McNealy, Captain Miller Hoping to Avenge Stinging 2015 Defeat
September 8, 2017 | Los Angeles
By David Shefter, USGA
An image from the closing ceremony of the 45th Walker Cup Match at Royal Lytham & St. Annes summed up the USA Team’s feelings. Captain John “Spider” Miller’s head was staring down at the ground as Bryson DeChambeau tried to console him.
The pain and sting of the seven-point defeat to Great Britain and Ireland was clearly evident.
“I think I learned it’s no fun to lose,” said Miller, who is getting a second shot at captaining the USA side this week at The Los Angeles Country Club.
Maverick McNealy, the only player on the 2017 USA Team who experienced that defeat two years ago, echoed those sentiments.
For McNealy and Miller, this is their last chance at a Walker Cup victory. Miller, who also was on the losing end as a competitor in the 1999 Walker Cup at Nairn Golf Club, has called this his swan song in amateur golf. For the 21-year-old McNealy, who graduated from Stanford University in May, this is his final amateur competition, as he has announced plans to turn professional on Monday.
“Very motivated,” said McNealy, one of five Californians on the team. “For me individually, I didn’t play very well at Lytham. I had a very poor record. I want to reverse that this week.”
McNealy came into that week as the 2015 Haskins and Jack Nicklaus Award winner as college golf’s player of the year. But in three sessions, he posted a 0-2-1 mark, halving his Sunday singles match with Irishman Paul Dunne.
It turned out to be the worst American defeat in the biennial series that dates to 1922.
“You come over and you have high hopes and expectations and you’re full of confidence and we were beaten,” said Miller, 67, of Bloomington, Ind. “I think Maverick hit it on the head when he said that when we got over [to England], we didn’t flip the switch at the right time.”
Being the only returning USA player – and the only returner on either side – McNealy has taken a leadership role with the team. His experience, Miller said, has been invaluable for the other nine players.
The Walker Cup, after all, isn’t like any other USGA championship or even other team events. There are dinners, multiple practice rounds, an emotional flag-raising ceremony and then hearing your name announced on the first tee in front of a swarm of fans. And there’s a lot of golf within a small window.
“As far as the team is concerned, there are two things I hope I can bring to them,” said McNealy, who tied the Stanford record held by past USA Walker Cup competitors Patrick Rodgers and Tiger Woods with 11 career victories. “One, an understanding of how the rest of the week works. How it’s crazy and it’s 72 holes [of match play] in 36 hours. You have to get your head around and prepare for that.
“Second, we need to have a little chip on our shoulder. We’re defending our home turf. We have a home crowd. We have to have that fire to compete with those guys because they are taking it very seriously.”
When Miller, a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion (1996 and 1998), gathered his team for the first time last week, nobody brought up the 2015 loss. Perhaps they didn’t need to. Privately, McNealy and Miller discussed what could be done to better prepare.
Miller himself certainly didn’t dwell on the loss following the 2015 Match. He immediately went back to his beer distributorship and his wife and five children.
“I try to live my life through a windshield looking forward,” he said on the eve of the 2017 Match. “I don’t lament the past, nor do I dwell on it.”
Only when the USGA asked him to return as captain and begin looking at prospective candidates for the 2017 team did he begin to think about this week and reclaiming the Cup.
McNealy went about his own preparations, working hard on his putting and sharpening his iron play to make another run at the Walker Cup. He also re-watched one of his favorite movies, “Miracle,” about the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team that shocked the Soviet Union and the world to win the gold medal. One of his favorite lines from Coach Herb Brooks is, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”
And McNealy knows the USA has a great chance at redemption this weekend. The average World Amateur Golf Ranking™ for the team is 15.5. There are five Californians, including LACC junior member Stewart Hagestad, the reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.
“I think we have everything it takes to beat them,” said McNealy. “I think this is a very good golf course for us and we have the home crowd. But it’s still going to take a really good effort for us to win.”
In a town known for its scripts, Miller’s perfect Hollywood ending would be celebrating with his 10 golfers after reclaiming the Walker Cup.
“This is my last go round as captain and my last go round in amateur golf,” said Miller, “so it’s up to my guys to send me out a winner.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.