USA Walker Cup Team Selection Press Conference


By USGA
August 18, 2013

PETE KOWALSKI:  We're going to do a quick interview with Dan Burton from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who is the USGA's Chairman of the International Team Selection Committee.  We did announce the final five players of the USA Walker Cup team for 2013 at the National Golf Links earlier today, and Dan, if you could just give us a quick synopsis of the process and anything else you'd like to speak about.

DAN BURTON:  Thank you.  As you can imagine, it's at times an exhilarating process and at times a painful process because you always are leaving somebody off the team.  But this year we had a pretty big committee, about seven people from various and sundry parts of the USGA family, four staff that support the committee.  It's a two‑year look back.  We don't give a lot of details, but as you can imagine we have access to immense amount of data.  We rank all the fields of every tournament that the players play in so we spend a lot of time trying to make this as objective a decision as we possibly can.  And this year I think we got a very strong team.

It's my pleasure to call the team members when I get to call them and tell them they made the team, and that's really the most thrilling part of the whole thing is when you get to call a young man and tell him he gets to represent his country because the fact of the matter is very few players in golf over their career will get to represent their country, so it's a very, very big deal.  USGA takes it extremely seriously.

We spend an enormous amount of time talking about the team, who's going to be on the team, how we select them to be fair, make sure every person gets a full hearing.  So it's a very open dialogue, and we do the best we can to pick the best 10 players, and we're pretty excited about this year's team.

PETE KOWALSKI:  And also joining us by phone from St. Louis is the USA captain, Mr. Jim Holtgrieve.  Captain, would you just give us a quick comment about your thoughts on the completion of the process with the team.

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  Well, thank you.  Yes, I am glad that the process is over, as Dan pointed out.  It's a tough process.  It's a humbling experience because when I played Walker Cup, certainly there weren't as many good players as there are now, so to whittle it down to 10 becomes difficult, but a lot of guys qualified, but as the committee looks at all the data that we've had for the last couple years, I think we have a very strong team.  I'm very honored to be captain of this team.

We have 10 young men that are going to do a tremendous job of representing the United States of America in the greatest sport that there is, in golf.

Q.  How has the new rule with the two mid‑ams having to be selected, how did that change the complexion of the selection process?

DAN BURTON:  What we did was kind of divide the pool into two and looked at the mid‑ams as a separate pool.  Interesting, there it was even very difficult.  What we were looking for was players who ‑‑ the whole purpose of the mid‑am inclusion has to do with leadership, character, celebrating the amateur game, providing players who can help the younger players understand all of the nature of the traditions of the game and the sportsmanship and what the real purpose of the Walker Cup is, which is to better relations with other countries, and also the psychology of foursomes.

We think that the mid‑ams will add a dimension to our ability to play foursomes because if you look back at Aberdeen in particular we didn't play well in foursomes, so we're hopeful the mid‑ams will provide that leadership.  We did basically the same process that we did with everybody else.  We took a look at their last two years of play, tried to evaluate the strength of field, and just like in the regular am field, it's a difficult decision, but we picked two mid‑ams we think have demonstrated the ability to play match play, which we think is important, and the ability to provide great leadership and spirit and help to the team to be better at the various aspects of the play.

Q.  And knowing that team GB & I doesn't have a similar rule, is this a one‑year kind of thing?

DAN BURTON:  I would say we'll evaluate it all the time.  We would like to believe that it's going to be permanent.  We think while on the surface you could make the argument that that gives them a slight advantage, I would make the argument that if you look back and look at the format of foursomes in particular ‑‑ I mean, our team is very young.  Over there they play a lot of foursomes, so their players are much more accustomed to foursomes, and if you've ever played foursomes, you understand the psychology of foursomes is very different.  When you hit your partner's ball four feet by or five feet by on a putt, and now he's thinking he's got a tap‑in and he's got a five‑footer, or you hit your drive or in a tough spot, there's a lot of psychology that goes into foursomes, and we feel that the mid‑ams' experience and sophistication and ability to lead us help lead this team in that format in particular will counterbalance that.

So we're fine that the GB & I team is not going to do it.  We're going to take a look at it over time, but I am of the opinion I don't think it's going to weaken our team, and in fact I'm hopeful that in the overall scope of life this is going to add a dimension to our team that's more important than actually winning, but we want to win, too.

Q.  Dan, in looking at the five, Jordan Niebrugge, he came out obviously the last few weeks here, played very well in a couple of events, and I know at times you guys are pretty close to the vest about your selection criteria, but how important was the fact that he's been playing so well of late, and how did that influence perhaps some of the other selections or folks that you maybe didn't select for this team?

DAN BURTON:  He did come on fast, and when you take the two‑year look, he needed to play very well lately, and so what we look at, he won not only our APL, which is a USGA championship, he won what we ‑‑ he won the Wisconsin Amateur, and then won the Western, which we consider a grueling test of golf, and if you look at how he played at the Western, he played extraordinarily well.

I think his ‑‑ we do not want to overlook ‑‑ and I think this has been an issue at the Ryder Cup, when you have a two‑year look.  One thing you also want to consider is if I've got a really hot player, I should take a strong look at him, and I think the fact that he has played in very high level tournaments, played very well and is playing as well as he is certainly elevated him in the last 60 days pretty dramatically, and that's why we put him on the team, because we think he's really hot and going to be a big plus for us.

Q.  Can you foresee a day when there will be a point system to determine the Walker Cup team members?

DAN BURTON:  I would say we try to be as objective as possible.  We have our own kind of internal system that does rank tournaments by strength of field.  We look at it a whole bunch of ways.  But we're not far away from a points system.  I don't know that we'll ever get to a points system because how you represent the United States of America, how you bond with other team members, your style of play, those are part of the package, as well.

But I would say to you, we are working very hard to be ‑‑ and with all the technology available today and the information that we have available, it is, I think, much, much more objective than it ever has been, and we'll probably keep moving in that direction.  So I don't know what the future foretells, but I would say I'm very interested in being as objective as possible.  I don't want to make this decision on a young man's life on a whim.  I want to have as much data as rely on the data as strongly as possible and maybe even to your point weighting the most recent events heavier because it is more recent.  But we do use objective data as much as possible.

Q.  I'm assuming there's absolutely no way we would ever be able to see this point system that the USGA has for the Walker Cup, would we?

DAN BURTON:  You're a very smart young lady, yes.

Q.  How close was Scottie Scheffler to making the team?

DAN BURTON:  Scottie is a wonderful young man.  His performance over the last month has been a factor.  One of the things that's difficult for a junior player or a senior player is the strength of field is an important criteria that we look at very strongly, how did you play versus the strength of the field.  And one of the uphill battles a junior has is he's playing against other juniors.  To be fair, how do you evaluate play against juniors versus play against the strongest, most elite field?

But I would say Scottie was in the discussion.  He is a very fine young player.  I certainly think he'll be on a Walker Cup team in the future probably if he continues, and he was given serious consideration.

I think the thing that probably held against him is that most of his play has been against juniors.  But if he'd have ‑‑ one or two more matches, and it's pretty hard to not take him.

Q.  You've been talking about objective and the way you approach this, but almost everything else you've said has been subjective.  If Scottie Scheffler had won a couple more matches, either his points get him to the point or they don't get him to the point.  And back to this question, why is it that the USGA feels the need to keep the Walker Cup criteria internal and not be able to share it with the rest of us?

DAN BURTON:  Well, everything that I've said about subjective, though, if he wins another match that gets him more points.  So if you're looking at it an objective way, it's all about performance.

Our process is our process.  I've only been on the committee four years.  I'm not really trying to hide anything, but at the same time we think it's important ‑‑ these are very difficult decisions, and so we would prefer to keep our process internal, and I suppose for the foreseeable future we will, just because we think that's in the overall best interest of the team.

Q.  In a percentage of looking at how you make your selections, what percentage do you believe is objective and what percentage do you believe is subjective?

DAN BURTON:  I'd say 80 to 90 percent objective.

Q.  And then lastly, is there a reason why the captain of the team basically has very little input into the team that he's going to take to whatever Walker Cup he's captaining?

DAN BURTON:  He's involved in all the discussions, but again, because I want to rely mostly on data, he gets to ‑‑ he's in the discussion when we evaluate strength of field.  He's in the discussion when we talk about our evaluation of one player versus another on a point system.  So I think he's very involved in the whole process, but again, none of us ‑‑ our opinions, we try in the very greatest amount to not use our opinion but to try to objectively look at it, and we listen to his opinion like we listen to everybody else on the committee.

Q.  Would you say that the team is stronger ‑‑ could the team have been stronger if we didn't rely objectively, could the team have been stronger if we didn't have to have two mid‑ams on the team?

DAN BURTON:  Depends on whether or not you place any value in experience in foursomes.  I happen to place value.  We'll see this year, because if you look at Aberdeen we didn't do well in foursomes, and we'll see how we do this year, and we'll evaluate the mid‑am thing.  We'll see whether or not leadership and experience in play will help in that style of play, and we'll see.  I think you could make an argument on the surface that the team may not be quite as strong statistically.  I will grant you that.  But I think foursomes is such a different format that you have to give some value to the fact that these ‑‑ these players will have more experience and be better at foursomes, and to be honest we want to celebrate amateur golf, and we want to reward people who are lifetime amateurs, most of the young men ‑‑ it's a much different world than it was 50 years ago.  People stayed amateur their whole life.  Now most of our young players are going to turn professional, and we understand that.

But we want to celebrate amateur golf, too, and so it's kind of a combination why we put the two mid‑ams on, and that's one of the reasons.  But I'm excited that they might be able to really help us in foursomes.  We'll see.

Q.  You keep talking about the mid‑ams really helping in foursomes.  Does that mean that they're guaranteed to play in the foursome matches?

DAN BURTON:  That's up to the captain, not me.  So we'll see.  But even if they don't play, I think understanding the psychology of foursomes and helping the younger players understand the psychology is just as important as actually playing in it.

Q.  Since you bring it up, which I think is a good point about foursomes, is there a reason that the USGA hasn't thought about creating a foursomes championship?  We just created a four‑ball championship.  If we need to be better in foursomes, not only in this but obviously in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, is there a reason why we have never thought about that?

DAN BURTON:  I'm sure we probably thought about it.  We haven't discussed it that I'm aware of.  It's not a popular format in the United States, as you well know, so we don't have anybody beating down our door, whereas four‑ball is an extraordinarily popular format in the United States.  It's just there's a lot of tradition here that we play foursomes, so we've got to figure out how to do it.

Q.  Jim, just your general thoughts on the two mid‑ams this year and what they can kind of bring to the squad.

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  Well, I'm the one that's been a big proponent of putting two mid‑ams on the team, and I echo what Dan said about the leadership that they can provide.  You know, when I study the history of what the Walker Cup is all about, and I think that's something that's not talked about, which it needs to be talked about, is what George Herbert Walker said back in 1918 and 1919 and actually at the first Walker Cup in 1922, it was all about developing relationships, and there's no better sport than golf to do that.

So my experiences on Walker Cup and the experiences I've had so far, these two captaincies has been all about helping promote the game and develop the game, and I think there's no better way to do it than having mid guys who play amateur golf who can have an influence in their communities and on junior golfers that will help promote our game.

In regards to the competition, the two guys that we have on this team, Nathan Smith obviously has had previous Walker Cup experience twice.  Todd White is a high school teacher that I think ‑‑ and I've watched him play.  I watched both of these gentlemen play.  They are going to have significant influence.  When we had the practice session in December at Calusa Pines with 16, those two guys were there because they were on the top of the radar screen for mids.  So the camaraderie that we had at that practice session was unbelievable, and the young guys kind of looked up to the ‑‑ if you want to call them elders or older guys, okay, fine, they're older than obviously most of the team, but you can't believe the relationship and the fun that we had and the camaraderie to help build this game.

I would tell you that the eight gentlemen that are not the mid‑ams are so supportive of these two guys, and we just have a great team.  We're going to have a great bonding, and I'm ‑‑ I believe that, yes, as Dan talked about the foursome play, it's going to be interesting to see how we pair everybody up.  Does everybody maybe all of a sudden suggest that we split up the mid guys?  Yeah, we may do that.

We're going to have a practice session coming up this week at National Golf Links, and obviously we're going to have ‑‑ when I have my teams we're all in it together.  We talk about it together, and we'll throw up all these concepts about who will play with who.  Obviously I think I have a pretty good feeling about who I already have paired together.  But we'll talk about it because we're a team, and we're going to do it for the good of the game and to help build relationships.

Q.  Captain, we always question, both in Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and even Walker Cup, if the goal is to win or if there's another goal.  What's your number one goal?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  My number one goal is different than Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.  My number one goal is to make sure the 10 young men have the greatest experience of their golfing career, and as I told you and I told everybody on the last four years, there's no greater honor in sport than to represent your country.  That's a really big issue with me because it's just that important for these young men to understand how fortunate we are to be able to play this great game and to play for our country.

So are we going to go do our best, and do I want to win?  Sure, I do.  Everybody wants to win.  But that's not the ultimate goal.  The ultimate goal is to do what we did in Scotland.  Yes, we lost in Scotland, but let me tell you, afterwards I heard so many positive remarks about our American team and the way we handled ourselves, and that was good for golf.  How can you do any better than that?

PETE KOWALSKI:  Thanks, Dan.  Thank you, Jim.  Appreciate it.