EDINA, MN (September 26, 2016) -- The game goes on. That was the feeling at the first day of the Junior Ryder Cup at Interlachen Country Club where, one day after the news of Arnold Palmer’s passing, 24 of the top juniors from America and Europe laced up their spikes and took to the fairways in his memory.
On a cold, blustery morning at this classic Donald Ross venue where Bobby Jones claimed the third leg of his 1930 Grand Slam, a sense of history hung heavy in the air as players observed a moment of silence before hitting their opening tee shots in this two-day, co-ed team match-play event.
Then, in the spirit of Palmer, they simply hitched up their trousers and marched forward, putting forth some fabulous displays of golf.
After tying the morning foursomes, 3-3, Team U.S. rallied through ferocious afternoon winds and lightning-fast greens to win the fourballs session, 4-1, and take an overall 7-4 lead into Tuesday, as they look to clinch their fifth straight Junior Ryder Cup in tomorrow’s singles matches.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Wake Forest commit Emilia Migliaccio, who won her morning match with teammate Gina Kim then made a clutch 10-footer for par at 18 to preserve a 1-up victory with Wilson Furr in the afternoon. “I knew if I just trusted my putt, there was nothing more I could do, and it went right in.”
As good as the golf was, though, the scores were something of a sidebar on this windblown fall day, as Migliaccio, her teammates, competitors, club members and patrons of Interlachen couldn’t help but talk about everyone’s hero and another Wake Forest legend, Mr. Palmer.
“It’s a sad day for everybody in golf,” said U.S. Team captain and past PGA president Jim Remy, “but I know Mr. Palmer would be proud of what’s going on here at the Junior Ryder Cup.”
You bet he would.
A six-time Ryder Cup participant himself, Palmer’s 22 overall matches won still ranks as the most by any American player in the biennial team competition; and while he was some 70 years older than nearly all the players in this week’s field, make no mistake, he had an influence on them all.
“I just wish I could have met him,” said Furr, the fifth-ranked boy in the country, echoing the sentiments of so many of these juniors who simply never had the chance in their young golfing careers to have met Palmer. “We talked about that last night when we heard the news after dinner.”
Hailee Cooper, the country’s No. 2-ranked junior girl and winner of this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship alongside Kaitlyn Papp, immediately called her grandfather when she heard the news.
“Mr. Palmer was his favorite golfer of all time,” she said. “It was tough last night. My Grandpa was having a tough time with it.”
And yet, Cooper and Papp, paired together again in the morning foursomes, couldn’t help but smile and giggle when asked if Arnie was considered as cool today as their elders said he was during golf’s Golden Era.
“Oh, yeah!” Cooper said.
“He was definitely cool,” exclaimed Papp, the fifth-ranked junior girl in the country.
And that told the story of Palmer’s relationship with these junior golfers in a nutshell. It didn’t matter that Cooper and Papp had just lost their morning match to Europe’s Frida Kinhult and Beatrice Wallin, 5 and 3. Both still couldn’t help bubbling over with excitement remembering Arnie – or at least what they knew of him through television and the history books.
Matter of fact, in the words of all these young golfers here at Interlachen, Arnie was unquestionably “cool,” a force that helped shape them all in one way or another.
“He made golf so cool,” said Davis Shore, winner of this year’s AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions and the nation’s second-ranked junior. “He had Arnie’s Army and so many fans.”
Said Furr: “Of course he was cool. I think a lot of people could relate to him because he came from a middle-class family. Everyone felt like they were him.”
Those feelings weren’t limited to the U.S. Team, either. They spilled over broadly across the European squad, all of whom spoke highly of the man who nearly single-handedly grew the game of golf into a global phenomenon, helping forge opportunities that all junior golfers enjoy today.
“We looked up to him in so many ways,” said Sweden’s Marcus Svensson, the 2015 British Boys Amateur champion, who, despite losing both his matches on Day One remained positive and poised. “He was a great player and a great guy, and I think his spirit will live on with us this week and beyond. The game will certainly go on in Mr. Palmer’s memory.”
Indeed it will.
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