SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – A week that began with a trip to Ground Zero ended with an American celebration on hallowed ground.
The United States of America regained the Walker Cup on Sunday at famed National Golf Links of America, site of the inaugural Match 91 years ago, with a resounding 17-9 victory over Great Britain and Ireland.
It was the USA’s largest margin of victory since the 18-6 decision at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., in 1997. The USA leads the overall series 35-8-1, but is just 7-6 in the last 13 competitions.
The victory was also a measure of redemption for Captain Jim Holtgrieve, Patrick Rodgers and Nathan Smith – the holdovers from the 2011 team, which suffered a two-point defeat at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland. But Holtgrieve preached that the 2013 Match wasn’t only about coming to the East End of Long Island to beat GB&I; he wanted the Walker Cup to be about the overall experience and bonding with teammates. To that end, he took his players to see the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan when they first arrived last week.
It brought the team closer and made them more cognizant that they were playing for America.
They took that emotion to the National, a classic Charles Blair Macdonald design with many unique architectural features. The Americans certainly adapted better to the firm and fast conditions, especially the quick greens, which were rolling at 11.8 on the Stimpmeter.
“It’s something I have been wanting for a long, long time, particularly after we lost in 2011,” said USA Captain Jim Holtgrieve. “I was hoping I would get a mulligan for ‘13 and when I knew it was going to be at National Golf Links, which is where it all started, I wanted so bad to come here. Yes. I wanted to win but I wanted to do something good for golf and this, to me, was truly good for golf.”
Continuing the dominance from Saturday’s singles session, the USA, which entered the final day with an 8-4 lead, split the four Sunday foursomes (alternate-shot) matches and claimed seven of the 10 afternoon singles matches. That included a pair of 4-and-3 victories by the two mid-amateurs on the team, 45-year-old Todd White and the 35-year-old Smith, who clinched the winning point against Nathan Kimsey of England.
“This ranks at the top of the list,” said Smith, a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who was making his third Walker Cup appearance. “I never wanted a point so much in my life. This [Match] means the most. I’m happy for Jim. Nobody loves the game of golf and put more hard work into a team than him.”
White defeated GB&I’s lone 2011 holdover, Rhys Pugh of Wales. Pugh went 3-0 in 2011, but was 1-2 in 2013, including a tough Sunday foursomes loss in which he and partner Garrick Porteous, the 2013 British Amateur champion, surrendered a late lead to lose, 1 down, to Max Homa and Michael Kim. GB&I went from possibly trailing by two points to losing by four entering the 10 afternoon singles contests.
Those singles matches clearly were the difference as the USA posted a 13-4-1 mark against a 3-4-1 foursomes record.
Bobby Wyatt of Mobile, Ala., led the way for the Americans with a 3-0-1 record, including a dominating 4-and-3 Sunday singles win over 2013 U.S. Amateur co-medalist Neil Raymond. Rodgers, a Stanford University junior from Avon, Ind., also secured a singles win after going 0-3 in his three previous sessions, edging Ireland’s Gavin Moynihan, 1 up.
Not surprisingly, the one bright spot for GB&I was the performance of 19-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick of England. The world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, who last month at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., became the first Englishman in 102 years to win the U.S. Amateur, closed out the Walker Cup with a 3-and-2 victory over Michael Weaver. Fitzpatrick, an incoming Northwestern University freshman, had a 3-1 record, including 2-0 in foursomes with Raymond, a 27-year-old from England who is turning pro after this competition. The duo beat Weaver and White on Sunday morning, 3 and 2.
Frustrated by his 3-and-1 Saturday singles defeat to Weaver, Fitzpatrick placed a quick call to his swing coach, Mike Walker, and his game, especially around the greens, returned to the form he showed at the U.S. Amateur. With the usual match-play concessions, he was one under par over the 16 holes.
“It’s the best I played all week,” said Fitzpatrick. “Just solid. [I] holed a couple of putts. Nothing silly, but it was nice to finish with a win.”
Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick didn’t get too much support. Long after the Match was decided, Callum Shinkwin of England posted a 2-up win over Cory Whitsett and 2013 U.S. Open qualifier Kevin Phelan of Ireland edged Homa, 2 and 1.
“We’re all very disappointed,” said GB&I Captain Nigel Edwards, now 1-1 as captain after going 2-2 as a competitor. “We didn’t do the simple things well. We didn’t hole enough putts. We missed greens with wedges, which is very costly, especially where the punishment for short-siding yourself is so severe.
“The lads played their hearts out. It's not that they haven't tried. We're disappointed because they've had such success this year and in recent years that it makes it all the more disappointing. But I'm sure that they will all learn from the experience and go forward and develop themselves into better players.”
Needing only 3½ points in the singles session to regain the Walker Cup, Holtgrieve sent out his two of his three University of Alabama stalwarts, Wyatt and Justin Thomas, who was forced to sit out the foursomes session due to an ailing back. Thomas received treatment in the morning and was obviously good to go; his 6-and-4 win over England’s Max Orrin combined with Wyatt’s victory gave the USA a 12-6 lead. Thomas finished 2-0-1 in the Match.
“Cory [Whitsett] and Justin [Thomas] are two of my very best friends in life in general,” said Wyatt of his Crimson Tide mates. “We do a lot of stuff together, on and off the golf course. To have them around, share this experience with is something special for me.”
After Fitzpatrick briefly broke the USA’s momentum, White and Smith followed with the final points.
Several matches were still on the course after the outcome had been decided.
Kim, No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and this year’s low amateur at the U.S. Open, completed his first Walker Cup with a 3-0 mark, earning a 4-and-2 singles win over Porteous, while reigning U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Jordan Niebrugge had the day’s biggest victory, a 6-and-5 triumph over England’s Jordan Smith.
“I've been looking forward to this week for years,” said Kim, “and it took a long time to get to the matches, but once I was there, it seems like it just went by real quick. Winning is great, but to win with these other nine guys who I've known for a while now, it's special. And to represent your country is always an honor and something I'll never forget.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.