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OPINION: Sentiment A Factor In Walker Cup Selections

The USGA announced the 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team at the conclusion of the U.S. Amateur on Sunday, and it’s hard to argue with eight of the 10 players chosen. Doc Redman received an automatic berth with his stunning come-from-behind victory in the final at Riviera Country Club, and seven others had strong résumés and compelling logic behind their selection.

Two players selected, however, caused many to scratch their heads. Not many saw Will Zalatoris or Scottie Scheffler making the team. And because it is a zero-sum game, their selection came at the expense of two other players.

U.S. Walker Cup Team

  • Braden Thornberry
  • Collin Morikawa
  • Maverick McNealy
  • Scottie Scheffler
  • Will Zalatoris
  • Doc Redman
  • Doug Ghim
  • Stewart Hagestad
  • Norman Xiong
  • Cameron Champ

Immediately, the amateur golf corridor of social media lit up like a candle. The blogosphere was given the gift of controversy, its very lifeblood. And if my mobile device is any indication, the cell carriers pocketed a few extra bucks as the wounded and aggrieved commiserated and vented.

The perceived victims of USGA injustice in this Walker Cup cycle were former LSU standout Sam Burns and 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey.

Burns had a strong case: He was the NCAA’s Division I player of the year, finished sixth in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship this summer and was ranked No. 21 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. It appears that he needed to go deep into match play at the Amateur, but instead he bowed out in the round of 64.

READ: Redman Wins U.S. Amateur in Dramatic Fashion

Harvey’s case is a bit more complicated. He played on the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team that lost badly at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and he has had considerable success at Los Angeles Country Club, the site of the Walker Cup next month. He badly wanted another Walker Cup opportunity.

However, earlier this year, the USGA signaled that it was backing off the hard two-mid-amateur guideline that had been in place for the past two Walker Cup cycles. If there were to be two mid-amateurs on the team, the second player would have to earn it.

Stewart Hagestad, the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, had locked up the first spot long ago, but Harvey felt he had made a compelling case for his inclusion. His only blemish came at the U.S. Amateur, where he did not advance to match play. Nonetheless, he felt he had earned a berth, especially after qualifying for the U.S. Open.

After the USGA announced the team, Harvey took to social media to express his displeasure. He felt that the USGA had misled him, suggesting he had been told it was more likely that three mid-amateurs would be on the team before there would be just one. He also felt his exclusion signaled disrespect for the mid-amateur community.

It is there that Harvey makes a legitimate point. If in 2017 the USGA doesn’t put two mid-amateurs on the Walker Cup squad when one (Hagestad) made the cut and won low-amateur honors at The Masters and the other (Harvey) won two of the country’s most prestigious mid-amateur tournaments – the Coleman Invitational and the George Thomas Invitational – and qualified for the U.S. Open, when will two or more mid-amateurs appear on the Walker Cup team again?

Not anytime soon is my guess, unfortunately. The effort to support mid-amateur golf that former USGA President Tom O’Toole championed could have been all for naught.

This time around, it appears that the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee relied on USGA pedigree in making the final two selections. Both Zalatoris and Scheffler have that pedigree in abundance.

However, Zalatoris did not play a lot of amateur golf this summer, and his lofty world ranking position (No. 10) is due in large part to a large points haul last summer. Scheffler was the low amateur at the U.S. Open, which likely weighed heavily in his favor, but otherwise he had only a decent summer and is ranked No. 52 in world. There were 23 American players ranked higher than Scheffler, including eight who were chosen and several who had been invited to the Walker Cup practice session last December but not selected.

Harvey, incidentally, was just one spot behind Scheffler, at No. 53, at the time of selection.

Where some see sentiment or pedigree, others see politics. Whatever you choose to call it, it is not unprecedented. As recently as 2015, many observers believe that sentiment in part delivered Mike McCoy his berth on the team. The veteran Iowa mid-amateur had waged a decade-long effort to make the team, and at the end, with no clear-cut difference between him and Todd White, the ITSC went with McCoy. Call it a career-body-of-work selection.

Though sentiment was one of several factors at play this year, I am certain that this episode cost the ITSC members zero minutes of sleep. You don’t get involved in public-facing USGA committee work unless you have very thick skin. Criticism was going to arrive after the selection process no matter which players were chosen and who was left off. The Far Hills brigade would be criticized if it announced free golf for everyone next year. They know and understand that.

The final word here goes to John Hardy, father of disappointed Walker Cup hopeful Nick Hardy, who tweeted:

“IMO there was a minimum of 25 players deserving to make WC. All 10 that did make were in that 25. Go USA.”

On to Los Angeles.


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