JUNO BEACH, FLORIDA | We’re obsessed with tinkering and perfecting, but maybe just for once we can take time to admire something that needs to be left alone.
The U.S. side won their third consecutive Walker Cup on Sunday, edging out Great Britain and Ireland in a hard-fought, 14-12 contest at venerable Seminole Golf Club. While the majority of players and captains struggled with a stomach bug throughout the week, the 48th match between the two sides proved otherwise enthralling as pressure-packed golf met an unforgiving course with the glassiest greens most had ever seen.
Many have asked for alterations to the event, like allowing GB&I to become Europe so the disparity in world ranking between the two sides would not be so distant. Indeed the American side had an average ranking of 14 and GB&I was stuck at 68. There are currently seven non-GB&I Europeans in the top 40 of the amateur rankings, so that would certainly level the scales. Another idea is to allow alternates for each side. Alternates are almost never used in Walker Cups and don’t even travel with the squad in normal years, but the stomach-bug issues necessitated it this time around. And then there are calls to change the format, offering more foursomes and fewer singles. GB&I usually has more experience playing alternate shot, and has more trouble keeping up in singles, so the format change could logically give them an edge.
Maybe there are other team matches in golf that need to change – Presidents Cup, we’re looking at you – but the Walker Cup is fine the way it is. The last 17 matches have seen the U.S. lead by a respectable 10-7 margin, and although GB&I has not won on U.S. soil since 2001, the Walker Cup’s profile has only continued to rise. Just look at the interest in this weekend, the enhanced TV coverage and the next two venues: the Old Course at St. Andrews and Cypress Point Club.
The Ryder Cup may be defined by which side wins, and its profile has risen because of it, but the Walker Cup has a lot more soul. You can make a solid argument that it exemplifies the game more than any other tournament, amateur or pro. American players chat with GB&I players as they walk down the fairway and the spectators who can go wherever they wish. It’s a throwback, an ode to history.
It’s interesting that while the vast majority of the players competing will go on to professional careers, they without fail deem this the pinnacle of their amateur experience. There’s no need to disturb that just to, theoretically, provide balance to the competition aspect of the event. And as we saw this past weekend, Seminole cared little about how far players smashed their drivers or what ranking is next to their name.
In lieu of ideas for change, let’s simply be appreciative this exists.
Crosby Completes Two Successful Homecomings
Nathaniel Crosby has been a member at Seminole since 1992, but his history at the club goes back much further.
His father, Bing Crosby, was good friends with former club president George Coleman. A 14-year-old Nathaniel stepped foot on the hollowed Donald Ross layout in 1976, and two years later he got to play four rounds of golf in a row at Seminole with both Ben Hogan and Coleman.
“I kind of pinched myself sometimes to think that I might be the real Forrest Gump,” Crosby joked. “To be a Walker Cup captain at my home course and to have a close victory like we did today and to have the special friendships that I’ve had with each and every team member that allowed us to win is too good to be true.”
Crosby was full of one-liners the whole week, keeping the atmosphere in the team room light. At one point during a rain delay on Thursday, the team was led into karaoke and chipping balls into shoes across Seminole’s famous locker room.
The now 2-0 captain vowed for lifelong friendships with the players and his commitment to helping as many players as possible with sponsors exemptions.
“I think once they emerge past getting the right tee times to establish themselves, then they’re on their way, and I get to pay full price to play with them in a pro-am,” Crosby said.
This wasn’t Crosby’s only homecoming as a Walker Cup captain. In 2019, he returned to Royal Liverpool where he competed on the 1983 U.S. team that defeated GB&I.
Fitzpatrick Kicking Himself
Alex Fitzpatrick came into the Walker Cup as the obvious choice to carry GB&I’s hopes. Not only was he the team’s highest ranked player at No. 12 in the WAGR, but Fitzpatrick was coming into the event on the heels of the best golf of his life and had been fortunate enough to play Seminole more than a dozen times due to family connections.
His week could not have gone much worse for him. He thankfully avoided the stomach bug but then went 0-4 for the weekend, each of his losses coming in agonizing fashion.
In the Saturday foursomes match, Fitzpatrick and Barclay Brown erased a 3-down deficit against the formidable U.S. team of Cole Hammer and Davis Thompson to force a tie with two holes to play. However, Fitzpatrick hit a poor tee shot on the par-3 17th, a house of horrors for him this weekend, and then had a par putt horseshoe back at him.
Fitzpatrick would arrive to the 17th hole tied in his next two matches as well. He made a double bogey in Saturday singles to basically hand the match to Pierceson Coody. Playing with Brown again in Sunday foursomes, they bogeyed the hole and would lose 1 down. Just for good measure, Fitzpatrick played Coody again in Sunday singles and came to the 17th hole 2 down. Another poor tee shot cemented his loss.
It was jarring to not see Fitzpatrick contribute. Even one point on his part would have allowed for a 13-13 tie in the match. Anything more and his side could have won.
“I would have been surprised if you’d said that Alex didn’t score any points,” GB&I captain Stuart Wilson said. “He’s too good a player to blank. It just wasn’t his weekend, unfortunately.”
Castillo Joins Elite Company
As it turns out, going 4-0 at the Walker Cup like Ricky Castillo did puts you on a pretty exclusive list.
Collin Morikawa, Maverick McNealy and Doug Ghim all went 4-0 in 2017, while Rickie Fowler and Peter Uihlein did so back in 2009. Castillo is only a sophomore at the University of Florida and is not expected to turn pro this summer, but the long-term projections have him reaching the PGA Tour and doing damage when he gets there.
“It won’t be unexpected when he throws up 30 tour wins in the next 20 years,” Crosby joked.
Disappointment and Admiration for Strafaci, Long
With circumstances around the stomach virus sidelining the reigning U.S. Amateur and Amateur Championship winners, one for each team, neither Tyler Strafaci nor Joe Long played a match on Saturday’s opening day. Even during Sunday’s finale, Strafaci walked around gingerly with a bandage from an IV in his arm and a Gatorade in his hand, attempting to play 36 holes in warm, humid conditions. That was a day after Strafaci had attempted to play Saturday singles before withdrawing 30 minutes before his tee time.
Playing him 36 holes on Sunday was an captaining error on Crosby’s part, as Strafaci looked completely overwhelmed in his foursomes match and battled valiantly in a singles loss. Long sat out the first three sessions before getting to compete in Sunday singles, a dramatic 1-up victory over John Pak.
Their lack of influence in the event was one of the bigger surprises of the week. Both came away bitterly disappointed – this was the lone Walker Cup experience for Strafaci, who has already turned pro to play in the Byron Nelson this week – but they won more fans than they lost.
“It was pretty cool to see a guy who’s not feeling great at all pretty much almost-like passed out and is still out there playing his butt off,” Strafaci’s teammate Castillo said.
They may both look back on the week with a level of regret, but the selflessness displayed was a defining theme of the match.
“It does sting, but it’s a team event,” Long said. “I felt like I made the right calls for the team, especially on Saturday. Obviously I was hit by it a little bit harder, which is one of those things, and I’m just glad I got to play one match and represent my country, really, which is pretty special.”
Top: The U.S. team watches the action on the 18th hole during foursomes at the 2021 Walker Cup. Photo: Chris Keane, USGA
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