SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y.—Jim Holtgrieve left National GL of America Saturday with a well-deserved smile on his face, his American squad holding a commanding 8-4 lead in the 44th Walker Cup after an impressive 6.5-1.5 drubbing of Great Britain & Ireland in the afternoon singles session. When he returns, then, to the C.B. Macdonald's masterpiece Sunday, his team needing just 5.5 of the available 14 points to win the cup, he will get to experience something for the first time in the four years he has led the American side.
He'll get to captain from ahead.
That his 10-man roster would have any advantage, let alone a four-point edge (its largest first-day lead since 1997), was something that was difficult to imagine only six hours earlier. As was the case two years ago when Holtgrieve oversaw the U.S. side in its 14-12 loss at Royal Aberdeen, his charges stumbled early in morning foursomes, trailing in all four matches at one point.
But a late rally from the duo of Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt to pull out a half point by winning the 18th hole and halving their match against GB&I's Nathan Kimsey and Max Orrin followed by Patrick Rodgers and Justin Thomas winning 2 and 1 in the final match against Gavin Moynihan and Kevin Phelan left Team USA trailing only 2.5-1.5 and gave the squad a boost heading into the afternoon.
From there, the Americans sprinted out to leads in the majority of the eight afternoon singles matches and never looked back.
So what got into the Americans? Holtgrieve noted he provided no rah-rah speech to fire up his team, but simple let the positive finish from the morning give them confidence.
"I told them to believe in themselves," Holtgrieve said. "I told them to enjoy the moment. They're really good friends. They fought for each other and you could just feel it after the morning. They're going to fight back, and my gosh they fought back today and they fought back with really good courage."
Perhaps it was a little hokie, but the players bought in.
"We were pretty pleased with the way the morning finished," Whitsett said. "I think everyone was just excited to get things started and maybe a little nervous. That sort of went away in the afternoon, and we were just able to try to play the course."
What they found was a firm, fast layout that required not just precise shots but a level-headed mindset that surprisingly seem to be lacking from GB&I side. Captain Nigel Edwards' victorious 2011 squad was most impressive because of the fact that the players didn't get in their own way on the course, staying away from big numbers and playing to their strengths. Yet that wasn't the case Saturday afternoon, when some of GB&I's best and brightest showed they were human.
Case in point: Fitzpatrick, the 18-year-old Englishman who showed an exquisite short-game en route to victory at the U.S. Amateur two weeks earlier. In his match with Weaver, however, his magic short-game powers seemed to evaporate as made three back-nine bogeys.
Similarly, GB&I's consistent ability to close strong was missing as well. All square with Niebrugge on the 18th tee, Porteous hit a wayward second shot to the green on the short par 5, that led to a bogey 6 and a disappointing defeat. Meanwhile Smith and Kimsey both had chances to salvage points on 18 as well, but neither could win the hole and bring any momentum to the visitors side.
Asked what he would tell his lads Saturday night, Edwards' initial answer was short and sweet: "Hole more putts."
"We'll just refocus," he added, "and perhaps this is what we need to kick up our back side to get us moving forward."
The problem is they'll face an opponent playing with confidence, something the Americans never had when they lost the cup in Scotland two years ago.
Nathan Kimsey/Max Orrin, GB&I halved Cory Whitsett/Bobby Wyatt, U.S.
Matt Fitzpatrick/Neil Raymond, GB&I df. Jordan Niebrugge/Nathan Smith, U.S., 1 up
Garrick Porteous/Rhys Pugh, GB&I df. Michael Weaver/Todd White, U.S., 3 and 1
Patrick Rodgers/Justin Thomas, U.S. df. Gavin Moynihan/Kevin Phelan GB&I, 2 and 1
Bobby Wyatt, U.S. df. Neil Raymond, GB&I, 2 up
Max Homa, U.S. df. Max Orrin, GB&I, 5 and 3
Michael Kim, U.S. df. Challum Shinkwin, GB&I, 2 and 1
Cory Whitsett, U.S. df. Jordan Smith, GB&I, 1 up
Jordan Niebrugge, U.S. df. Garrick Porteous, GB&I, 1 up
Michael Weaver, U.S. df. Matt Fitzpatrick, GB&I, 3 and 1
Nathan Kimsey, GB&I halved Justin Thomas, U.S.
Gavin Moynihan, GB&I df. Patrick Rodgers, U.S., 2 and 1
7:15 a.m.—Nathan Kimsey/Max Orrin, GB&I vs. Cory Whitsett/Bobby Wyatt, U.S.
7:30 a.m.—Matt Fitzpatrick/Neil Raymond, GB&I vs. Michael Weaver/Todd White, U.S.
7:45 a.m.—Garrick Porteous/Rhys Pugh, GB&I vs. Max Homa/Michael Kim, U.S.
8 a.m.—Gavin Moynihan/Kevin Phelan, GB&I vs. Patrick Rodgers/Jordan Niebrugge, U.S.
12:30 p.m.—Neil Raymond, GB&I vs. Bobby Wyatt, U.S.
12:42 p.m.—Max Orrin, GB&I vs. Justin Thomas, U.S.
12:54 p.m.—Matt Fitzpatrick, GB&I vs. Michael Weaver, U.S.
1:06 p.m.—Rhys Pugh, GB&I vs. Todd White, U.S.
1:18 p.m.—Nathan Kimsey, GB&I vs. Nathan Smith, U.S.
1:30 p.m.—Callum Shinkwin, GB&I vs. Cory Whitsett, U.S.
1:42 p.m.—Garrick Porteous, GB&I vs. Michael Kim, U.S.
1:54 p.m.—Kevin Phelan, GB&I vs. Max Homa, U.S.
2:06 p.m.—Jordan Smith, GB&I vs. Jordan Niebrugge, U.S.
2:18 p.m.—Gavin Moynihan, GB&I vs. Patrick Rodgers, U.S.