by Ron Balicki
As a lifelong amateur, it was a thrill last year for George “Buddy” Marucci to finally win his first USGA championship.
Marucci, runner-up to Tiger Woods at the 1995 U.S. Amateur, captured the U.S. Senior Amateur at Shady Oaks Country Club in Dallas, defeating George Zahringer, 2 up.
However, when this year’s U.S. Senior Amateur kicks off Sept. 12 at Beverly Country Club in Chicago, Marucci won’t defend his title. Instead, he will be in Ardmore, Pa., at his home Merion Golf Club.
And he won’t be playing golf.
Marucci, 57, of Villanova, Pa., will be trying to lead his 10-man U.S. team to another victory in the prestigious Walker Cup.
The 42nd Walker Cup Match between America’s top amateurs and those from Great Britain & Ireland takes place Sept. 12-13 at Merion, site of 17 previous USGA events, most recently the 2005 U.S. Amateur. The club also hosted the 1960 World Amateur Team Championship.
In his first stint as team captain in 2007, Marucci guided Team USA to a one-point victory at Royal County Down in Ireland.
Now he hopes to join his friend and fellow Pennsylvanian Jay Sigel, the last American captain to not only win at one of his home clubs (1985 at Pine Valley Golf Club), but also to win back-to-back Walker Cup titles. (Sigel captained the U.S. team that won in 1983 at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.
Being a second-time captain and playing in the U.S. has made things a easier on Marucci, who played in the 1995 and ’97 Walker Cups. There is, however, the added pressure of being at his home club.
“In some ways it’s been a little easier as far as logistics, travel, clothing, and a lot of the other things that go into preparing,” Marucci said. “Still, playing at home, at Merion, will be stressful, but that’s more self-imposed.”
Shortly after the first eight players were named to the U.S. team in early August, Marucci gathered the squad for a practice session at Merion, which added to the excitement the club’s members already had toward this biennial competition.
“The membership really enjoyed meeting the guys and getting to know them,” he said. “Everyone at the club has been very excited and supportive. Merion has a tremendous tradition and this is another way of showing it.”
Rod Day, a past president at Merion and this year’s Walker Cup general chairman, agreed.
“There’s been a lot of excitement around here from the day the USGA selected us as venue for the Walker Cup,” Day said. “When the players came in for the practice session, it brought that excitement level up another notch.
“It’s an honor for all of us here to be hosting this great competition and with Buddy being captain, it makes it all the more special for Merion,” Day said. “He’s become a bit of a celebrity around here.”
Marucci is hardly one who basks in a celebrity-status role. It wouldn’t matter where this year’s Walker Cup was being played. The highly-competitive Marucci would give 110 percent of himself to be successful. That’s the only way he operates, whether on the golf course as a player or on the sidelines as a captain.
He has earned total respect from all those who have played for him and against him. Marucci has left a distinct impression on Rickie Fowler, who will turn pro following the Walker Cup after two seasons at Oklahoma State.
“Buddy is really good at talking to us as a whole and motivating us without getting overly excited or nervous,” said Rickie Fowler, a member of the 2009 U.S. squad and the victorious 2007 team. “He has a calmness about himself that is hard to describe. Then when we’re in action, he is all business.
“He really wants us to win and I see that, so I think that helps push me and the other guys toward winning even more. He wants to be fair and have a great week, but in his heart he does not want that trophy to leave Merion.
“What impresses me most about Buddy is how much he loves all the players and how much he loves the game of golf. I think all the guys feel the same way and I know we are going to be pumped up and ready.”
Trip Kuehne, who made his third Walker Cup appearance in 2007, said Marucci was a big part of the team’s victory.
“The thing about Buddy is he is going to be prepared,” said Kuehne, the 2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. “It’s the way he is as a player and the way he is as a captain. He’s a grinder. He’ll have his team ready, that’s for sure.”
While Day has always had respect for Marucci as a player and captain, he was most impressed with the way he evaluates players.
“What I learned about Buddy at the practice session was his ability to size up the players for foursomes,” Day said. “He seemed to have a magical touch in putting those pairing together. He did a great job at the last Walker Cup with this and I think he’ll do another great job this year.”
No, Marucci won’t be defending his U.S. Senior Amateur title this coming week. Rather, he will be defending another title – one more important than any other.
This one is for America.