U.S. rallies at end of Walker Cup singles, still trails GB&I 7-5
John Pak (USGA/John Mummert)
John Pak (USGA/John Mummert)

After scratching out two points in the opening day of the Walker Cup, John Pak pointed to the closing holes at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England as being the most crucial. They’re good for a late-round run, as Pak showed in his singles match against GB&I star James Sugrue, the reigning British Amateur champion. Pak won three of the last four holes to get a crucial point for his team.

Pak and U.S. teammate Brandon Wu were the only Americans to bring in two points on a day when the U.S. went down 5-7 at the hands of the GB&I team. Given the way the early part of the afternoon singles matches looked, it could have been much worse.

“This afternoon I just could not believe the amount of putts GB&I made in the first 45 minutes,” U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby said in crediting the opposing team’s short game. “It wasn't even the first hour and a half, it was the first 45 minutes. . . But an amazing amount of golf that was fantastic. I think John Pak winning that match, we were pretty lucky to be 5-3 down when it looked like we could be 6-2 or even 7-1-down.”

Pak, it seems, is an early candidate for man of the match. Crosby spent considerable time watching Pak play over the summer – just as he did with most of the other U.S. team members – and thus knew the kind of fight that the Florida State junior would display in this setting.

Crosby noticed throughout the summer season, however, that a slow start to a tournament often held Pak back.

“So I am telling him to change his breakfast or diet or sleeping habits or something so that he's not 2- or 3-over through five,” Crosby said. “I've really been giving him a bad time about it the last couple weeks, and he started slow today and then fought back. It's a pattern, and he is so unbelievable coming down the stretch.”

In addition to Pak, Wu and Augenstein also got singles points in the afternoon. Wu won by the largest margin, defeating Tom Sloman, 4 and 2, in the anchor match.

Augenstein got some validation with his 2-and-1 defeat of Conor Purcell after going out with Andy Ogletree in the first morning foursomes match and losing to the tough twosome of Alex Fitzpatrick and Conor Purcell. Augenstein, runner-up at the U.S. Amateur, avoided falling into the trap of beating himself up at the halfway point.

“I still felt good after losing this morning,” he said. “Foursomes is an interesting format just because it's kind of sometimes hard to get into a really good rhythm because you're not hitting every shot and you're not kind of -- sometimes you can hit a ball into a spot that you wouldn't mind hitting from but your partner might not like it. It's a different, interesting format.”

Crosby’s foursomes pairings don’t look much different for Sunday morning than they did for Saturday morning. He called crafting the pairs much like “a dating game.” That speaks to a strong U.S. team chemistry.

Cole Hammer and Steven Fisk sat out on Saturday morning, but on Sunday, they’ll play in the anchor foursomes match.

As for the GB&I point of view, captain Craig Watson called it a good day that could have been better. Alex Fitzpatrick, a sophomore at Wake Forest, and 17-year-old Conor Gough pulled in two points for the GB&I team on Saturday.

Fitzpatrick, an Englishman, said the home crowd spurred him on. He referenced an early 2-down deficit in the afternoon that he dug himself out of after hearing a roar for one of his Scottish teammates – either Sandy Scott or Euan Walker, he remains unsure. He won the next two holes.

“There's times when obviously if you're not playing that well and you might be 3 or 4-down, it's tough to sort of get yourself back together because you might not be hitting good shots and not getting the applause that you'd like, but it really does spur you on once you start holing putts and stuff,” Fitzpatrick said.

That the Americans clawed back to salvage three points in singles gave the visiting team confidence. It did far from ruin GB&I players. Watson, in fact, thinks it was a good thing that his team didn’t pull off the afternoon sweep.

“They'll be more ready for something similar happening tomorrow,” he said. “I mean, if they won quite convincingly this afternoon, they might be looking around for somebody else to get the winning points tomorrow. But I think the fact that the Americans came in so close at the end could work in our advantage again because we'll be a bit more ready for the fight tomorrow.”

The Walker Cup concludes Sunday with four morning foursomes matches and 10 afternoon singles matches, all listed below.

Sunday foursomes (all times local)

8 a.m.: Brandon Wu/Alex Smalley (U.S.) vs. Alex Fitzpatrick/Conor Purcell (GB&I)

8:10 a.m.: Andy Ogletree/John Augenstein (U.S.) vs. Euan Walker/Sandy Scott (GB&I)

8:20 a.m.: Stewart Hagestad/Akshay Bhatia (U.S.) vs. Harry Hall/Conor Gough (GB&I)

8:30 a.m.: Cole Hammer/Steven Fisk (U.S.) vs. Tom Sloman/Thomas Plumb (GB&I)

Sunday singles (all times local)

1:15 p.m.: Isaiah Salinda (U.S.) vs. Alex Fitzpatrick (GB&I)

1:25 p.m.: John Pak (U.S.) vs. Euan Walker (GB&I)

1:35 p.m.: Brandon Wu (U.S.) vs. Sandy Scott (GB&I)

1:45 p.m.: Alex Smalley (U.S.) vs. Caolan Rafferty (GB&I)

1:55 p.m.: Stewart Hagestad (U.S.) vs. Harry Hall (GB&I)

2:05 p.m.: Andy Ogletree (U.S.) vs. Conor Gough (GB&I)

2:15 p.m.: John Augenstein (U.S.) vs. Thomas Plumb (GB&I)

2:25 p.m.: Akshay Bhatia (U.S.) vs. James Sugrue (GB&I)

2:35 p.m.: Cole Hammer (U.S.) vs. Conor Purcell (GB&I)

2:45 p.m.: Steven Fisk (U.S.) vs. Tom Sloman (GB&I)

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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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