U.S. uses Bama magic to claim Palmer Cup
WILMINGTON, DEL.—Stop me if you've heard this before: Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett secured early points in team match-play competition to lift a Jay Seawell-coached squad to victory.
Seven days after the Alabama teammates propelled Seawell and the Crimson Tide to the NCAA men's title, the duo did it again, this time for Team USA as the American side, led by their college coach, claimed a convincing 20 1/2-9 1/2 victory over Europe at the 17th Palmer Cup.
The U.S. entered Sunday afternoon's 10-match singles session with a convincing 14-6 lead on the Europeans, coached by former Ryder Cup competitor Andrew Coltart. Still, a year ago the U.S. had a similarly impressive 10-6 edge at Royal County Down, only to see the Euros rally to win 7 1/2 of eight singles points and unbelievably claim the cup.
"Coach was on the putting green, making sure we were all in the right frame of mind ready to go out and play," Whitsett said, acknowledging that he and his teammates were away of recent history. "Not to think about winning the thing overall but just to do your job and win your match. Everything else would take care of itself."
Armed with that knowledge, Wyatt and Whitsett made sure there would be no late afternoon heroics by the visitors at Wilmington CC's South Course. In the leadoff match, Wyatt faced Ireland's Kevin Phelan, who qualified last Monday to compete at this week's U.S. Open. With a birdie on the 12th hole (one of six he'd have in the session), Wyatt took a 1-up lead he maintained on the 18th tee, giving the U.S. at least a 1/2 point.
Meanwhile, Whitsett, playing in match two, won the 13th, 15th and 16th holes to knock off Scott Fernandez and secure the other point needed to make the remaining eight matches exhibition affairs.
Both Wyatt (who halved his match with Phelan) and Whitsett finished the week with 3-0-1 records, as did a third member of Alabama's NCAA winning team, Justin Thomas. Their performances once again impressed their old ball coach.
"The strategy of going Bama in front, I still felt pretty comfortable with that [this week]," Seawell said.
While Wyatt and Whitsett left little in doubt, the Americans also held strong in the remaining matches, winning the session 6 1/2-3 1/2. Sean Dale of North Florida rallied from 4-down with five holes to play to halve his match with Europe's Julien Brun. New Mexico's James Erkenbeck beat Pedro Figueirdo, 2 and 1, the latter having accidentally torn off the nail on his left big toe in the morning while moving luggage, requiring him to wear one sneaker and one golf shoe.
Michael Weaver of California beat college teammate Joel Stalter, 3 and 1, as Thomas knocked off Sebastian Cappelen of SEC rival Arkansas, 2 and 1, and Patrick Rodgers beat Gary Hurley, 2 and 1.
What impressed Seawell the most was the buy-in his 10 players gave during the week. "This is a dream team. I didn't have to do much," Seawell said. "But they made a choice to be a team. That's what we talked about Tuesday or Wednesday. They're great players, they know that. But were we going to become a team in just two days. The part I loved is you could see them becoming a team. As a coach that's all you pull for."
Sweden's Pontus Widegren, a standout player at UCLA, closed out his fourth Palmer Cup appearance with a 1-up singles victory against Michael Kim. Widegren, the fifth golfer to play in the annual event four times, finished his Palmer Cup career with 7-7-2 record, moving to third all-time in points earned (behind Europe's Alejandro Canizares, 13, and Rhys Davies, 9).
"It's just been an amazing experience to play on the team once, let alone four times," Widegren said. "The friendships I've made have been great, something I'll take with me for the rest of my life."
Widegren turns pro on Monday and has an exemption into the BMW International Open on the European Tour June 20-23 for his debut event. He also has a spot waiting for him in the Kyrnten Golf Open the next week on the Challenge Tour.
Pedro Figueirdo and James Erkenbeck were named winners of the Michael Carter Award, given to the player on each squad that best exemplifies the fun-loving spirit of the competition. Figueirdo gamely played through the pain of his Sunday morning injury.
"I think he was hurting more than he wanted to let on," said Widegren, who played with his college teammate in Sunday morning fourball. "It was bleeding pretty good [throughout the round]. But he hung on."
Figueirdo made a clutch putt on the 18th hole of the morning match to secure a halve for he and Widegren. "That was pretty amazing," Widegren said.
California coach Steve Desimone was in attendance Sunday, watching three of his Golden Bears playing on the two teams. Eight days removed from his squad's disappointing NCAA semifinal loss to Illinois, ending its dream season, he was positive but still emotional about what happened. "The shock of it is over. But the disappointment will last a lifetime."