WALKER CUP
Road Warriors December 13, 2019 | Hoylake, England By Greg Midland, USGA

USA Embraces Foursomes Play, Completes Comeback With Dominant Sunday Singles

 

The USA Walker Cup Team had an enjoyable weekend at Royal Liverpool, thanks to a remarkable Sunday charge. (USGA/John Mummert)

2019 USGA Championship Recap | 2019 Walker Cup Results

This is the thirteenth of 15 articles in a series that recaps the 2019 USGA championship season on usga.org over a seven-week period. 

Whether it’s the lack of comfort with links golf, the changeable weather conditions or the unfamiliar surroundings, the USA has struggled of late in the Walker Cup Match on foreign soil, having notched only one overseas victory in six tries since 1991 – a 12½–11½ triumph in 2007 at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. This year’s USA Team, captained by 1981 U.S. Amateur champion Nathaniel Crosby, was determined to reverse their road woes by focusing their practice time on foursomes – the format that had given them the most trouble historically – and also by not getting caught up in pre-Match hype about them being favorites.

“At this point you kind of throw [world rankings] out the window and you're just playing head-to-head matches,” said 2019 U.S. Open low amateur Brandon Wu. “At the end of the day, there's a ball and there's a hole, and you've got to get it in the hole before your competitors.”

However, talking about it and doing it are two very different things. This team did it, with a comeback fueled by a masterful Sunday afternoon performance that led to a final tally of 15½–10½, the largest winning margin for a visiting USA Team since 1987 at Sunningdale.

While the victory will go down as decisive on paper, it was tense throughout. The Great Britain & Ireland Team played with poise and passion, particularly in making a strong opening statement on Saturday. They were buoyed by more than 10,000 enthusiastic fans who turned out to enjoy sunshine and mild temperatures that were more akin to the California coast than the English seaside, and who were treated to some outstanding golf by both teams.

As it traditionally does, Saturday began with four foursomes (alternate-shot) matches, perhaps the purest form of team golf. The USA began slowly but ultimately benefited from their enhanced foursomes practice in earning a 2-2 split at the midway point.

To say there was a lot of GB&I blue on the scoreboard Saturday afternoon would be an understatement. At one point, GB&I led in six of the eight singles matches, and were threatening to match or break their best-ever showing in that session, a 5½–2½ result in 1995 at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.

One of the unquestionable stars of the first day was England’s Alex Fitzpatrick, the younger brother of 2013 U.S. Amateur champion and high-profile PGA European Tour golfer Matt Fitzpatrick. He and many other family members were on hand to watch Alex partner with Conor Purcell to defeat 2019 U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree and runner-up John Augenstein in morning foursomes, and then go on to beat world No. 1 Cole Hammer in afternoon singles.

The USA rallied as the shadows lengthened on Saturday, but GB&I still captured five of the eight singles matches to hold a 7-5 lead at the end of the day. History was not on the side of the Americans, as they had not come back from a Day 1 deficit to win on GB&I soil since 1963 at Turnberry.

The stage was set. Either GB&I would continue their home winning streak, or the USA would win back-to-back Walker Cups for the first time since 2007 and 2009. The only player on either side who had competed in a previous Walker Cup, Stewart Hagestad, helped set the tone for what would be a banner day for the USA.

Hagestad, 28, and his foursomes partner, 17-year-old phenom Akshay Bhatia, earned a 3-and-2 victory in Sunday morning foursomes, and the USA won 2½ out of four points in that session to trail by just one point heading into afternoon singles.

Hagestad then beat Harry Hall, 5 and 3, part of a thoroughly dominating performance by Crosby’s squad, who won eight of the 10 singles matches to seal the victory.

The Cup-clinching point was secured by John Augenstein, who just three weeks earlier faltered down the stretch to lose the U.S. Amateur final at Pinehurst to Andy Ogletree. All week at Royal Liverpool, the sting from that defeat seemed to motivate the 21-year-old senior at Vanderbilt University. He asked to hit the nerve-wracking opening shot of the Match, and in a fitting bookend, his 4-and-3 victory over Thomas Plumb gave the USA the margin they needed to ensure a very happy flight home.

The 2021 Walker Cup Match will be held May 8 and 9 at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., where GB&I will attempt to return the favor and win on U.S. soil for the first time since 2001.     

FAST FACTS FROM THE 47TH WALKER CUP MATCH
 
John Pak of the USA was the only player on either side to not lose a match, going 3-0 in one foursomes and two singles matches.
Pak, a junior at Florida State, buoyed the USA side by rallying from a late deficit to defeat James Sugrue in Saturday singles, winning the last 2 holes to defeat the reigning British Amateur champion, 1 up.
After losing his first 2 matches, world No. 1 amateur Cole Hammer notched a convincing 6-and-5 win in Sunday singles over GB&I’s Conor Purcell.
Akshay Bhatia – at 17, the youngest USA Walker Cup player ever – and partner Stewart Hagestad defeated Harry Hall and Conor Gough in Sunday foursomes after losing to the GB&I duo on Saturday.
The USA holds a 37-9-1 lead in the series, but since 1989, the USA has just a 9-7 advantage.
Nathaniel Crosby, the 1981 U.S. Amateur champion and this year’s USA captain, was a member of the winning USA Team in 1983 at Royal Liverpool.