When it comes to making the 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team, Stewart Hagestad still should have nothing to sweat. Being a USGA champion and earning low-amateur honors at the Masters gives the 26-year-old the bona fides needed to make the squad.
As for his fellow mid-amateurs, however, it just got a little trickier to represent the red, white and blue, as the USGA will no longer hold spots on the team for players 25 and older.
The change, first reported by Global Golf Post, reverses a policy put in place for the 2013 Walker Cup and repeated in 2015 in which at least two mid-amateurs were guaranteed to be on the team. When first instituted, USGA officials signaled that having these mid-ams would “bring a unique perspective to a team and demonstrate, as well as appreciate, the characteristics of leadership and generosity of spirit that are central to the Walker Cup.”
Critics of automatically including two mid-am players on the 10-man squad, though, were upset in part that it puts the American team at a competitive disadvantage in that the mid-ams wouldn’t necessarily be among the 10 best players available and that the Great Britain & Ireland team did not have a similar policy in place.
At National Golf Links in 2013, the two American mid-ams came through, with Todd White earning the Cup tying point and Nathan Smith earning the Cup clinching point during Sunday afternoon’s singles sessions. However, at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2015, Mike McCoy and Scott Harvey earned just one point combined in six matches as the U.S. side went on to a 17-9 defeat.
In addressing the change in policy, John Bodenhamer, USGA senior managing director rules, competitions and equipment standards, noted that the association’s overall commitment to mid-amateurs remains strong, as reflected in two mid-amateurs being invited to the Walker Cup practice session last December at LACC and the men’s team sent to the South American Amateur Championship being solely mid-ams.
“You will see mid-amateur representation on the Walker Cup team,” Bodenhamer said.
But, ultimately, these golfers will be evaluated along with the rest of the Walker Cup team in sorting out who will play for Captain John (Spider) Miller in September. “We’d love nothing more than to have more than one on the team,” Bodenhamer said. “[But] they’ve got to get out there and play [during the summer amateur schedule] and be competitive.”
Based on resume, Hagestad would seem to still be an almost certain choice for this year’s U.S. team. In addition to his comeback win over Harvey in the final of the U.S. Mid-Am last year, and his showing at the Masters, the Southern California native who played college golf school at USC has a familiarity with Los Angeles C.C., site of this year’s Walker Cup.
Other mid-amateurs in the hunt include Harvey, who was invited to the Walker Cup practice session at LACC in December; Smith, a three-time Walker Cup selection, and White.
The entirety of the 10-man team, according to Bodenhamer, will be named shortly after the U.S. Amateur in August.