senior from Plano, Texas, and Texas A&M’s Cameron Champ, a senior from Sacramento, Calif. struggled a little in the Walker Cup, at least until they teamed up for a 6 and 5 win over David Boote, a former teammate of McNealy’s at Stanford, and Jack Davidson in a Sunday morning foursome match.
   Zalatoris won his afternoon singles match and Champ got a half.
   Redman, who played his way onto the team with his U.S. Amateur victory, didn’t have the greatest weekend in L.A., but I don’t think he’s giving back his last three weeks in southern California, what with that Havemeyer Trophy and his place on a winning U.S. Walker Cup team.
   Regular readers of this blog know that at some point early in each year I’ll look at how some of the players from the winning U.S. side from the Walker Cup Match in 2009 that was held at my favorite golf course in the whole world, Merion’s East Course, are doing. 
   That team had two players finish with 4-0 records, Oklahoma State teammates Rickie Fowler and Peter Uihlein. But, much like this year, it was a team effort and several of the players from that U.S. team have carved out pretty nice professional careers. Brian Harman, the gritty little left-hander from Georgia, had a pretty good year in 2017. Guys like Cameron Tringale, Bud Cauley and Morgan Hoffman are putting together solid careers.
   The mid-am from that team, western Pennsylvania’s own Nathan Smith, played in two more Walker Cups and added three more U.S. Mid-Amateur titles to the one he owned when he arrived at Merion in 2009.
   This 2017 team will be the same way. There might be a superstar or two or three, but they all will do well at whatever they do. And they will all have that memory of their magical weekend in La-La Land.

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