WALKER CUP
Day 1 of the Walker Cup: 5 Things to Watch For September 9, 2017 | Los Angeles By David Shefter, USGA

Doug Ghim (left) and Maverick McNealy hope foursomes treats the USA better than it did in 2015 when it lost six of eight available points. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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For the first time in 36 years, the biennial Walker Cup Match between the USA and Great Britain and Ireland is taking place on the West Coast. This is also the first USGA-sanctioned event at The Los Angeles Country Club since the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur, so many will be seeing this venerable George Thomas design for the first time – click here for the FS1 and Sky Sports broadcast schedule.

The two-day affair features four foursomes (alternate-shot) matches each morning, followed by singles matches – eight on Saturday and 10 on Sunday – in the afternoon. GB&I needs 13 points to retain the Cup, while the Americans must garner 13½ points to reclaim it.

Now that the flags have been raised and Saturday’s lineups announced by the respective captains, it is time to start playing golf. Here are five things to watch for as we get underway:

Foursomes Trends: Pay close attention to what happens in the first foursomes session, as it often sets a tone and is a format that has tended to favor GB&I.  Since the 1995 Match at Royal Porthcawl in Wales, GB&I has hoisted the Walker Cup six times. In four of those victories, they have outscored their USA counterparts four times and halved once in Saturday foursomes. Only once has the USA won the Match when losing the opening session: four years ago at National Golf Links of America.

College Ties: Two of Saturday’s foursomes matches will feature players facing their former or current college teammate. Wake Forest senior Will Zalatoris, who is paired with reigning U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redman, is facing fellow Demon Deacon senior Paul McBride, of the Republic of Ireland, and Connor Syme at 7:30 a.m. PDT. Recent Stanford University graduate Maverick McNealy, who is paired with 2017 U.S. Amateur runner-up Doug Ghim, will be taking on his ex-teammate David Boote and Jack Davidson, both from Wales, at 8 a.m.

But we’ll still have to wait for the first singles matchup among college teammates in a Walker Cup Match. Saturday’s matchups, which also were announced at the Flag-Raising Ceremony on Friday, won’t feature a McBride vs. Zalatoris or Boote vs. McNealy matchup.

In Their Prayers: Shortly before the Great Britain and Ireland Team was set to depart from London, they received the news that Captain Craig Watson would not be joining them as expected. A death in the family forced Watson to stay home and The R&A named Andrew Ingram as the acting captain. Ingram and the team have stayed in touch with Watson during their preparations this week.

“It was kind of a shock,” said Ingram. “We had been aware that Craig's family member had been ill for some time, it's obviously just really bad luck on him that she passed away just before we came out, so obviously he couldn't come. He’s a great guy and he's missed by all the team, they all like him very much. He will be missed. We are talking to him or I’m talking to him most days, and he'll be with us in spirit if not in body.”

Perfect Partners: It was virtually a guarantee that Englishmen Alfie Plant and Harry Ellis, the reigning British Amateur champion, would be paired in foursomes. The two longtime friends went 3-0 during this summer’s European Team Championship. Sure enough, the duo will be first off at 7:15 a.m. against Southern California natives Collin Morikawa and Norman Xiong.

“Alfie's a great guy, there's something about him that, obviously, a lot of you saw him at The Open, his personality shown through at The Open,” said Ellis. “He's got fantastic support around him but also he's a very genuine guy and he's the comedian of the group for sure. But I think when we have had success it's because of the mixture in the games. Alfie's usually quite direct, he plays within himself, he knows his limitations, and he's got a phenomenal short game … whereas my game is aggressive, fairly long off the tee, [I can] put him in positions that he wouldn't normally be in, then he capitalizes from them. So there's that blend there that kind of works naturally.”

Simplifying the Strategy: USA captain Spider Miller thought one of the reasons his side went 2-6 in foursomes play in 2015 was the players spent too much time “caucusing” over shots. So a key message to this team was keep a narrow focus. In simple terms: each player should commit to a shot and not spend too much time strategizing or discussing the next play.

“We're having the players be in their own thought and hit the shot the way they see it,” said Miller. “That's the only thing I think that's different. When they play their own ball, they're used to being in their own thoughts. The guys who go back to the tee, [his partner] is [down the fairway] getting ready to hit the next shot.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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