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Let The Race To Royal Abderdeen Begin

The NCAA Championship has been contested, and with that, the gun has sounded on a nine-week sprint to the Walker Cup team selection. Ten American lads will be chosen by the USGA to represent the United States against Great Britain and Ireland at Scotland’s Royal Aberdeen in the 43rd playing of this celebrated amateur competition.

If form follows, the USGA will announce eight selections after the Western Amateur. They will hold the remaining spots to see what happens after the U.S. Amateur, to be played August 22-28. So how does the American team shape up after the conclusion of the college golf year?

To begin with, four players who may well have made the team have chosen to turn pro and will not join in the chase. Oklahoma State’s Morgan Hoffman and Kevin Tway, along with Alabama’s Bud Cauley and Augusta State’s Patrick Reed are headed to the pay-for-play ranks. Hoffman and Cauley were members of the victorious U.S. team at Merion in 2009; Reed and Tway will leave the amateur game having never played in the Walker Cup.

Peter Uihlein and Patrick Cantlay can put the dates down in pen. Uihlein, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, was also one of the heroes of the victorious Walker Cup squad at Merion. He will be the leader of Captain Jim Holtgrieve’s team in Scotland in September. Cantlay introduced himself to the USGA at the U.S. Amateur last summer, advancing to the quarterfinals before falling to Uihlein. He had an incredible freshman year at UCLA and has risen to No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Stanford’s David Chung, runner-up at the Amateur last year, looks like a safe prediction, but he needs a decent summer. Chung only played once for Stanford last fall, and he has had a below standard spring season. Nonetheless, he is tough as nails in match play, so I expect him to make the final team.

Russell Henley looks to be a safe bet. His college campaign wasn’t as good as last year, but he won a Nationwide Tour event this spring and passed up the check and pro status. The USGA likes to see that kind of amateur commitment.

So that’s four who look to be solid for the 10-man team that travels to Scotland. The rest?

The spotlight will be focused on three players at the Palmer Cup this week, which takes on added importance this year due to the Walker Cup selection process. Good performances by Blayne Barber, Andrew Yun, or Bank Vongvanij in team match play could go a long way toward nailing down a spot on the team.

Those three, plus a large contingent who were at the January practice session, will battle for the remaining spots. Right now, it’s hard to separate anyone of them from the pack. None of these players, including Harris English, Andrew Putnam, Scott Langley and Gregor Main, have had the kind of college season that would enable them to claim a roster spot. In fact, several of the practice squad players turned in mediocre college performances, meaning the summer schedule will be more important than ever.

As far as kids go, Texan Jordan Spieth, ranked No. 13 in the world, was the only junior selected for the practice squad. His stock is on the rise after another outstanding PGA Tour finish, at the HP Byron Nelson Championship in his hometown of Dallas. He has clearly demonstrated that he can handle the big stage, but I think he will need to play consistently well all summer long to make the team; there is just too much college talent ahead of him.

As for mid-ams, there is only one viable candidate at this moment – U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith. Smith needs to have a good summer to make the team, and he knows this. The USGA is not saving a “mid-am” spot. Working in his favor is his experience playing alongside Uihlein at Merion. This is a duo that Holtgrieve can put out and not have to worry about, and so it gives Smith a slight boost.

Finally, a word about John Peterson. Not invited to the practice session, the LSU player won the Jones Cup earlier this year and then the Division I NCAA Championship last week at Karsten Creek. Kudos to him for shooting under par on a very difficult golf course, but the NCAA Individual Championship has been devalued by the powers that be in college golf. In the old days, the NCAA champion was a lock for the Walker Cup. Not so anymore. That said, Peterson has placed himself squarely in the hunt and will get serious consideration.

A decent summer outing or two and he can begin to pack his waterproofs. My Scottish friends tell me he’ll need them.


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