The 2011 Walker Cup Match is still more than nine months away, but preparations are already underway on who will represent the USA on the 10-man team that will face Great Britain and Ireland on Sept. 10-11 at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland.
The USGA has extended invitations to 16 players, all of whom are United States citizens, to a practice session to be held in early January at Old Memorial Golf Club in Tampa, Fla. The group includes three members of the 2009 team that was victorious at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia.
It should be pointed out that being invited to the session does not guarantee selection. Players not chosen to attend aren't necessarily out of the mix, either.
"The practice session is a way of introducing the players and the golfing community to the spirit and uniqueness of the Walker Cup," said Steve Smyers, chairman of the USGA’s International Selection Committee. "While there is a keen interest in the players who are attending, we are well aware that there are many other talented individuals around the country. These players could easily prove themselves, and be selected."
Past Walker Cup practice sessions have given the captain an opportunity to see prospective players in an informal competitive setting.
"This opportunity to get a close-up look at the skills of these players as well as their ability to function within a team framework is invaluable to the participants as well as to me as captain," said Jim Holtgrieve, who will serve as the USA captain for the 2011 Match. "I am honored to be a part of this process. I thank the USGA for giving me a chance to convene with these great players to continue our selection process. It promises to be a very fruitful and constructive session."
Heading the list of invitees is current U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, an Oklahoma State University junior who posted a 4-0-0 mark and captured the deciding point in the victory at Merion. Uihlein also represented the USA at the 2010 Copa de las Americas and the 2010 World Amateur Team Championship last month in Argentina.
Joining Uihlein are reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith, the only mid-amateur (25 and over) golfer among the 16 invited and a 2009 Copa de las Americas participant, and University of Alabama standout Bud Cauley. Those three went a combined 9-1-1 at Merion.
One other USGA champion has been invited as well – 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur winner Jordan Spieth, who just signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Texas next fall. Spieth, 17, is the only junior golfer on the list.
Uihlein’s World Amateur Team Championship teammates Scott Langley (University of Illinois) and David Chung (Stanford) also have been invited. Langley, the 2010 NCAA Division I champion, shared low-amateur honors at the 2010 U.S. Open, while Chung was the runner-up to Uihlein at the U.S. Amateur. He also won the prestigious Western Amateur and Porter Cup last summer.
The other invitees include Blayne Barber (Auburn), Patrick Cantlay (UCLA), Alex Ching (University of San Diego), Harris English (Georgia), John Hahn (Kent State), Russell Henley (Georgia), Gregor Main (UCLA), Andrew Putnam (Pepperdine), Patrick Reed (Augusta State) and Andrew Yun (Stanford).
Henley shared low-amateur honors with Langley at the 2010 U.S. Open, while Reed (2008) and Cantlay (2010) are past U.S. Amateur semifinalists. Putnam’s older brother, Michael, was a member of the victorious 2005 USA Walker Cup Team.
Captain Holtgrieve, the 1981 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and a three-time Walker Cup Team member, already has made a scouting trip to Royal Aberdeen, visiting the 2011 site this past summer. The St. Louis resident will be looking to guide the USA to a fourth consecutive victory in the Match.