U.S. holds off Great Britain & Ireland to clinch third-straight Walker Cup title
JUNO BEACH, Fla. — As expected, the United States won the 48th Walker Cup. And, as expected, Seminole Golf Club dazzled during its week in the spotlight. But the week was anything but ordinary.
The underdog Great Britain and Ireland team played with an audacity that’s supposed to be reserved for David. A mysterious virus (no, not that virus) ran rampant through both teams. And unlikely heroes emerged and asserted themselves on the national stage.
The lads from across the pond had no business keeping it close against the mighty Americans this week, at least if you go by the numbers next to their names and the pre-event chatter. GB&I had just one player inside the top 20 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking coming into the week. The Americans had nine.
“The one thing we were kind of using as a little bit of motivation there was a lot of comments about us hanging in well and fighting really hard,” GB&I captain Stuart Wilson said. “Whereas I was more of the opinion we were letting the Americans away with it.”
That motivation helped GB&I push the Americans to the brink. It wasn’t until Cole Hammer — in the penultimate match Sunday afternoon — closed out his match against Ben Schmidt that the result was assured.
“It obviously means a lot,” Hammer said of delivering the decisive point. “When Robby told me that my match clinched it, I got pretty emotional because this event means so much to me.”
The U.S. won 6.5 points in the final session to clinch the cup, and each and every one of them was hard-earned. GB&I proved a formidable opponent, and windy Seminole bared its teeth as the week wore on. The pristine turf went from scenic background to a baked-out, treacherous playing surface.
By Sunday afternoon, the greens were rolling more like pool tables. Chatter early in the week was that the surfaces were stimping over 13. Over the final afternoon that number ballooned to 15.
Shots that were holding early in the week began trundling into bunkers. Lag putts that settled near the hole on Saturday turned into nervy five-footers by Sunday. NBC’s Jim “Bones” Mackay went so far as to call them the fastest greens he’d ever seen.
“It was a lot tougher than I expected,” GB&I’s Joe Long said. “It was kind of similar to Augusta — the firmness of the greens and how quick they were, especially today. They were just so quick and firm. It was really brutal out there.”
For the Americans, it wasn’t the big names like Pierceson Coody or Davis Thompson who shined brightest but rather newcomers like Ricky Castillo and William Mouw who stepped up when it mattered most. Castillo had a sparkling 4-0 record for the week, while Mouw was called upon at the 11th hour on Saturday when Tyler Strafaci was rushed to the hospital.
Strafaci might have summed it up best when he returned from his hospital visit.
“That’s the great thing about this event,” he said. “It’s about everyone as a team.”
In the end, it took a total team effort to retain the cup.