by Sean Martin
TAMPA, Florida (January 6, 2010) -- A practice session for potential Walker Cup team members began Wednesday in Tampa, Fla. Sixteen players have been invited to attend the three-day session at Old Memorial Golf Club, along with captain Jim Holtgrieve and members of the U.S. Golf Association's International Team Selection Committee.
The session will allow players to meet the captain and team selectors, build camaraderie and practice that pesky foursomes format that's foreign to most Americans.
We're still eight months from the Walker Cup, but it's never too early to start thinking about who'll make the team. The team selections are a rare source of hearty debate in the gentlemanly realm of amateur golf.
Below is my ranking of who I believe would make the team if it was picked today. This isn't necessarily my ranking of the best amateurs in the country, but who I think the USGA would select, based on my observations of their selection process (which I believe has improved greatly in recent years).
Selecting the U.S. Walker Cup team is not an exact science. Steve Smyers, the chair of the USGA's International Team Selection Committee, readily admits that. "If you're looking for a formula, we don't have that," Smyers told Golfweek in advance of the '09 Walker Cup. "It's just like hitting a golf shot. You have to have some feel for it."
The USGA considers many factors when picking the team. Below are ones they seem to emphasize:
- 1. Performance in amateur events.
- 2. Performance in USGA events, especially the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open.
- 3. Participation on past USGA teams (Walker Cup, World Amateur Team Championship and Copa de las Americas).
- 4. College performance.
- 5. Chemistry with captain and other team members.
Based on those factors, here's my ranking of potential Walker Cuppers. I placed five players in each category, listed in alphabetical order.
LEADING THE WAY: Book your tickets to Scotland
David Chung: Even though he accomplished these feats the year before the Walker Cup, it'd be hard to leave off the player who won the Western Amateur and Porter Cup, and was runner-up at the U.S. Am. Representing the U.S. at the World Amateur Team Championship helps his case.
Russell Henley: Henley won the Haskins Award (college golf's player of the year) and was co-low amateur at the U.S. Open (T-16). He also had top 10s at the Porter Cup and Southern Amateur.
Scott Langley: Unless his game completely falls apart (unlikely for Langley, who possesses a solid, all-around skill set), it's hard to imagine him not on the team. He won the NCAA Championship, tied for 16th at the U.S. Open, made the quarterfinals at the U.S. Amateur and represented the U.S. at the World Amateur Team Championship. Few of his peers can match that resume.
Nathan Smith: It's always nice to have a career amateur (and winner of three USGA titles) on the team, and Smith is the only one with a realistic chance. He won his third U.S. Mid-Am, and second in a row, at the end of 2010. Smith and Peter Uihlein have become close friends, and a strong foursomes pairing because their contrasting games complement each other well. They went 2-0 as partners at the '09 Walker Cup.
Peter Uihlein: The U.S. Amateur champion. Enough said. Recently won the Dixie Amateur, his eighth major college/amateur title since going undefeated at the '09 Walker Cup. He's No. 1 in three major amateur rankings and the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
THE NEXT LEVEL: Can solidify their spot with a few good finishes
Blayne Barber: One of the steadiest players in amateur golf. Last year, he had top 10s at the Dixie, Western (medal play), Southern, Players, Terra Cotta, Azalea and Jones Cup.
Bud Cauley: Cauley, a member of the '09 Walker Cup team, was relatively quiet last year, playing a limited amateur schedule that was highlighted by a fifth-place finish at the Southern Amateur. He still has plenty of game, and will likely display it by teeing up in more amateur events this year, that is if he's focused on the Walker Cup and not planning to turn pro beforehand.
Patrick Cantlay: Cantlay, a UCLA freshman, played his first full season of amateur competition in 2010, so his resume is shorter than some of his peers. But he's made the most of his short time at this level. He was stroke-play runner-up and semifinalist at the U.S. Amateur and runner-up at the Southern Amateur. He recently posted an impressive win at the Gifford Collegiate, and is No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Morgan Hoffmann: Hoffmann has been relatively quiet this college season (36th in Golfweek's rankings), but has two things going for him: he was a member of the '09 Walker Cup team and had strong performances in USGA events last year; he was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Amateur (losing to Uihlein), and missed the U.S. Open cut by a shot after holding the lead late in the first round. Hoffmann will not be at the Walker Cup practice session because of a scheduling conflict.
Andrew Yun: I gave Yun the edge over the players in the next category because he's No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. If he can keep up that pace, he has a good chance of making the team. Yun won the Dogwood Invitational last year, and had top 10s at the Northeast Amateur, Players Amateur and Scratch Players.
ON THE BUBBLE: A little work left to do
Alex Ching: Ching has an impeccable sense of timing. He proved that by winning the Western Refining All-American Classic (college golf's all-star game) a few days after being invited to the Walker Cup practice session. Ching also was runner-up at the 2010 NCAA Championship and made the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur. He needs to show that skill on a more consistent basis to make his way onto the team, though.
John Hahn: Hahn won the 2009 Western Amateur, but that will have little bearing by the time the Walker Cup team is selected. He had a good year last year, finishing sixth at the NCAA Championship and making the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur.
Gregor Main: Like Hahn, Main had his biggest win in 2009 (Southern Amateur), but still had a good season in 2010. He was runner-up to Chung at the Western Amateur, and had top 10s at the NCAA Championship and Pacific Coast Amateur. Main, No. 12 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, also made the cut at the 2009 Buick Invitational.
Andrew Putnam: Last year, Putnam qualified for the U.S. Open, had top 10s at the Southern Amateur and Sahalee Players and won the Pacific Coast Amateur, a feat earlier achieved by his older brother, Michael, a member of the 2005 Walker Cup team.
Patrick Reed: Reed made match play at both the U.S. Amateur (Round of 32) and U.S. Amateur Public Links (Round of 16), a nice complement to his impressive win at the Jones Cup. Reed is No. 15 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He's overcoming a wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from the final event of the fall college season.
Others to watch (players in bold attending Walker Cup practice): Harris English; J.T. Griffin; Bobby Hudson; Tim Jackson; Lion Kim; Jordan Spieth; Hudson Swafford; Justin Thomas; Bobby Wyatt.