WALKER CUP
Wake Forest Duo McBride, Zalatoris Friendly Rivals This Week September 7, 2017 | Los Angeles By David Shefter, USGA

Wake Forest teammates Paul McBride (left) and Will Zalatoris will be friendly rivals this week in the 46th Walker Cup Match. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Temperatures were hovering in the mid-30s on a December day in 2014, yet Will Zalatoris and Paul McBride were still playing golf on Wake Forest’s Old Town Club. The rest of the golf team had long since departed for warmer surroundings, but Coach Jerry Haas’ prized freshmen wanted to carry on. McBride, from Dublin, Ireland, was quite comfortable in inclement weather and the uber-competitive Zalatoris relishes any challenge.

In fact, Zalatoris still has a photo of the two golfers on the 17th hole, bundled up as if ready for skiing. To this day, it remains one of Zalatoris’ fondest memories of him and his college teammate of three years.

That may change after this week.

In a rare twist of fate, Zalatoris, 21, of Plano, Texas, and McBride will momentarily set aside their collegial ties for their respective countries in the 46th Walker Cup Match at The Los Angeles Country Club. Zalatoris is one of the 10 members of the USA Team, while McBride is the lone Irishman on the Great Britain and Ireland side that is looking to retain the Cup and win on American soil for the first time in 16 years.

“Really cool,” said Zalatoris, “There’s been some friendly ribbing. If anything, we’re just talking about the memories that we’re going to have this week, stuff that we’ll remember for a lifetime. It’s stuff I’m sure we’re going to be laughing about decades from now.”

Added McBride: “It’s going to be really cool to play against each other.”

The two are adding to Wake Forest’s steep Walker Cup pedigree, one that includes Jay Sigel, arguably the greatest USA Walker Cup competitor in the Match’s history. Sigel played in a record nine Walker Cups and amassed 18 points, also a record. Zalatoris is the 18th Demon Deacon to play for the USA; McBride, 21, is the second to represent GB&I, joining Eoghan O’Connell (1989). In all, Wake Forest golfers have competed in half of the 46 Matches.

But this is the first time two will be on opposite sides. Of course, the story would intensify if the two met in either afternoon singles session on Saturday or Sunday. A singles match among college teammates has never occurred in a Walker Cup.

The possibility exists this week. Besides McBride and Zalatoris, American Maverick McNealy and David Boote, of Wales, were Stanford University teammates for three years. Boote graduated in 2016 and McNealy this past spring.

“I think it would be fairly interesting,” said McBride. “I think it would be a good match. We know each other’s games well enough. If it happens, it happens.

“I don’t think it would be strange. You just take it as another match. I don’t care if I’m playing Will Zalatoris, Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa or any of the other [Americans]. You take it as another game. That’s just the way it is.”

Zalatoris, the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, had never heard of McBride, who played primarily in Europe, before arriving at Wake Forest in the fall of 2014. They immediately struck up a friendship and their competitiveness brought out the best in each other. Countless small-stakes competitions have taken place in practice the past three years. The last two years, they were roommates.

“The first time I met him, it took me awhile to get used to some of his phrases,” said Zalatoris, who led the team with a 70.14 stroke average this past season, 1.5 ahead of No. 2 McBride. “His [Irish] accent is easy [to understand]. You just have to get used to some of his lingo.”

McBride said Zalatoris was the “ideal” roommate. When pressed for a memory of their two years together, he said with a smile, “Probably nothing that can be publicized. He’s a good roommate, very easy going. He just does his own thing. I did my own thing.”

Both golfers come into the Walker Cup off strong summers. McBride, a semifinalist in the 2016 Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A, was a quarterfinalist this year at Royal St. George’s, losing to eventual champion and GB&I teammate Harry Ellis, of England. He also finished second in the European Team Championships and tied for 47th in the Porsche European Open, an event on the European Tour.

Zalatoris, whose bid to make the 2015 USA Walker Cup Team was cut short by an appendectomy, was the 2016-17 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, finished third in the Pacific Coast Amateur at Chambers Bay and advanced to the Round of 16 three weeks ago in the U.S. Amateur at nearby Riviera Country Club.

Zalatoris’ spot on the USA Walker Cup Team became official 24 hours before McBride was named to the GB&I side, although the latter had been quietly informed he was on the team several days before the official announcement. Neither texted each other and there wasn’t much banter the few days they were on campus last week before departing for Southern California.

No friendly side bets have been made either.

“It’s all fun and games,” said Zalatoris, No. 12 in the WAGR. “If anything, we’re just trying to make this week as memorable as possible.”

Said McBride: “The trophy is enough for that. Whoever wins will be happy to have the trophy.”

Whatever happens over the course of the two-day competition, both Demon Deacons will be supporting each other in spirit. By Monday, they’ll be back in class at Wake Forest and begin preparations for the season’s first tournament at Duke University next weekend.

“The joke line we’ve been passing back and forth is I hope you get four points (the most possible) and your team doesn’t get any more,” said Zalatoris. “And he said, ‘Well good, I feel the same way about you.’”

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