SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y.—The scoreboard might read Great Britain & Ireland 2.5, United States 1.5 after Saturday morning's foursomes session at the 44th Walker Cup but the Americans could rightfully consider it a win/draw given how things looked for a while at National GL of America.
At one point, Jim Holtgrieve's squad was down in three of the four matches and appeared destined to repeat the auspicious stumbling start from 2011 at Royal Aberdeen.
But a birdie from the duo of Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett on the par-5 18th to win the hole and halve their match with Nathan Kimsey and Max Orrin helped the red, white and blue scrape out a half point. And with the pairing of Patrick Rodgers and Justin Thomas holding on to beat Gavin Moynihan and Kevin Phelan, 2 and 1, the Americans had reason to be upbeat entering the afternoon singles session.
Greedy U.S. fans will lament how Jordan Niebrugge and Nathan Smith could only make par on the home hole while their GB&I counterparts, Matt Fitzpatrick and Neil Raymond, birdied the 501-yard par 5 to win, 1 up, in the second match. Scrapping out a half point there, however, would have been a tall ask even considering the duo's rally from 2 down with four holes remaining.
Instead, the Americans were appreciative of what they could salvage.
"You know obviously a lot of nerves this morning, a lot of thoughts going on," said Whitsett, a 22-year-old from Houston playing in the biennial match for the first time.
The Wyatt-Whitsett twosome played solid but hardly spectacular golf as the first pairing out under perfect weather conditions. Six different times in the match they found themselves trailing but each time they battled back.
The duo appeared to grab the momentum when Whitsett made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to square the match at a time when the U.S. did not have lead in the any of the other three contests. But Whitsett's approach on the par-4 17th went over the green, leading to a bogey that gave GB&I the lead yet again.
On 18, Whitsett striped a 3-wood off the tee, and Wyatt followed it up with a hybrid approach that gave the team an eagle look from 40 feet. However, GB&I equaled the U.S. efforts, putting themselved inside the Americans on the green in 2. Then they made one of their few unforced errors of the match when Orrin hit his 30-foot uphill eagle effort 12 feet by the hole. Kimsey could not hole the comebacker for birdie. After their par was conceded, it set up a three-foot birdie putt for the win from Wyatt, which he converted.
"It was pretty nerve-racking there toward the end," Wyatt admitted.
Meanwhile, Rodgers and Thomas were the only American pairing to hold a lead at any point during the morning session, taking a 2-up advantage after four holes. Moynihan and Phelen squared the match after eight holes, which is where things stood after 14 holes before the Americans took charge. A par on the 15th gave them a 1-up lead and then they closed it out with a birdie on the par-4 17th, when Thomas hit a stellar approach shot from fairway bunker to four feet and Rodgers made the putt.
"I think we both watched the score board," Rodgers said. "I think coming down the stretch we knew this match would be important for the morning session and we're happy we rose to the occasion."
That said, the U.S. does still trail after the Saturday morning foursomes for just the second time since 2003, the last coming two years ago at Royal Aberdeen.