August 6, 2007

Ready to roll

With both teams nearly in place, preparations for the Walker Cup move forward

Can this team hold onto the prize?

Can this team hold onto the prize?

The good news for U.S. Walker Cup captain Buddy Marucci upon learning this past weekend the names of the first eight players selected for the American squad trying to retain the cup next month at Northern Ireland's Royal County Down? What they might lack in experience -- only Trip Kuehne has competed in the biennial competition previously, in 1995 and 2003 -- they make up for in momentum.

Half of the group has posted significant amateur victories this summer: Dustin Johnson (Northeast Amateur, Monroe), Colt Knost (U.S. Public Links), Jamie Lovemark (NCAA Championship) and Webb Simpson (Southern, Azalea, Dogwood). Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk, meanwhile, have four top-five finishes, respectively, on the amateur circuit, and Jonathan Moore has competed twice for the U.S. in the last year in international team competitions.

Conversely, Great Britain & Ireland captain Colin Dalgleish found a trio of Walker Cup veterans at his disposal when the Royal & Ancient GC announced its squad Monday, none of them, however, named Gary Wolstenholme.

Rhys Davies and Lloyd Saltman return from the GB&I squad that narrowly lost 12½-11½ at Chicago GC in 2005, ending their three-match win streak, while Nigel Edwards, who holed the winning putt at Ganton in 2003, was picked for his fourth straight GB&I team. Joining them are rookies Rory McIlroy (low amateur at the British Open), Llewellyn Matthews (two-time Welsh Amateur champion), Daniel Willett (winner at last week's English Amateur), Jamie Moul (ranked No. 1 on the R&A World Amateur ranking for 16 weeks this year), Jonathan Caldwell, David Horsey and John Parry. Staying home is two-time British Amateur winner Wolstenholme, who at age 46 was believed to have an outside shot at being named to a seventh GB&I team.

"While a number of players will naturally feel disappointed at being left out of the team, we have no doubt that the 10 players selected can regain the Walker Cup for Great Britain & Ireland," said Tony Disley, chairman of the R&A's selection committee. Marucci, who played in two Walker Cups himself, spent much of the summer attending various tournaments and scouting the American players. "I know first hand how truly talented this group of golfers is," Marucci said. "I will try to share my passion for this event with them and turn them loose. I know they will represent themselves and all of amateur golf well."

Seven of the eight Americans (Lovemark being the lone exception) participated in a three-day practice session Marucci helped organize in Tampa last January to get players acclimated with each other and with the foursomes format they'll play during the two-day competition Sept. 8-9. Marucci told Golf World Monday he hopes to bring the group together again this week at Caves Valley GC outside Baltimore "to get everybody to take a deep breath and kind of plan on how we're going to approach the matches. That will be our only opportunity because we're on such a tight time frame here."

After leaving a mid-amateur off the roster in 2005, the first time a non-collegian hadn't been named to a Walker Cup team, the U.S. International Team Selection Committee made traditionalists happy with the selection of Kuehne, who earned his spot when he qualified for the U.S. Open this past summer. "I think Trip will be very valuable, especially going over to Ireland," Marucci said. "He gets along very well with the kids. I think he brings an awful lot to the party."

The final two members of the U.S. squad will be selected after this month's U.S. Amateur Championship at San Francisco's Olympic Club, with the winner most assured making the team if he isn't already among those on it. (The team will likely fly to Ireland on Aug. 30, just four days after the conclusion of the U.S. Amateur.)

Among the primary contenders for the remaining spots are Rickie Fowler, a rising freshman at Oklahoma State who won the Sunnehanna and Players Amateur this summer; Kyle Stanley, a sophomore to be at Clemson who has had top-five finishes at the NCAA Championship, Players Amateur Northeast Amateur and Sahalee Players; and Brian Harman, a 2005 Walker Cupper who won the Porter Cup two weeks ago.