Drama Builds at Seminole as USA Holds 7-5 Lead After Day 1
May 8, 2021 | Juno Beach, Fla.
By Greg Midland and Joey Geske, USGA
The first day of the 48th Walker Cup Match at Seminole Golf Club dawned with picture-perfect weather and ideal course conditions, but also a degree of uncertainty, due to a stomach bug that impacted several players from both the USA and Great Britain & Ireland teams. Showing resilience through the adversity, the teams put on an impressive display of golf on Saturday that ended with the USA leading, 7-5.
Due to the unusual circumstances, the captains of each team were permitted unprecedented flexibility with their lineups for the day’s four foursomes and eight singles matches. Alternates were summoned into action and late changes were made to the pairings. The players rallied to the cause, with each of the two alternates, and the two players who subbed in for teammates who weren’t up to playing, all earning points.
This is the eighth consecutive time the USA Team has led after Day 1 when playing at home, seven of which resulted in overall victories. Having won the Walker Cup two years ago at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, the USA needs to earn 6 out of an available 16 points on Sunday to retain the cup, while Great Britain & Ireland needs to take 8½ points to claim their first Walker Cup win since 2015.
“A lot of ups and downs,” said USA captain Nathaniel Crosby when asked to describe the day. “It's just amazing that we're actually playing this match with everything that happened to us this past week. If it wasn't for COVID, we wouldn't be here with two alternates, and we were able to play one this morning due to three guys getting sick yesterday.
“They're a great bunch of guys, and the best part about this whole experience for me has been getting to know them. It's sad when they lose, but it's great when they win, and hopefully we'll carry the day tomorrow.”
The first singles match of the day was Alex Fitzpatrick against Pierceson Coody, who sat out the morning foursomes. Fitzpatrick started strong and held a 1-up lead through 11 holes, but Coody was not to be deterred.
Playing in his first Walker Cup, the grandson of 1971 Masters champion Charles Coody and the No. 2 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® won three of the last seven holes to earn a 2-up victory over the only player on the GB&I Team with previous Walker Cup experience.
“After being sick for about 24, 36 hours, I thought it would be tough,” said Coody, 21, of Plano, Texas. “The club felt a little light this afternoon, but it was really easy to get going. It went as smoothly as it could, as sick as we all were a couple days ago.”
The next three matches were a bit more decisive, as Mark Power of GB&I earned his second point of the day with a 3-and-2 win over world No. 3 Davis Thompson; the USA’s Ricky Castillo never trailed en route to defeating Ben Schmidt, 5 and 3; and William Mouw – who was pressed into action less than 30 minutes before his tee time when reigning U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci wasn’t physically able to compete – was victorious over Ben Jones, 4 and 3.
Like Mouw, Matty Lamb of GB&I was a substitute, replacing the reigning Amateur champion Joe Long roughly 90 minutes before his tee time. Lamb never trailed against Quade Cummins and completed the 2-and-1 victory with a par on the very difficult par-3 17th hole. He credited GB&I captain Stuart Wilson for helping him get mentally ready for the match.
“Captain told me that Joe was still not feeling the best, so he just told me to get ready the same as I would normally,” said Lamb. “I just treated it like I would be playing anyway.”
How things would stand at the end of the day was very much in doubt up to the end. One match that didn’t break GB&I’s way late was Angus Flanagan vs. Austin Eckroat. Flanagan held a 1-up lead over Eckroat with three holes to play, but went bogey-double bogey on Holes 16 and 17 to fall behind. The players then halved 18, which gave Eckroat the match, 1 up.
After Eckroat’s win, the remaining two matches on the course pitted Barclay Brown of GB&I against John Pak, who played a pivotal role in the USA’s victory two years ago, and USA standout Cole Hammer against John Murphy. After Pak won three holes in a row to tie Brown through 13, Brown went on a run of his own, birdieing 14 and 15, the back-to-back par 5s, to regain a 2-up margin that led to his earning a critical point for GB&I.
Meanwhile, Hammer, who looked to be cruising while building a 5-up lead through nine holes, saw his lead tighten considerably as Murphy got three of the holes back. Hammer made par on 17 – a score that many other players would have gladly taken – to earn a 3-and-1 decision.
“You know what, at the end of the day golf is pretty hard, and you can't play perfect golf all day long,” said Hammer. “I got off to a hot start, got to 5-up and kind of felt like I was coasting at that point. The next thing you know I make bogey on 10 and he's kind of right back in it. Luckily I was able to make a nice 10-footer on 15 for birdie that really kind of set up my last couple holes and had a good up-and-down [on 17].”
During Saturday morning’s foursomes play, each team earned two points in matches that came down to the wire. At one point, the U.S. held early leads across the board; less than two hours later, all the matches were tied. It was the first time since 1983 at Royal Liverpool that every match in a foursomes session reached the 18th hole.
In the back-and-forth first match of the day, the Hammer and Thompson hung on to defeat Fitzpatrick and Brown, 1 up. Heading to the 18th hole tied, two-time Walker Cup competitor Hammer delivered early fireworks to Seminole as he sank a 35-foot birdie putt to win the match and get the Americans on the board first.
Power and Murphy led the late-morning surge from Great Britain & Ireland. Trailing by three holes to Cummins and Eckroat through 12, the pair from Ireland won four of the final six holes to earn a point from the Americans. It was the second time in the match that the GB&I side found themselves in a 3-down deficit.
“I said to Mark both times,” said Murphy, “we're playing great, we just have to stick to what we're doing. This is a golf course of mistakes so let's let them make the mistakes, and I think we stuck to our game plan really well and stayed patient.”
In the third foursomes match, the USA’s Castillo and alternate Mac Meissner turned the tables in a similar way on Jack Dyer and Matty Lamb. The Americans were 1 down through 13 but then birdied Nos. 14 and 15, the consecutive par-5s, to take a 1-up lead, then added a win on No. 18 to seal a 2-up victory despite some early jitters.
Castillo said, “Alternate shot is such a tough format where you have to be really good with your teammate and stuff, and we did a really good job of that today, so it was a lot of fun.”
Jake Bolton, the first alternate for the GB&I squad, partnered with Angus Flanagan to secure the final point of the morning. Bolton delivered two clutch shots late in the match: First, he sank a 35-footer on the par-3 17th to win the hole for a 1-up lead, then he stuck his 175-yard approach shot on 18 to 8 feet, setting up the victory for the English duo.
Sunday’s schedule calls for four foursomes matches beginning at 8:20 a.m., followed by 10 singles matches in the afternoon.
Greg Midland is the USGA’s editorial director. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Joey Geske is a coordinator of championship communications for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.