SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Just four days after the announcement of the second five players to complete the 10-member USA Walker Cup Team, the group gathered at the National Golf Links of America on Thursday and Friday under the guidance of captain Jim Holtgrieve for two days of practice and acclimation.
The players played in two groups of five on Thursday, paying extra attention to shots around the greens at the National. On Friday, the players concentrated on foursomes, or alternate-shot, play, a format unique to international team matches.
Members of the Team praised the Charles Blair Macdonald layout, which flanks Long Island’s Peconic Bay and whose design is modeled after some of the classic holes and courses in the United Kingdom.
“It's cool to think about the first Walker Cup being played here and how much the game has changed but how this golf course has been here the whole time,” said Cory Whitsett, 21, of Houston and the University of Alabama. “And how much different the holes have probably played over the years, it's pretty cool.”
Nathan Smith, 35, of Pittsburgh, is a three-time Walker Cup selection (2009, 2011, 2013) and is one of the few players to have played at the National previously.
“I've been up here before and played, but obviously it's the Walker Cup so that kind of changes things,” said Smith, a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. “I'm excited to be out there and getting used to the course, which changes from day to day, or from hour to hour, so we can be aware of changes that pop up during the championship.”
Smith realizes the significance of returning to the site of the first Match.
“Probably out of all the ones you want to make, it’s this one,” he said of being selected to play at NGLA. “It being on the anniversary and where it began at a course like this. This is the team I wanted to make. They’re some great guys and we have a great captain. It's one I really wanted to make and so I'm excited to be here.”
Holtgrieve, of St. Louis, echoed some of Smith’s comments.
“They love the golf course,” said Holtgrieve, who served as captain of the USA Team in 2011 and played on three USA teams in the 1980s. “They're obviously excited to be here for the 44th Walker Cup and playing for their country. Everything's been really positive. Hopefully, they will spend a lot of time looking at the greens, since you know they made National as a second-shot golf course, putting and chipping a lot, so we'll get our guys used to that.”
The return to the birthplace of the Match on a course that is an icon in golf architecture adds to the enthusiasm of the players, according to Holtgrieve.
“It's all so positive,” he said. “The players are so overwhelmed when we talk about the history of the National Golf Links of America and what C. B. MacDonald and George Herbert Walker did to promote what I call the finest amateur competition in the world. They are very excited and I'm really taken aback because they're all talking about not just about playing in the Walker Cup – they're all excited about playing for the United States of America.”