|Trip Kuehne finally tasted Walker Cup success in the 2007 Match. (USGA/John Mummert)
Trip Kuehne, the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 1994 U.S. Amateur runner-up, was a member of three USA Walker Cup Teams in 1995, 2003 and 2007, compiling an overall record of 2-7-1. In 2007, Kuehne finally tasted victory in the Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. That same year, he helped Texas win the USGA Men’s State Team and he won his Mid-Amateur title at Bandon Dunes. The following spring, he retired from competitive golf to focus on his family and business.
Looking back, what did your Walker Cup experience mean to you?
Kuehne: To me it’s the crowning achievement … for an amateur golfer. The Walker Cup matches are incredible for the game of golf. Not only do they foster international relations, it brings The R&A and USGA together. It brings amateur golfers from throughout the United States and Great Britain and Ireland together. Everybody is there for the good of the game.
Was 2007 a special moment, considering your first two Walker Cup Teams failed to win the Cup?
Kuehne: To play as a collegian in 1995 and again in my early 20s [in 2003] and then to peak out 12 years later at 35, you realize how important golf is to you and what the Walker Cup is. To finally break through and be on a winning Walker Cup Team meant the world to me. It helped make my decision [to retire] after my win at the Mid-Amateur in 2007. I had achieved everything I had wanted to achieve in amateur golf. I had never dreamed that I would be on a winning Walker Cup Team and was able to finally do that. I know it meant a lot to Webb Simpson and Colt Knost and Dustin Johnson and Rickie [Fowler] for me to win. They said, “Hey, we need to do this for the old man.”
How about the six weeks you had in 2007?
Kuehne: Two thousand and seven was an incredible year. I had the highs of qualifying for the U.S. Open at Oakmont [Country Club], which is the reason I started playing [competitive] golf again in 2001 because of the [U.S.] Amateur there in 2003. And then to hole a 50-footer from across the green at the Ocean Course at The Olympic Club [in the 2007 Amateur] for an 84, knowing that the Walker Cup is a few weeks away and I might never have another shot, and I am playing so badly. The thought crossed my mind to give up my spot and let an alternate play so we can win. Or I’ll go over there and not play a match.
I put my life on hold for six weeks. It was through conversations with Stan Drunkenmiller and guys who love the game of golf and who are older and wiser with lots of experiences that changed my outlook. They said, “Trip, six weeks in your business career mean nothing [because] you may never make a Walker Cup Team again.” That’s essentially what I did. I got my game in shape and played really, really well over there at the Walker Cup and then we followed up with Texas winning the State Team and then the U.S. Mid-Amateur. It was an incredible run, but it was all lead because I was named to the Walker Cup Team and I wanted to play well there. It was somewhat of a rallying cry.
Do any singles or foursomes matches stand out over your three appearances?
Kuehne: Three matches that really stand out in my mind. One was a tie, one was a loss at a very inopportune time and one was a victory. For me, I didn’t realize what it meant in 1995. That whole week was kind of a blur. But in 2003 [at Ganton Golf Club], after being away for eight years, I played [England’s] Oliver Wilson the first day in singles. And I holed about a 10-footer on 18 for a par to halve the hole and halve the match. I want to say we were both five or six under par. I remember going up to the captain (Bob Lewis Jr.) afterwards saying, “That match right there is what the Walker Cup is all about.” The golf was riveting. The crowd was really into it.
Then the next day in the singles I was in the last match out and I played horrible [against Stuart Manley]. We ended up losing and I must have been seven or eight over par. I just had a bad day. I remember at the closing ceremonies walking off … thinking I need to continue to play [amateur golf] because I don’t want this to be my final Walker Cup moment. It was a sickening feeling.
And then at Royal County Down, we were sitting around [on Saturday night] and we didn’t know who was going to play in the matches [on Sunday]. Buddy [Marucci, the captain], decided to shake some things up. Jonathan Moore and I hadn’t practice together and we were two guys who were much maligned in the media for our selection [to the team]. We had never played alternate-shot together and we went out and absolutely smoked the guys we played (Jamie Moul and Daniel Willett). We were four or five under par. We walked away winning the Walker Cup (12.5-11.5)… and that meant a lot to me.
What about the friendships you forged through the Walker Cup?
Kuehne: The guys I have played with have been incredible. And I look at the guys I played matches against like Michael Hoey [of Ireland], who just won again on the European Tour. I played against him in 2007 and he’s now won five European Tour events. Padraig Harrington [and Jody Fagan] whipped me and Kris Cox [in foursomes] in 1995, [5 and 3]. What’s incredible about the Walker Cup is I hadn’t seen Padraig in eight years and I am playing the U.S. Open in 2003 in Chicago at Olympia Fields. Padraig is sitting right there and says, “Trip, let’s go play [a practice round].” This was a Tuesday of U.S. Open week and we played nine holes and all we talked about was the Walker Cup.
The competition is fierce, but when it’s over and you’re at the dinner afterwards everyone is celebrating international friendship. There’s a bond that is created. In 1995, I sat with Padraig Harrington in a hallway and we talked for three or four hours after the dinner. In 2003, we all went to a local pub, we hitting the top of a champagne bottle and one of [the bottles] hit my arm and cracked my tooth. So I had to fly home with a broken tooth. And at Royal County Down [in 2007], we learned to shake the champagne bottle hard enough so the cork can hit the roof.
It’s a hard-fought match and you want to win, but when you step back from it, you realize it’s an incredible accomplishment and you walk away with lifelong friends that not only are from the United States, but also from GB&I. It doesn’t matter where you are, you’ll be able to sit down in conversation and pick up like it hadn’t been eight years or now 18 years since the first time I played in the Walker Cup.