Q&A with Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve
09 Aug 2013
by Benjamin Larsen of amateurgolf.com

see also: U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, Riviera Country Club, Jim Holtgrieve Rankings

Jim Holtgrieve
Jim Holtgrieve
Any Walker Cup summer is undoubtedly busy for the captain. And this summer --- or, better yet, the entire year --- has been a busy one for U.S. Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve.

Holtgrieve, a former amateur star and Champions Tour player, will be taking part in his fifth Walker Cup. He played for the U.S. in 1979, 1981 and 1983. He was also the U.S. captain in 2011.

We caught up with Holtgrieve ahead of the U.S. Amateur Championship for an update on the Walker Cup selection process and what it means for him to be leading his second team into competition:

Amateurgolf.com: I’m sure the summer has been quite busy for you. Can you give me a rundown of where you’ve been relevant to your duties with the U.S. Walker Cup and team selection.

Jim Holtgrieve: The process for me started right before Christmas with the practice session. I went to the Jones Cup in early February, the NCAA Championship, Sunnehanna, Northeast and Porter Cup. Last week, I was at the Western Amateur. The process, though, really started right after the 2011 Walker Cup.

AGC: We can only assume that your trip to the Western Amateur was an important one. How impressed with Jordan Niebrugge were you?

JH: Jordan wasn’t on the radar at all during the process, which is really a two-year process. Interestingly enough, I had communicated with the Director of Golf at Erin Hills about Jordan and wondered how we had never heard of this guy. I watched him and he was very impressive. He’s very talented. He started believing in himself and found out he can compete nationally. When you win a national title like the Public Links, you come back with more confidence. I had dinner with him and he’s a fine young man. He’s respectful and has talent. He would be the perfect guy to represent the U.S. in a golf competition. We’ll see what he does at the U.S. Amateur.

AGC: Are there certain things taken from certain events? For instance, does a solid performance at one elite event mean more in the eyes of the committee than a solid performance at another?

JH: The Western Amateur has always been a big tournament for me. I think the USGA looks at the Western as an important event, too. Personally, the U.S. Amateur is number one and Western is right behind it. In those events, it’s combined stroke play and match play.

Holtgrieve meets with players during the 2011 Walker Cup

AGC: What are your personal thoughts about the inclusion of two mid amateur players on the U.S. squad?

JH: When the 2011 Walker Cup was over, I went to Nathan Smith and said that, “I’m not sure if I’ll be captain again, but you have to try and make the team in 2013.” He told me that he wouldn’t try because it’s so hard. He’s 35 years old with a job and for him to keep up with these young guys, is tough. That hit me the wrong way. When I researched the Walker Cup and learned that it’s all about developing relationships and using the game of golf to bring people together. It was first started to bring two continents together after World War I. That hit me pretty strong as I was in the Air Force for four years. Here is Nathan Smith, who should be an influence for young players. The Walker Cup isn’t a stepping stone. Just because you’re a Walker Cup player doesn’t mean you’ll be a good professional player. I want guys to pass the Walker Cup experience along to youths to build the game of golf. That’s my thought mechanism.

At Cherry Hills last year (site of the 2012 U.S. Amateur), I went to the USGA and said that when my captaincy was over, I was going to lobby the USGA to put one or maybe two mid amateurs on the team. And they came back to me and said they’re going to do it. We’re putting two mid-ams on the team and that’s the right thing to do.

In 2011, Nathan Smith was the oldest guy on the team by nine years and the guys loved him. Can he bring that mystique and experience to the team this year? Absolutely. It’s important. If he makes the team, do I pair him with the other mid am? Do we split him up? We’ll analyze all that.

AGC: Which mid-amateurs are currently being considered for the two positions?

JH: Nathan Smith, Todd White and Mike McCoy. Mike McCoy is a guy, who, when we made the announcement, he changed his schedule to try and qualify. Mike’s played in every amateur event: the Sunnehanna, Northeast, Western, Porter Cup. He’s tried everything and qualified for the U.S. Amateur.

AGC: Leading up to the Walker Cup, what scheduled does the team follow? And you?

JH: We’ll make the final announcements either Sunday (Aug. 18) after the U.S. Amateur final or that Monday morning. We’ll bring the team back to the National Golf Links August 22-23 for practice. They’ll come back to New York August 30. The next morning we’ll go to Ground Zero and then go to the U.S. Open tennis. On Monday, we’ll head to National Golf Links and get ready for the Walker Cup.

Holtgrieve considers National Golf Links a "historic venue."

AGC: What is your impression of the National Golf Links of America?

JH: I’ve never played in a tournament there but whatever happens, National Golf Links is one of the greatest places in the world. I call it a historic venue. It’s a great match play venue. I love C.B. Macdonald courses and love this design. It makes you think on every shot.

AGC: What does it mean to you to be leading your second Walker Cup squad?

JH: It has been an honor to be the Walker Cup captain. It’s one of the greatest honors in golf. As a player, I got a chance to play for my country. In the Air Force, I got to serve my country and as a captain, I’ve had a chance to represent my country. It’s a great honor for me.
ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur

The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship, was first played in 1895 at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent amateur competition in the world. Applications are typically placed online, starting the third week in April at www.usga.org.

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