Marucci Places Emphasis On Walker Cup Chemistry
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. – As USA Walker Cup captain George “Buddy” Marucci traveled to Ireland in 2007, one perpetual thought went through his head.
It wasn’t whether he had the right playing combinations in place -- although important -- as he readied that USA squad for the 41st Walker Cup Match. Rather, he kept coming back to the one intangible that oftentimes can be the difference between winning and losing.
Buddy Marucci had lurked in the weeds, so to speak, at countless events while scouting players. (John Mummert/USGA)
“I thought the chemistry was going to be really important,” said Marucci. “That proved to be the case. So if I learned anything, I learned that what I believed to be was true.”
That was one of the many criteria Marucci, who led that team to an emotional and exciting 12½-11½ victory at Royal County Down in Newcastle, Ireland, used when helping to pick most of this year’s lineup.
Marucci, along with a representative from the International Team Selection Committee (ITSC), on Sunday announced eight of the 10 players who will represent the USA in the 42nd Walker Cup Match to be conducted Sept. 12-13 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. The remaining two spots will be decided after the U.S. Amateur Championship on Aug. 30. The USA leads the series overall against Great Britain and Ireland, 33-7-1.
The eight players named were: Bud Cauley, 19, of Jacksonville, Fla.; Rickie Fowler, 20, of Murrieta, Calif.; Brendan Gielow, 21, of Muskegon, Mich.; Brian Harman, 22, of Savannah, Ga.; Morgan Hoffmann, 19, of Saddle Brook, N.J.; Adam Mitchell, 22, of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Nathan Smith, 30, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Drew Weaver, 22, of High Point, N.C.
Only Fowler and the left-handed Harman have previous Walker Cup experience. Weaver, the 2007 British Amateur champion, was a second alternate on the 2007 squad. Marucci didn’t seem to mind the relative lack of Walker Cup veterans on the team. He said he felt confident that from the perspective of team chemistry and overall talent, the selections would give the USA the best chance at repeating. Marucci and USGA Vice-President Jim Hyler, one of the six people who comprise the ITSC, made phone calls Sunday to those selected.
Marucci said there were at least 20-25 other worthy players, but with only 10 spots on the squad, hard choices had to be made. Over the past 18 months, Marucci has traveled near and far to watch the nation’s top amateur players perform in various competitions. With Merion’s historic East Course the venue, he knew that he was looking for experienced shotmakers and players who have won under pressure. Having played on two Walker Cup teams and captained the last, Marucci understood what kind of team he needed.
“I will just say this: The selection process is difficult and we have put countless hours into trying to make sure that the process is equitable,” said Marucci.
“Certainly this summer is probably weighted a little heavier than last summer. But, you know, if a player's won a major tournament in '08 as opposed to '09, it obviously gets serious consideration.”
Hyler added that Marucci’s input weighed heavily on the selection process.
“I've been involved in '05, '07 and '09,” said Hyler. “Going back to '05, [former USA captain] Bob Lewis had a role in the selection because he's out there watching the players, just like Buddy. So the captain, who is engaged and who has seen the players, has a major voice in the selection of the team.”
Marucci is wasting little time in getting the group together. The team will be at Merion Wednesday through Friday of this week to practice, particularly to learn the course, get fitted for uniforms and develop chemistry. The squad will reconvene the Friday before Labor Day at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mill, Md.
Players such as Fowler and Harman, who went 2-0-1 to help the 2005 squad win, had set making the Walker Cup an amateur-career goal. Marucci personally thanked Fowler, a two-time first-team All-American from Oklahoma State University, Sunday for deciding to remain an amateur. Fowler, like Harman and Mitchell, have delayed turning professional until at least after the Walker Cup.
Fowler’s cache made him a can’t-miss selection. Besides his experience on the 2007 team, he became the first freshman to win the Ben Hogan Award, given annually to the top men’s collegiate player. He was also named the nation’s top freshman in 2008 with the Phil Mickelson Award.
Hoffmann received high marks for making it to match play in the 2005 U.S. Amateur when it was held at Merion. He was just 15 then, but his familiarity with the course under intense conditions provided him strong consideration.
Smith, who won the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur at 25, will be the oldest player at 31. Marucci thought it would be unfair to task him with a leadership label only because of his lack of international experience.
“I think that Rickie, even though he's young, but he's played before, and he's been on one of the teams that I captained, will probably fill that role, and maybe even Brian will help fill that role,” said Marucci. “Nathan certainly is qualified to do that. But it's going to be his first experience. I think he's going to be kind of feeling his way through there.”
For Marucci, captaining takes precedence over defending at the USGA Senior Amateur Championship this year. He won his first USGA title last year at Shady Oaks Country Club in Ft. Worth, Texas. However, with the Walker Cup being so close to his home, and the fact that at 57 he still has a number of years left to compete at a high level, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to represent his country again.
“I'm not sure there's a nicer experience in golf than being captain of the Walker Cup team,” said Marucci.
The GB&I team selections were announced Aug. 3, but Marucci hasn’t paid much attention. He’s more concerned with creating the right combinations and putting his players in positions to succeed. If they play Merion correctly, everything will take care of itself, he said.
Namely, if he can get them all pulling in the same direction again, as he did in 2007, the task becomes simpler still. The challenge begins this week.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.