USA Pre-Walker Cup Press Conference


By USGA
September 6, 2013

THE MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to National Golf Links of America for the 44th Walker Cup match.  We're pleased to be joined by USA Captain Jim Holtgrieve as well as team USA players Patrick Rodgers and Nathan Smith.  Welcome to you both.  Jim, let's begin with you.  Less than 24 hours before we compete, how have preparations gone for you?  Have they gone as you hoped they would?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  I think they've really, they've gone better.  We were fortunate to get to National Golf Links about a week and a half ago, which gave us a little preview, similar to what GB & I did two years ago when they got a chance to go to Royal Aberdeen three or four times, which has really been very helpful to us.

We've kind of relaxed.  We're pretty well set on the foursomes.  We kind of knew that.  Basically when the final five of the team were named with the guys coming in from Alabama and California, so I kind of had a pretty good head start, I thought, and then when we had the session here I think we really nailed it down concrete about how we were going to play our foursomes.  So the first part of the week we've done foursome play, the last couple of days just having the guys get used to the golf course themselves, and I think everything is good, and the guys are ready to go.

THE MODERATOR:  Players, Patrick, this is your second go‑around.  You're a veteran.  What advice do you give to the rest of the team in terms of how to best prepare between now and the first time you tee off tomorrow morning?

PATRICK RODGERS:  Yeah, I think it's just important to find your comfort zone.  I know for me being out there in '11 that was my first experience in this kind of a stage.  You really gotta stick to your game and how you play your best golf.  It's easy to kind of let the situation get the best of you, but I think we have a great team.  I think we're all really relaxed.  We have a lot of confident players and I think we'll do great.

THE MODERATOR:  Nathan, your third Walker Cup, what's the mood in the team room on the eve of competition?

NATHAN SMITH:  We're excited.  We're happy to be here.  This is first class all the way.  I think of all the Walker Cups I've played, this is the one you want to make, and we all feel the same way.  We're happy to be here and ready to compete.

THE MODERATOR:  Let's open it up to questions.

Q.  Patrick and Nathan, I would like to get some of your thoughts on this course and what makes it distinctive?

PATRICK RODGERS:  I think this is really unique to American golf just in terms of the links style.  I think this is the most linksy golf course that I've played in the United States.

I think it's starting to get really firm and fast, which is going to be a lot of fun to play.  It makes a lot of the greens a lot trickier and a lot of the pin locations definitely more difficult.  I think it's going to be a little bit of a challenge out there, but I think it definitely is a golf course that yields some low scores if you play the correct shot.

NATHAN SMITH:  I think, well, it's a great course.  It's one of the best in the world, but I think it's a great match-play course, too, and I think the fun thing you'll see this week is the shot portion, somebody has to pick the evens and odds, but the course never plays the same, you know.  So one day may have an even hole that might be downwind might be perfect for one guy.  Next day it might be straight into the wind, so it's going to be fun into the weekend to watch that and play the course.

Q.  As much as I admire the traditions of history, you're not going to play in ties, are you?  I wish you'd say yes.

NATHAN SMITH:  We played pretty good today, but I'm not going to chance it, no.  I'm going to take it off tomorrow.

Q.  Have you ever played in a tie before?

NATHAN SMITH:  A couple of times when I run out of work real quick and don't have time to change.

Q.  Have either of you guys, and I guess, Jim, you too, played here prior to the Walker Cup?  And the second question is given that it is such a linksy course, do you think that might give you guys some advantage or disadvantage when you play against a team that's maybe more familiar with links conditions?

NATHAN SMITH:  I've played here one time before, and the second part of that answer we'll tell you Sunday night.

Q.  How about you guys?

PATRICK RODGERS:  I had never ‑‑ I never played here before the practice session, but I think today was our ninth time around.  So I think we're all pretty comfortable with the place.  I don't think it really favors either team.  Good scores, the low score still wins.

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  I have played here.  I played here back in the 80s, and it's just a great golf course.  I really like the old‑style golf courses.  I really enjoy it.  It wasn't nearly as fast as it is now for me, and so I really think that, you know, it used to be that I thought links courses were probably gave GB & I an advantage.  I don't think that's the case here.  A lot of GB & I guys come to college over here.  Yes, they can play all kinds of shots, but I think my team is really prepared ‑‑ my team ‑‑ and don't take this the wrong way, but my team is really a smart team and they played ‑‑ as I watched them play this summer in the past amateur events, how they really attack the hole locations.  And that's what you're going to do to do here and you're going to have to have some patience.

So I think the guys are ‑‑ nobody has told me that they're scared of this golf course.  Couple holes obviously everybody has a little bit of nerve factor, but as we talk every night, these guys, they love this golf course.  They love the history of it and they're ready to play.

Q.  (Inaudible).

NATHAN SMITH:  I think, well, every Walker Cup has been special and first class, you know.  But I think just being up here and we were able to be in the city and come out here and just playing with President [George W.] Bush yesterday and just National Golf Links and just the whole feeling, especially today.  The only other ones in a practice round the day before, I've never seen that many people out there following or showing support.  So we're excited to be here, and this is definitely one of the ones you want to make.

Q.  Jim, obviously you're desperate to win.  I just wonder if it provides more incentive the fact that America are on a bit of a losing run in Ryder Cup, Solheim Cups, Curtis Cups, and of course, the Walker Cup.  Has that filtered through to the team?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  No.  I don't think that's filtered to the team at all.  It only comes from the media guys in regards to all these cups are somewhere else.  Our guys are focused on what the mission is at hand, and to go out and play the best possible golf they can and to represent their country the best that they can.

It's a gentleman's game, and that's what it started all about.  It's not, as I've said before, it's not about winning.  It's about building relationships, and that's what these guys are going to do.

Now, I will tell you Nathan Smith wants to win and so do I and so does Patrick Rodgers, but there's more things that are more important about what's going on at this historic golf site.

So as we learned in '11 and as Nigel took his team on the first tee I took my team on the ‑‑ and told every one of them to get rid of their medals and their trophies and all their accolades because match play is match play, and that's what's important.

But this team is focused on playing match play, and I ‑‑ there's a different feeling.  There's just a different feeling with this team.

Q.  Every team, every captain, all the players always have the challenge of how do you balance this weekend?  In trying to prepare for the two days, not over preparing or maybe getting burned out, how hard is it to deal with that this week in terms of handling?  And how do you do as players, how do you try to do that so you're not too amped up for the next couple of days?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  Well, let me say real quick that we are a team, so we discuss this a lot.  I mean obviously, like I said, the practice session that we had a couple of weeks ago or a few days ago, it was a big help to me personally.  I think it was a big help to the team.  So we have really kind of relaxed a little bit.

Obviously we got rained out on Tuesday.  We were supposed to go to Shinnecock.  Quite personally, I've always wanted to focus on the golf course where the competition is.  So we got a chance to relax.

And then we talk about it all the time.  We talked, we played foursomes on Wednesday, and I think talking to the team, talking to these guys individually, talking as a team, are you okay with your foursome partner, and have we got that lined out, and they've all said yes, they'd prefer just to go out and do a little practicing themselves and that's what we've done the last two days.  But you guys need to say it.

PATRICK RODGERS:  At least for me there's kind of three goals of preparation.  One is to get comfortable on the golf course.  I think we've played it plenty of times by now.  I think today was our ninth time, and I think everybody feels really comfortable.  Lines off the tees, we've seen so many different winds, so we've kind of seen it all, and everybody is really comfortable with the golf course and everything we're going to see this weekend.

I think the second is just everybody being comfortable with their game.  I think captain has been really open.  He's kind of allowed us to decide how we want to play each day or how much we want to practice versus how much we want to play.  He's been great about that.  So I think everybody is rounding into form nicely and getting comfortable with their games.

And the last thing is just to come together as a team.  I notice such a difference between this team and the '11 team, how much camaraderie there is.  I think we're all peers.  We all get along really great.  Obviously I know Nathan a lot better now.  And we're just all really close, and I think that is kind of unique.

And I think it'll help us a lot this weekend.

NATHAN SMITH:  That was well said.  The only other thing I'd say is, yeah, the course never really plays the same.  So you never really get stale every day, you're going out and playing a different course which kind of makes it exciting.

Q.  One thing, Patrick, the team is closer maybe than '11.  How did that come about?  Is that just naturally because of you guys growing up with each differently or has it been something because the way the setup has been with practices with the practice session early in the year or more recently?

PATRICK RODGERS:  I think it's both.  Like I said, all of us are peers.  Most of us are about the same age, and it seems like with everybody on the team we've just played a lot of golf together, I know at least for me, I've grown up playing junior golf and a lot of amateur golf with these guys and played amateur golf with Todd [White] and Nathan [Smith], and I just think from being around each other, obviously we got three guys from Alabama and three guys from Cal that are all really close.

I just think the ten guys that we have we really just kind of fit together and it's made for a really fun experience so far.

Q.  Jim, what do you take into consideration when determining the order of play and when the players are leaving the stable, who's first, who's second, who's third?  And for the players, would you guys rather go out early or late in the match?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  Well, and that's part of this whole team concept is we have these meetings and talk.  And we have found out that Bobby Wyatt likes to play kind of fast.  He likes to get going.  He doesn't want to sit around.  He wants to go.  He's always been the first one to step up on the first tee in the practice session.  So Bobby is going to go first.

Versus I ‑‑ when Patrick made the team, I called him to congratulate him, and I know how hard he worked for '11 and it didn't come out like he wanted to, like we wanted it to.  So I said, if it comes down to the end, I said, do you want the ball?  Yeah, I want the ball.  So we're kind of planning to put him on the back end of the matches and have him be the foundation.

So otherwise in between, we kind of got ‑‑ we put together some thoughts, you know, trying to obviously guess what Nigel is going to do.  I mean I went back to my records about how he put together his team last year.  You guys are probably going to print it and he's going to reverse it on me, but that's okay.  (Laughs).

So we put together the format ‑‑ what am I trying to say?  The lineup, thank you very much, the lineup and the order that I think that we feel is really good.  We've talked about it with the team.  And we're all on board.

Q.  And would you change that during ‑‑ from one match to the next during the weekend?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  Well, obviously we do not ‑‑ we had to put in our lineup at 1 [p.m.] today.  Obviously the lineup for Sunday is not due until an hour after conclusion of play tomorrow.  So we may, depending upon what happens, yeah.  That's certainly going to be a viable option for us, and that's something that we will consider.  But right now I don't think we're changing a thing.

Q.  A couple things.  Jim, first of all, it sounds like you have done things a little differently maybe this Walker Cup than the last.  Can you kind of elaborate on that obviously you had two years to think about what happened at Royal Aberdeen.  And secondly, Nathan, we're all talking about how we think this should all be about winning and not the fun or the camaraderie that you get out of this.  Can you tell me what's different for you when you're on a Walker Cup team where you win versus a Walker Cup team when you lose?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  So in regards to preparation differently, I've been more active this year than I was previous 2011 when I went to all the events.  I've been to nine events this year, spent a lot of time really trying to analyze their game more in looking at the stats in regards to chipping and putting knowing that this golf course is a second shot chipping and putting golf course.  Not necessarily looking at their length, their distance.  Looking at their iron play.  So I spent a lot of time doing that, putting together my own stats.

I also in regards to as it was starting to formulate with maybe Cal and Alabama guys, knowing that they were as Patrick said, they're good friends, they get along with each other, it almost was ‑‑ I don't want to say simple because nothing is simple, but the format that's come up with these three guys from Cal and three guys from Alabama and then Patrick and Justin Thomas being such good friends, I had a heck of a start on foursomes.

I mean I got three really solid teams in foursomes play.  And when that was formulated, I wasn't going to change a thing, and thank goodness when we met and talked about it, they were absolutely on the same page.  So that to me is the No. 1 thing that we have going, I think, in regards to the camaraderie that this team has put together.

NATHAN SMITH:  Could you ask that one more time?

Q.  We're all focused on the fact that we want to see you win.  I mean that's just how it is.

NATHAN SMITH:  Sure.

Q.  We all just want to know how much better is the experience when you win than when you lose.

NATHAN SMITH:  Well, I mean Jim is saying all the right things.  It's great to represent your country and friendships for life and different things like that, but obviously it's a lot more funner to win.  And you know, I didn't like, you know, over there at Aberdeen with, you know, crowd going crazy and different things and you lose.  That's just not fun.

So I mean you know, both sides want to win.  I mean it's a competition, but at the same time you're making friendships for life and you're going to represent your country the right way.  And definitely, it was night and day from '09 to 2011.  There's no doubt about that.

Q.  Jim, can you talk about the apparel a little bit today?  I think we're all pretty interested in that, and then maybe if there's any other surprises for the week over the weekend.

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  There is one surprise, what I have to wear.  But anyway, when obviously I'd done my research in history and education on what the first Walker Cup was 91 years ago, and I looked at the pictures, particularly when you go in the library and see the old pictures, I thought why don't we on Friday, why don't we honor those guys who played in 1922, the very first official Walker Cup, and hopefully the weather would cooperate, which it's perfect.  Let's wear a tie like they used to play golf in and let's wear a cardigan sweater and let's have some Tartan pants in honor of Scotland.

So when we went and met with Polo to discuss uniforms, I said, do we have this, and can we do that, and Robbie Z[alzneck] was involved in trying to get this knit tie.  So it's been ‑‑ between Robbie and I, it's been a team effort and there was a whole idea about kind of getting back to nostalgia, back to 1922, and let me tell you, the guys have had a great time with it.  I think they enjoyed it.  You had some fun with it; right?  Seemed like they had some really good comments about it.

THE MODERATOR:  Our two players are going to have to depart now, but Jim's going to hang around and talk a little bit more about the lineup.  But Nate, Patrick, thank you very much for being with us.

Q.  Jim, how much of the course setup plan are you aware of or is that something that you're kept out of the loop of and it's just a pleasant surprise tomorrow?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  Yeah, I have guess in the Ryder Cup the captains kind of get involved in that.  I have no input whatsoever.  I think Jeff Hall and his counterpart they go out and set the hole locations.  I think when we had our practice session here, I think a couple of the assistant superintendents kind of maybe had some guests and were trying to have some fun with us and put some hole locations in some very difficult positions.

So I think ‑‑ you know, the guys have obviously tried to guess.  I mean when I had the practice session, I had Jim Morris, the head professional here, take us out, talk about hole locations where they have for tournaments, the single tournament that they have and what hole locations they use.

So we've probably had a little preview of it, but no input.

I asked them how fast the greens are going to be.  They don't answer me.  I ask them where the hole locations are going to be.  They wouldn't answer me.  So I know they're hoping the golf course, the winds are going to continue and it's going to dry out and come back the way C.B. Macdonald wanted it, unfortunately.  Which you know, I wouldn't want any input anyway.  I mean that's not my role, and I don't think it should ever have in any team competition, Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup or anyway.  Team captain putting up hole locations?  Ridiculous, I think.

Q.  Hey, Jim, we're into ‑‑ we're our first Walker Cup into the mid-am era where we're going to have two mid-ams on the team now.  Can you talk a little bit about their current near‑term impact on this team and these matches and the long‑term impact of consistently having mid ams on the teams?

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  Well, as some of you know, probably more than ‑‑ a couple of you know more than others, this is something that I have really driven because when Nathan Smith told me in '11, I said I don't know that I'm going to become a captain again.  I don't know if the USGA is going to give me a significant mulligan, but if they do, are you going to try to make the team?

And when he said, well, Jim, I'm 34 years old, I can't, you know, compete in the tournaments that you need to compete to make Walker Cup; I've got a wife, I've got a job, that kind of hit me because when I played Walker Cup, I was 35 years old.  Now, obviously it's all changed; I understand that.  Guys have gotten so much better.  But when you read ‑‑ when you study the history of the Walker Cup and what George Herbert Walker [envisioned], why it came about, it's about building relationships.  It's not about winning all the time.  It's about what World War I, and George Herbert Walker wanted to bring two continents back together, and there's no better sport than golf to do that.

And so I told a couple individuals at the USGA, I said, after my Walker Cup captainship, I'm going to work real hard to lobby the USGA to consider putting two mid-ams or putting a mid-am on the team going forward.

Well, these individuals liked it, and they obviously had conversations with the Executive Committee and other people and I think they talked to people around the country about it.  And they came back to me and said, ‘Well, guess what? We're going to do it with you.’  And I said, ‘Thank you so much.’

I kind of had a little, you know, hope that maybe I would get it this time.  But I was certainly going to try to get it for 2015.

So with that being said, it's ‑‑ it's the right decision.  And when you see guys like Todd White and Nathan Smith interact with these young guys and when you see Todd White talk to his high school as a history teacher and talking with what he's going to go do playing for his country, it's about positive impact on our youth and trying to grow the game.  How do we grow the game?  Only by winning?  Come on.

So I ‑‑ I'm so honored because these guys are really neat guys.  They really get it.  And they can have a positive influence on golf going forward.  And that's what the Walker Cup is all about.

Q.  Jim, that being said, I mean obviously you had some impact on who was on your team in regards to that.  Is there a reason why you think the captain shouldn't have more impact on who's on his team going forward because as I understand it you're involved to some extent, but really not a large extent and don't really have a vote at the end of the day.

JIM HOLTGRIEVE:  That's a great question. This process is really hard, and you know, I know that there's been conversation about subjective and objective.  It's different than the Ryder Cup, obviously.  It's not a points system.  It's because, you know ‑‑ and you guys keep asking about trying to get down to the nitty‑gritty of it.  Well, the nitty‑gritty of it is that some guys who are playing out there on the golf course you don't see when they're throwing the golf club or saying an F‑bomb or doing whatever they're doing, they don't need to be representing the United States of America.  So that's why this is subjective because you've got to be able not only to have talent, but you've got to be a good player.  So that's why I go out and watch.

As far as should a captain ‑‑ should we have a pick, I don't think we should.  I think it ought to be the committee that discusses it.  We have influence.  There's no doubt that the committee listens to me as I go and report back to them.  I report back after the practice session that we had.  I sent notes in a spreadsheet about all 16 guys, what I thought about their game, their personality, their respect, how they treated each other.  And they formulated all that.

And so I really don't want the pressure of having to tell somebody no or yes.  It's amazing how many people don't know that we don't have a pick.  But I don't want that.  I mean I want to report and I want the committee to select.  But as it comes down, the committee says, Jim, do you want the person or don't you.  Well, sometimes I say yes.  Sometimes I say no.  That's the way I've done it.

And so whether that's going to continue on, who knows.  I think the USGA is trying to formulate maybe a little bit better plan so that in the future, and I think this is something that's really important, that we can in the future start telling guys that they're really on the radar screen.

We did that with the 16.  But maybe if somebody shows up, that maybe we need to try to get that person to know that he has a chance to be on this team and they can kind of plan their summer.  Some of these people get worn out trying to make this team.  That's something we gotta look at.

I don't know that I totally got the answer to you, but I don't want ‑‑ I personally don't want a captain pick.  [2015 Captain] Spider Miller and I just had some conversations, and I said, ‘Spider, as far as getting 10 people, particularly now, because there are 25 or 30 guys that could play on this team.  I mean they are that good, compared to when I played, I would have never been a Walker Cupper based upon the talent that there is today, but I said, I don't think you want to get involved in picks, and I don't think the USGA is going to have us do that anyway.’

THE MODERATOR:  I think that's a good place to stop.  Jim, thank you very much.  Good luck to you.