Just before Christmas, 16 golfers took part in an informal Walker Cup practice session at Calusa Pines Golf Club in Naples, Fla. The three-day session, which took place Dec. 19-21, was an opportunity for USA captain Jim Holtgrieve to get a first glimpse at potential participants for this year’s Match against Great Britain and Ireland at The National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., on Sept. 7-8. While an invitation to the session by the USGA was by no means a guarantee of selection to the 10-man team, it did give Holtgrieve, as well as Dan Burton, the chairman of the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee, the chance to see how potential players interacted with each other, both on and off the golf course. Holtgrieve, a three-time Walker Cup player who captained the 2011 USA Team to a narrow defeat at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland, offered a few details from the practice session.
What were the biggest positives from this practice session?
Holtgrieve: Perhaps the biggest was getting all 16 [players] together and getting to know each other. While some did know each other, from the first day they all got along so well. They got a chance to learn about the Walker Cup and what is means to be a Walker Cupper.
What was the agenda each day?
Holtgrieve: The first day (Dec. 19) we played singles and just got to know the golf course. After lunch, we played foursomes (alternate-shot) in the afternoon. At dinner that night, we had some fun learning about everyone's greatest golf shot. We found out that among the 18 of us (including team manager Robbie Zalzneck and I) that there have been 68 hole-in-ones. Then we met for a chipping and putting tournament.
On the second day (Dec. 20), we had the same routine, but we played only nine holes of foursomes in the afternoon, as I had my four-hole scramble with everyone. We had 18 players and 18 caddies walking down the fairway. We played holes 10, 16, 17, and 18. That was a lot of fun and there was plenty of laughter. We talked more about the Walker Cup that night at dinner and I showed everyone some photographs I had taken of National Golf Links. Again after dinner, we chipped and putted under the clubhouse lights.
The final day (Dec. 21), we had the same morning routine, but we only played 16 holes of foursomes as we wanted to allow the players to return home to their families for Christmas.
How did this practice session prepare you for the Match in September?
Holtgrieve: Number one, we have introduced them to foursomes play; some had never played alternate shot. Second, we prepared them to represent and play for their country and what that should mean to them. We had [two-time Walker Cup member] Nathan Smith, [2012 World Amateur Team member] Steven Fox and [2011 Walker Cup member] Patrick Rodgers speak to the others about playing for the USA. Personally, I focused on their ability to chip and putt as NGLA is a second-shot golf course. Driving distance won’t be as important as the short game.
I was also very impressed how everybody got along. They all were very respectful, very mature and all extremely focused on their respective games. This practice session gave us a head start on building a team that will be focused and will work hard for each other. I did not see that as much in my practice session for the 2011 Match.
What did players discuss over the three days?
Holtgrieve: Max Homa had a hole-in-one on the seventh hole. It played 265 yards and he used a 3-iron. There was lots of conversation about college football and all the upcoming bowl games.
Any comments about your hosts at Calusa Pines?
Holtgrieve: They were terrific and treated us quite well. Calusa Pines is a fine golf course that afforded us the challenge that we needed. The players were very complimentary of Calusa.
Did any special team building take place?
Holtgrieve: Every night the players would gather at the lighted putting green and have a chipping and putting competition. They all had a great time as they would make up various golf shots. I think the four-hole scramble offered a chance for them to relax and chat with each other.
Did you bring in any speakers?
Holtgrieve: The first night (Dec. 18) when everyone arrived, [USGA president] Glen Nager and [USGA vice president] Dan Burton spoke to the group. Glen spoke about the history of the Walker Cup and Dan spoke about the selection process.
Did anything else come out of the session?
Holtgrieve: It was a great three days and I am hopeful that all future captains have this opportunity. It starts everyone thinking and preparing to make this team. It gives everyone a chance to see each other in a more relaxed atmosphere and share stories and experiences with one another. It is a great building tool for the Walker Cup besides giving the captain an early visualization and knowledge of the respective candidates.