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In the Walker Cup buildup, Americans made foursomes a priority
05 Sep 2019
by Julie Williams of AmateurGolf.com

see also: The Walker Cup, Royal Liverpool Golf Club

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The U.S. team during a practice session at Pinehurst (USGA/Chris Keane)
The U.S. team during a practice session at Pinehurst (USGA/Chris Keane)

It can be easy to forget how much of a Walker Cup captain’s job takes place behind the scenes, months before the actual matches are played. In that sense, the matches themselves can seemingly pass in an instant. U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby gave a subtle reminder of that Thursday at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.

“It’s been a long buildup researching the players the last year and a half, and getting to know them and their parents,” Crosby said. “It’s been a lifelong experience for me already, and I know all the players pretty darned well now after watching them play for a year and a half.”

Crosby was on the other side once. In fact, the last time the Walker Cup was played at Royal Liverpool, Crosby was on the winning U.S. squad. What’s not easily forgotten, particularly from where Crosby is sitting, is that then-captain Jay Sigel sat him twice over the course of the two-day matches.

“I’m not over it,” Crosby said. “Still mad at him.”

Since then, the two have been able to joke about it, and at a captains’ dinner roughly a year and a half ago, Sigel had a piece of advice to offer by way of who sits and who plays: Put everyone in three times.

In Thursday’s U.S. team press conference, Crosby downplayed his knowledge of this game and this format, but don’t let that fool you. The 1983 matches amounted to Crosby’s sole Walker Cup appearance, but he garnered a 1-0 foursomes record that year.

His team is not quite so familiar, considering that six of his 10 men have never played links golf. Crosby reports that they’re learning quickly. What Crosby didn’t want was for the format to feel foreign during the event.

Each morning begins with four foursomes matches – also known as alternate shot – which is an event that the Americans are not particularly familiar with. Given that, team meetings and practice sessions focused almost exclusively on foursomes.

“Both of our practice squad matches last December in Florida, Robbie Zalzneck, our team manager, stepped up and grabbed me and said, ‘This is probably a good idea because we keep getting shellacked in the alternate shot, and especially on foreign soil.’ So we really focused on it.

“Two weeks ago in Pinehurst, and during our practice squad matches, we played almost exclusively alternate shot, and we played a lot of guys playing with different partners, so they can expect the unexpected.”

As Crosby noted, he doesn’t have a manual to this format. He’s savvy enough to know that if you don’t play it often, and Americans don’t, it takes some getting used to.

“I think Robbie’s curriculum of playing alternate shot every practice squad match we had was a great idea, and I think we’re more comfortable with it than perhaps in years gone by.”

It might just end up being the difference.

ABOUT THE The Walker Cup

The Walker Cup Match is a biennial 10-man amateur team competition between the USA and a team composed of players from Great Britain and Ireland and selected by The R&A. It is played over two days with 18 singles matches and eight foursomes (alternate-shot) matches.

The first United States Walker Cup Team, which in 1922 defeated the GB&I side, 8-4, at the National Golf Links of America, is considered among the best teams ever and included Francis Ouimet, Bob Jones, Charles “Chick” Evans and Jess Sweetser. Many of the game’s greatest players have taken part in Walker Cup competition, including U.S. Open champions Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth for the USA and Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose for Great Britain and Ireland.

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