We went along for the ride on Ben Adelberg’s Back of the Range podcast series, the Road to Hoylake. Now, Adelberg is in Hoylake, England, carrying the mic for AmateurGolf.com.
Adelberg will be on the ground until the conclusion of the matches on Sunday Sept. 8, providing coverage and insider updates from one of the most storied events in amateur golf. Follow along below, and be sure to key into @amateurgolfcom
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Sunday Sept. 8, 9:36 p.m. local time
Unbelievably, it's time for one final dispatch from Royal Liverpool. The day ended with an incredible come-from-behind victory from the Americans. I'll let the photos and the players' faces tell the story – check out Sunday's scenes in the video below.
Sunday Sept. 8, 12:36 p.m. local time
The Americans have won the morning session of foursomes, 2.5-1.5. Brandon Wu and Smalley captured the opening point despite being down almost the entire match. The U.S. pair squared it on the 14th hole. Here’s a pair of intellectuals from Stanford and Duke, and their unflappable and calm demeanor suits a links game that requires patience and level thinking. It's no surprise they pair well together.
Walking down No. 18 following the end of the match between Americans John Augenstein and Andy Ogletree and GB&I players Euan Walker and Sandy Scott, I saw Henry Shimp in the crowd. Shimp is a former Stanford teammate of Wu and Salinda. All three helped the Cardinal win last year’s NCAA Championship. Shimp looked to be truly enjoying the atmosphere and seemed to be looking forward to his senior season at Stanford.
Augenstein and Ogletree were 2 up after 14 holes but could not hang on to the victory over Walker and Scott. The two Scotsmen had lost a hard match against John Pak and Isaiah Salinda on Saturday, and on Sunday, scrapped for their half point. Augenstein was visibly a bit disappointed with the half, but in the grand scheme of things, no blood in this match.
Americans Akshay Bhatia and Stewart Hagestad dominated Harry Hall and Conor Cough the entire match. In fact, they never trailed. Bhatia dazzled the crowd with tight approach shots and short game prowess, and this natural pairing between the youngest member of the team and the only U.S. player with past experience should give them both a boost for their singles matches. Additionally, since they only played once yesterday, both should be fresh. They had three birdies and an eagle in their match.
The weather looks to be gorgeous for the duration of Sunday’s play, and it shone for several big names in the Walker Cup world: past captains Buddy Marucci, Spider Miller and talented senior amateur Jimmy Dunne were all walking along watching.
Mike McCoy, a member of the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team, was also spotted in the crowd enjoying the weather and the golf. McCoy remarked that at last night’s Walker Cup society dinner, several former players and captains shared stories and laughs as the reminisced on their experiences in the Walker Cup.
U.S. team members Cole Hammer and Steven Fisk might be the most frustrated members of the U.S. team at this point. Both sat out of Saturday morning foursomes, both lost their singles matches and then both were defeated soundly this morning, 5 and 3. While the morning sessions were wrapping up, Cole was on the range working hard trying to find something to take with him this afternoon.
By contrast, Pak and Salinda looked relaxed on the first tee this morning as spectators. While nobody wants to sit, it seems that U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby’s strategy of being transparent to his players regarding what sessions they would play and not play and then sticking to his guns may turn out to be key.
All in all, foreign soil, foreign crowd, and only trailing by one point entering Sunday afternoon is an impressive achievement for the Americans, especially with Hammer a little off form and with Pak and Salinda sitting out of Sunday morning.
Saturday Sept. 7, 7:43 p.m., local time
Early in the afternoon singles matches, the GB&I team looked decidedly in control of the board and the Americans looked like they might be in trouble. Still, the U.S. team made a couple stunning turnarounds – chief among them was John Augenstein’s defeat of Conor Purcell.
U.S. player John Pak won three of his final four holes against reigning British Amateur champion James Sugrue to scrape out a point. Pak had fallen behind early but clawed back. After combining with Isaiah Salinda to win a point in foursomes, Pak was easily one of the most on-form players of the day – certainly one of the most inspiring.
GB&I has the home-course advantage, as evidenced when Pak faced Sugrue with several of Sugrue’s hometown supporters on site.
Pak said he doesn’t worry when he gets down. He thinks the stretch from Nos. 15-18 is what is most important in the match. U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby said he emphasized to Pak the importance of getting off to a good start. Pak said that it wasn’t necessarily that he was playing badly early on, just that his opponent was playing better.
Pak’s U.S. teammate Cole Hammer had trouble finding the fairway with woods, and mentioned that he needs to employ his long irons to find more fairways on Sunday.
GB&I player Conor Gough walked through the media center devouring a big can of Pringles. Yes, he may be a world-class golf star in the making, but he also eats like a teenager after a long day on the course.
Both teams will relax in the team room playing ping pong and video games, and will try to clear their minds for Sunday’s upcoming matches.
Saturday Sept. 7, 1:22 p.m. local time
Good-sized crowds were out at Royal Liverpool on Saturday morning following each of the opening foursomes matches. The crowd skewed a little bit older, but youth was definitely represented outside the ropes as well.
Among those watching the first games go off the first tee on Saturday morning were past Walker Cup captains Bob Lewis and Jim Holtgrieve.
Team manager Robbie Zalzneck handed out baseball cards featuring each American player on the first tee, which added a nice touch for the fans.
A John Augenstein trading card
Even though they weren’t in the lineup, U.S. team members Steven Fisk and Cole Hammer were out supporting their teammates throughout the morning sessions. It didn’t matter that Fisk wasn’t playing – he was walking around with his game face on anyway. Here’s a guy who looks calm on the outside, but you can tell he is ready to get out there.
Both John Pak and Akshay Bhatia said that playing their matches this morning exceeded all expectations – incredible experience and so much energy from the crowds.
Pak and Isaiah Salinda make a great pairing. They clearly had fun throughout the entire match swapping fist bumps and doing their own personal handshake celebration that, of course, they promptly flubbed after their match was finalized on No. 17.
Both sides displayed excellent play as it really appears that the lid has been let off after so many days of nasty weather.
There were lots of hugs all around for the Americans who prevailed. I got the sense that U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby truly does have a strong emotional connection with his entire team. He knows what it is like to play in the Walker Cup and wants these guys to have a very positive experience.
PGA Tour player Matthew Fitzpatrick was on site as a spectator watching his brother Alex competing for the GB&I team. He’s keeping a low profile on the grounds, or trying to at least, dressed in all black with black shades.
Another past U.S. captain, Buddy Marucci walked around with his umbrella as a spectator, and unless you knew differently, you’d never suspect that he was a former captain and a man who lost to Tiger in the 1995 U.S. Amateur.
Friday, Sept. 6, 1:50 p.m. local time
With the matches just a day away, the work continues for the American team. Today, in what amounts to the final day for preparations before the matches begin on Saturday, I saw U.S. team members Isaiah Salinda, Steven Fisk, John Pak and Andy Ogletree all working hard on alignment and putting drills.
Fisk particularly was working hard on his putting with some distance drills and focused on that in the afternoon.
Salinda and Pak spent time playing some putting games on the green and trying to stay loose. They’ve played quite a bit in the same foursome this week, so I would not be surprised to see them paired up at some point over the weekend.
Akshay Bhatia, the youngest U.S. team member, has been dazzling his teammates and captain with a gate drill on the putting green.
Cole Hammer’s short game is definitely as advertised. I have seen him hit some incredible short pitches from heavy fescue to set up easy pars. His creativity around the greens is one of the many reasons that he is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world.
Needless to say, caddies for the U.S. team remain incredibly impressed with the Americans’ short games.
While the players have fun, work never ends for team manager Robbie Zalzneck. During some windy and cold conditions, I saw him in a golf cart, running out hot beverages and bacon rolls to the team. But it’s not all
work. Zalzneck did have some fun at Hammer’s expense. When Hammer was getting ready to tee up a second ball on No. 16, Zalzneck laid on the horn of his golf cart to distract his player. It’s all in good fun, of course.
The Americans teed off as an eightsome early this morning before branching off into separate groups after the second hole. I saw several sets of parents out taking photos and having fun, too.
I also bumped into Jay Sigel, who is enjoying the festivities and the thrill of returning to Hoylake after leading the U.S. team to victory in 1983 as a playing captain.
A lot of the same on the equipment front: I still haven’t seen any hybrids, and lots of bags are still equipped with four wedges.
Thursday, Sept. 5, 3:50 p.m., local time
It’s starting to feel more like a competition week. Two players from each team, plus their captains, made their way through the media center to answer questions on Thursday. Besides that, I spoke with many of the U.S. players in addition to GB&I team member James Sugrue, and there’s definitely a feeling that the players are ready to get started. They have played the course, they have dealt with the wind and they want to get going.
U.S. team member Stewart Hagestad, the veteran, spent some time Thursday working on his ball flight on the range, plus fine-tuning some things with his long irons.
Teammate Steven Fisk, for one, is enjoying the storytelling skills of his captain, Nathaniel Crosby.
On an equipment note, there are almost zero hybrids in U.S. golf bags. Interestingly, many players are using four wedges.
Ray Hughes, who is caddying for Brandon Wu, seemed very impressed with the short-game skills displayed so far by the Americans. They aren’t grabbing putter right away from off the green, plus contact has been crisp and they’ve demonstrated an ability to hit a variety of shots with wedges. Hughes did mention that Hoylake is lusher and softer than usual, which is helping with the execution of these shots from off the green.
On a positive note, the forecast is calling for the wind to let up as the weekend approaches. There was noticeably less wind on Thursday than on Wednesday – conditions are still challenging, mind you, but it seems to be letting up.
Wednesday Sept. 4, 3:45 p.m., local time
is the word for the day for Wednesday at Royal Liverpool. It’s blowing about 25-30 mph with gusts near 40 mph. The Americans went out to play nine holes to get a feel for what the worst conditions in Hoylake might feel like.
U.S. team member Stewart Hagestad hit numerous high-quality driving-iron shots and definitely added a stable and calm presence to this team as he did so.
If you’re looking for an example of how hard the wind is blowing, there’s this: Alex Smalley hit a 237-yard approach shot into the 16th hole with his 9-iron
. It stopped 20 feet from the hole.
Interestingly enough, quite a few players are discussing what golf ball to play in the foursomes (alternate-shot) sessions. While some may prefer a softer ball that spins more around the greens, that same ball could pose some challenges around some of the tighter driving holes where the wind will wreak more havoc and bring danger into play.
In the style category, corduroy pants are back in style, apparently, with the Americans rocking navy blue corduroy pants from Polo Ralph Lauren. The amount of different styles of pants, tops, jackets, vests and hats is incredible.
Tuesday Sept. 3, 2:43 p.m. local time
Today, I was able to follow the American team as they took advantage of benign conditions in Hoylake and get a great look at the course and what they might be able to expect this weekend when they face the GB&I team. One of the big takeaways of the day was the way the Americans experimented around the greens with different methods of getting the ball close to the hole. I saw a lot of players pulling putter from several yards off the green, but they also weren’t afraid to open up some wedges and flop a few close.
The Americans also took several different tee shot approaches on some of the trickier par 4s. It seems like many of the players favored 2-irons and 3-woods. They were constantly discussing run-out in the fairways.
I saw a lot of incredible shots around the green and off the tee, but the shot of the day has to go to Steven Fisk, who lipped out from 200 yards resulting in a kick-in birdie.
While walking down a fairway with U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree, I asked him what has been perhaps the most interesting and useful thing he has learned about links golf so far. His answer? Trusting sightlines off the tee and especially the effect of wind on tee shots.
In other news, Brandon Wu is continuing his good form from his incredible summer season. Word has it that he shot a 69 at Royal Birkdale this past weekend before the team headed to Hoylake.
It’s still early in the week, but I can tell you that these guys are loose and are thoroughly enjoying the course and the experience of being Walker Cuppers. More to come!
BACK OF THE RANGE PODCAST #ROADTOHOYLAKE SERIES
Stewart Hagestad and William Mouw
Chandler Phillips and Alex Smalley
Austin Eckroat and Steven Fisk
Austin Eckroat and Quade Cummins
Pierceson Coody and Isaiah Salinda
Ricky Castillo and Akshay Bhatia
Brandon Wu and Cole Hammer
Andy Ogletree and John AugensteinView results for The Walker Cup