'Probably the coolest moment of my life'
ARDMORE, Pa.--Fifteen minutes and a dramatic 18-foot par putt was all it took for an OK morning at Merion GC to become a very good one for the U.S. Walker Cup squad.
Give the credit to the duo of Peter Uihlein and Nathan Smith, who stole a point for the American side when they won the 17th and 18th holes to beat the Great Britain & Ireland pair of Gavin Dear and Matt Haines, 1 up, and give the Americans a 3-1 advantage through Saturday foursomes.
"This was probably the coolest moment of my life," said Uihlein, who created the morning's loudest roar when he rolled in the clutch putt on the home hole that ultimately gave them the victory.
Both Uihlein, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, and Smith, the lone mid-amateur on the U.S. side, didn't have their best ball-striking days, but the duo hung on in a match where only three holes were won with birdies. After halving the 16th with bogey to remain 1 down with two to play, the U.S. side won the 17th with a conceded par to square the match.
On the 505-yard, par-4 18th, both teams were short and right of the green after their second shots. Smith's chip to the back right hole location looked good at first, but caught a slope and left Uihlein with the lengthy par-saving effort. Dear, meanwhile, chipped his ball to six feet, leaving GB&I seemingly in better position.
"I felt I had a pretty good line on it," Uihlein said of his putt. When it disappeared, Uihlein let out a yell accompanied by a fist pump that sent a charge through the crowd.
"It was a great putt," said U.S. captain Buddy Marucci. "It was great it was Peter. It's his first time and he feels the pressure. That pair played the best in practice together for the past seven days but they seemed to struggle a bit today."
Uihlein said he thought he needed to make it merely to halve the hole/match, figuring Haines would make his par try for the GB&I side. "Matt putted great all day," Uihlein said. "I didn't think he would miss his putt."
But he did, giving the full point to the U.S. side.
On a morning where the opening tee shot of the biennial competition was greeted with mist and overcast skies, the Americans were the first to get on the scoreboard. Bud Cauley and Rickie Fowler charged out to a quick lead, easily dispatching the GB&I duo of Luke Goddard and Dale Whitnell, 6 and 5. A second U.S. point was secured when Brian Harman and Morgan Hoffmann closed out Wallace Booth and Sam Hutsby, 2 and 1.
GB&I avoided the shutout when Stiggy Hodgson and Niall Kearney defeated Cameron Tringale and Adam Mitchell in the most well-played match of the morning session. Hodgson and Kearney combined to shoot the equivalent of three under par while Tringale and MItchell were even par.
Drew Weaver and Brendan Gielow, two lone American players who sat out the morning foursomes, will be in the lineup for the afternoon's singles matches with Smith and Adam Mitchell sitting for the U.S. Likewise, Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Paisley will play in the afternoon for the GB&I side, meaning that all 20 participants will have played a match by the end of the first day.
-- Ryan Herrington