The Walker Cup Matches In The New Millennium

Highlights and reflections of the past four biennial Walker Cup competitions
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At the Walker Cup Match in 2001, George H.W. Bush spoke at the Opening Ceremonies and delivered a speech wrought with emotion and wit. (John Mummert/USGA)

By David Shefter, USGA

2001: Sea Change at Sea Island

The 2001 Walker Cup Match at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Ga., turned out to be a historic moment for the Great Britain and Ireland side. Never before in the 79-year history of the biennial competition had GB&I claimed back-to-back victories.

Coming off a 15-9 thrashing of the United States of America at Nairn (Scotland) Golf Club, where the hosts registered 10 of a possible 12 points on Sunday (seven victories in singles out of eight matches), GB&I again had selected a strong squad led by Englandís Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell of Ireland. Both were college All-Americans in the U.S., with Donald winning the 1999 NCAA Division I individual title, beating the 72-hole scoring record previously held by Tiger Woods.

The American, too, had assembled a talented team captained by Danny Yates. That group included 2000 U.S. Amateur champion Jeff Quinney, 2000 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion D.J. Trahan, 1999 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Danny Green and a future U.S. Open champion (Lucas Glover).

Prior to the Match, former President George H.W. Bush, whose maternal grandfather and past USGA President George Herbert Walker played a role in donating the Walker Cup, spoke at the Opening Ceremonies and posed with the team.

Glover even received a pair of presidential cuff links because he was chosen by the team to ask Bush to be in a team photo.

"I still have them," said Glover prior to the PGA Tourís Barclays tournament at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. "They are in my house. They are in my little media room."

Unfortunately for Glover and his USA team, there were not many highlights from that Match. GB&I, like it had done in 1999, dominated play on Sunday, taking three of a possible four points in foursomes (alternate shot) and 6Ĺ of a possible eight points in singles for another 15-9 victory.

Glover lost to Donald, 3 and 2, a day after he and Nick Cassini beat Donald and Nick Dougherty, 4 and 3, in foursomes. Itís the only loss of Donaldís Walker Cup career, which spans the 1999 and 2001 Matches.

"I was very excited [to play]," said Glover, a former star at Clemson University in South Carolina where he grew up. "Itís a goal. You have to play good for a two-year span, so that was good. And [the Match] was pretty close to home.

"I had a lot of support. It was good. I just wish we would have played a little bit better."

Glover posted a 2-2 record that week. He won his Saturday singles match over Michael Hoey, 1 up, but lost to Hoey and McDowell in Sunday foursomes (with Cassini), 2 and 1.

When asked what his most vivid memory of that competition was, Glover didnít hesitate. "Losing. Thatís no fun. We got hosed pretty good."

GB&I Makes It Three Straight In 2003

As Captain Bob Lewis scouted the country in the summer of 2003 for his 10-man squad that would represent the USA in the Walker Cup Match at Ganton (England) Golf Club, one thing was on his mind: end the two-Match losing streak to GB&I.

It would not be an easy task, especially since the 2003 competition was being conducted on foreign soil.

But this would also be a relatively new GB&I squad. The only holdovers from the previous two competitions were 43-year-old Gary Wolstenholme, the reigning British Amateur champion, and Nigel Edwards. Wolstenholme was making his fifth appearance, while Edwards was competing for a second consecutive time. The squad also featured a future star on the European Tour in Oliver Wilson.

The American side was an eclectic mix of young and old players, including 18-year-old Casey Wittenberg, who had just finished as the U.S. Amateur runner-up, and 50-year-old George Zahringer, a 2003 U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist and 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. The team also featured college standouts Bill Haas, Chris Nallen, Brock Mackenzie, Adam Rubinson, Lee Williams and Ryan Moore, along with 1994 U.S. Amateur runner-up Trip Kuehne, the lone Walker Cup veteran on the American side who had played in the 1995 Match in Wales, a 14-10 USA defeat.

Moore was a year away from his magical summer in which he would win the NCAA Division I title, Western Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Amateur. He had won the 2002 APL , but as he recalled during the recent Barclays PGA Tour event, his game was not sharp going into the 2003 Walker Cup competition.

"I was not playing well," said Moore, who picked up his first PGA Tour victory in August at the Wyndham Championship. "It was tough. Itís a big adjustment [going over there]. They had a great team and they played really, really well."

For Moore, the 2003 Match was, unfortunately, not his shining moment in amateur golf. He posted an 0-2 record, losing a Saturday foursome match with Nallen, 3 and 2, to Edwards and Stuart Manley. Then in Sunday singles (he was held out of two sessions), he lost to David Inglis, 4 and 3.

Despite the 12Ĺ-11Ĺ team defeat, Moore still views his Walker Cup experience as a positive moment in his career.

"It was just a fun trip being somewhere with that group of guys," said the Puyallup, Wash., native. "Itís totally different when you are playing for a team and not just playing for yourself the way you normally do. Itís hard to imagine until you are there. You are playing for the U.S. now, not just for yourself."

Moore admitted it took him until later that fall to regain his form, which eventually led to a memorable 2004, which also included playing for a victorious USA team at the World Amateur Team Championship in Puerto Rico.

As for any advice for the 2009 Walker Cup members, Moore said: "Just enjoy it. Itís just a fun experience. You just donít get to do stuff like that very often or if ever again. I havenít been on a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup team. Itís just something special you have with those guys the rest of your life."

2005: USA Ends Losing Skid Ö Barely

Jeff Overton could hear the roars Ė or in this case groans Ė coming from the 18th green. Everything was pointing to another American collapse on Sunday at the Walker Cup. GB&I was magically holing putts and chip shots at Chicago Golf Club in a last-ditch attempt to steal the Cup for a fourth consecutive Match. Even a 12-all tie would keep the trophy on the other side of the pond.

The USA received strong Sunday singles performances from 18-year-old Brian Harman and veteran Lee Williams. Harman had dusted arguably GB&Iís top player in Rhys Davies, a college All-American at East Tennessee State. His surprisingly easy 6-and-5 triumph coupled with Williamsí 4-and-3 victory over Gary Lockerbie put valuable points on Americaís side of the ledger.

"Iíll never forget we were sitting around having a discussion [about Sunday singles]," said Overton, "and Brian Harman goes, ĎI want Rhys Davies. I am going to own him.í I told [Captain] Bob [Lewis] to put me out late. I wanted to be late."

Harman backed up his braggadocio, but GB&I did counter with a 5-and-3 victory from Matt Richardson over long-hitting John "J.B." Holmes.

Then the fireworks began at the 18th hole. It all started with 45-year-old Gary Wolstenholme, a six-time participant, surpassing Sir Michael Bonnallack as the all-time point leader for GB&I (10 points) by stunning American wunderkind Anthony Kim, 1 up. Ten years ago, Wolstenholme also beat Tiger Woods, 1 up, in Saturday singles.

That was followed by Oliver Fisher rolling in a 16-foot birdie putt to halve his match with Michael Putnam. Robert Dinwiddie holed out a chip shot from greenside rough to earn another halve against Matt Every. Lloyd Saltman then made a 20-foot birdie putt to beat Kyle Reifers, 1 up.

All of a sudden, Overton, a recent Indiana University graduate, was in the crosshairs. He needed to beat Walker Cup veteran Nigel Edwards to end the USAís three-Match losing skid.

"I knew I had to be ready for the worst because there was almost like bad karma coming our way with all the [GB&I] guys chipping in and making putts at the end," said Overton. "

Overton overcame an early three-hole deficit to take a 1-up lead going into 17. It was at this par 4 where he rolled in a clutch 8-foot par putt to maintain his advantage.

The adrenaline was pumping as Overton stepped to the 18th tee.

"We had balls with the USA flag on them," Overton recalled. "And I pulled out my No. 1 USA. I was so pumped that I hit probably one of the longer drives of my life. I just bombed it down there about 80 yards [from the green]. And from there it was like do what we have to do to win."

It still came down to a putt. Edwards had a 35-foot downhill putt for birdie, while Overton was 18 feet away.

"You have to be ready for the worst," said Overton. ĎI told Captain Lewis, "Look, I hope he makes this because I am going to drop [my birdie putt] like itís hot.í I just want all the glory. And he walked away."

Edwardsí putt grazed the lip but stayed out. Now Overton only needed two putts to secure a one-point USA win.

"[Captain Lewis] walked back up to me and said, ĎJeff, I know how much you want to make this, but this thing better not go more than six inches beyond the hole. I want to see the best lag putt of your life.í I left it a couple of inches short."

A celebration ensued. The Americans had ended a drought that dated to the 1997 Match at Quaker Ridge. Despite not having a single player over the age of 23 and only participant who had played in a previous Match, the USA had just enough to prevail, 12Ĺ-11Ĺ.

"One of my most memorable experiences in golf," said Overton, who contemplated turning pro earlier in the summer, but was convinced by Lewis that he would make the team. "It was so cool. We had like five or six thousand people out there on the last hole. Itís kind of what you dream about. Itís just such a neat event."

Overton finished the week with a 3-1 record. He also beat Edwards in Saturday singles, 5 and 4, and teamed with good friend Putnam to win a Saturday foursomes match, 2 and 1, over 16-year-old Fisher and Richardson.

"It was a very talented team," said Overton of the 2005 squad. "I think six or seven of the 10 guys have gotten their [PGA/Nationwide] Tour cards a year or two after that event."

2007: Shot Heard ĎRound Northern Ireland

Where were you when Jonathan Moore delivered one of the most remarkable shots in Walker Cup history?

Webb Simpson was on the 16th hole trying to defeat Englandís David Horsey. Thatís when the roar went up from Royal County Downís 18th hole.

"It was just kind of a build-up," said Simpson of the sound emanating from the Northern Ireland course. "And once he made that putt, it was a big roar. You figured either team had done something good."

Mooreís 4-iron approach from 252 yards on the par-5 closing hole stopped 3 feet from the flagstick to set up an eagle-3 and the clinching point for the USA in a 12Ĺ -11Ĺ victory.

"When I saw Colt [Knost] running down the 17th fairway with an American flag, I thought we had won," said Simpson prior to the PGA Tourís Barclays tournament, recalling the moment two years ago. "It was a pretty good feeling knowing that we had won, and seeing the highlights later was awesome."

Mooreís point made Simpsonís match moot. Horsey wound up posting a 1-up victory, but it only made the final margin a little closer.

Simpson and Moore had teamed up in Saturday foursomes and earned a halve against Jamie Moul and Daniel Willett, as the two teams wound up tied, 6-6, after the first day.

"I was strategic in that I chose to tee off on No. 2," said Simpson when asked about his first-tee jitters.

Perhaps even tougher was the anxiety of just being named to the team. All summer long, there had been speculation on players. Simpson tried his best to remain calm and just focused on each competition.

"You canít really go out and try to make it," said the former Wake Forest All-American who was a member of the 2006 USA World Amateur Team. "[The USGA] has a very fair process of two years and picking the best players. It was fun to see who was close."

And there was relief when Captain Buddy Marucci called.

"There was definite relief," said Simpson. "You hear so many things. That was cool."

Once the team arrived in Northern Ireland, they felt the magnitude of the competition. Huge crowds greeted the teams, with many of the spectators coming to see native son Rory McIlroy, who went 1-2-1.

"The Northern Ireland crowds were so good because they were cheering for both teams," said Simpson. "Obviously more for the Europeans [GB&I], but we had a blast.

Simpson posted a 0-2-1 overall mark, but that isnít what he remembers about the 2007 Match.

"To represent your country as one of the 10 best amateurs in the country is pretty cool and something Iíll never forget," said Simpson.

As for any advice for the 2009 squad, Simpson added: "Relax and have fun. Honestly, just soak it in. At the end of the day, itís just golf. Itís a fun team competition. You hear stories about how nervous people get but youíve got to just enjoy it."

David Shefter is a Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

 

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