By Asher Wildman
As the summer rolls on, the best American amateurs are playing well and have to be making GB&I guys a bit worried about the Walker Cup in September. Here are five reasons why:
1. The 1-2 punch: Who would you say is the best amateur in the world? Is it Peter Uihlein, who won the Sahalee and U.S. Amateur last year, along with the Northeast Amateur this past weekend? Or, is it Patrick Cantlay, who not only made a name for himself at the U.S. Open, but also at this past week’s Travelers Championship, where he was in contention? Either way, the top two amateurs in the world of amateur golf will be playing for the U.S. this summer at the Walker Cup, and it may be the strongest 1-2 punch the Walker Cup will ever see. It will be up to captain Jim Holtgrieve on how he plans to use his top two players, but American golf fans have to be thrilled they are on their side. As the Walker Cup gets closer, the big question from across the pond will be who will want to step up to the challenge and try to go 1-on-1 with Uihlein or Cantlay for Team GB&I?
2. Uihlein adds his name next to greats. In the past 12 years, the winner of the Northeast Amateur has produced five players on the PGA Tour. The most recent winners are Joseph Bramlett (2010), Dustin Johnson (2007), Anthony Kim (2004), Luke Donald (2000 & 2001) and Jonathan Byrd (1999). With a three-stroke victory over James White, Peter Uihlein adds his name to the great list of Northeast Amateur winners that also includes Scott Hoch, David Duval, Vinnie Giles and Ben Crenshaw. For four straight days, Uihlein was not only one of only eight players in the field to shoot all four rounds in the 60s, but was the only player who was able to consistently go low for each round. In the final round, the majority of the field was able to shoot in the 60s (par for the course is 69), but Uihlein fired a 65 to hold off the strong play of White. Some people were concerned with Uihlein’s play after the U.S. Open, but with a win at the Northeast Amateur, all of that will now be forgotten.
3. A Devilish win. Austin Cody just completed his freshman year at Duke, where he played sparingly for the Blue Devils. That might change after Cody won the Rice Planters Amateur by a stroke over Ryan Heisey. Two great stats to know about Cody’s 18-under performance at Snee Farm Country Club: For the entire week he only made two bogeys; and he was bogey free the last 50 holes of the tournament! When Cody was able to play during the collegiate season last year, it was mostly as an individual. However, with a performance like this, his college coach Jamie Green has to be excited to get his up-and-coming star in the lineup in the fall. Another interesting stat to note is that Cody clearly plays well at Snee Farm Country Club. This year, Cody posted rounds of 69-69-65-67 for the win and a score of 18 under. In 2009, Cody shot 65-68-69-70 for a 16-under total and top finish.
4. Don’t forget your elders. Three “older” amateurs played exceptionally well at the Northeast – Tim Jackson (T-13), Paul Simson (T-34) and Mike McCoy (T-41). Of the three, I was most impressed with the 59-year-old Simson, who was last year’s U.S. Senior Amateur Championship, Senior British Amateur champion and Senior Canadian Amateur champion. Tim Jackson, 52, had four solid rounds of 68-71-67-68. Jackson is a true competitor and would love to make a run at making the Walker Cup. With a T-13 finish, Jackson at least showed Captain Holtgrieve he could hang with the best in the States, but unfortunately, wins are what’s going to count for someone trying to make Team USA.
5. The watch list is getting shorter. Let’s assume that Peter Uihlein, Patrick Cantlay, Russell Henley and Nathan Smith are locks for the Walker Cup. That means there are six spots remaining, and even that list of players doesn’t go that deep. Blayne Barber, who seems certain to make the team, finished third at the Northeast, which was four shots back of Uihlein. Brad Benjamin not only made the cut at the U.S. Open, but he also made the cut at the Northeast. Unfortunately for Benjamin, his T-28 finish may have hurt his case rather than help it. David Chung, who has struggled for most of 2011, made the cut at the Northeast and tied Benjamin for T-28. Players who helped their resume of making the Walker Cup were James White, who was runner-up by three, and Harris English and Luke Guthrie, who both tied for 13th. As mentioned earlier, it’s clear that Team USA is top-heavy with Uihlein, Cantlay and Henley, but the big question remains how the rest of the team will shape up?