The winning U.S. Walker Cup team (USGA/Chris Keane)
In the end, it was quite fitting that John Augenstein would be the one to hole the clinching putt for a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory in the Walker Cup. Augenstein, a Vanderbilt senior, poured energy and effort into making this team. Now, he’ll be remembered as part of a U.S. squad that accomplished something exceedingly rare: a win overseas.
Augenstein was the seventh man out in Sunday’s singles lineup. The U.S. team had had a strong morning in foursomes at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. Trailing 7-5 to start the day, the Americans outscored the home team 2 ½ -1 1/2. They needed 5 1/2 points in singles to retain the Cup and six points to win it outright.
So they won eight points.
Augenstein, who has developed a well-earned reputation for being a bulldog in match play, said later he wasn’t aware that the victory would come down to him. He had seen a scoreboard on No. 13 tee “and I knew there was a lot of red up there,” but he wasn’t too wrapped up in it. He ended up defeating Thomas Plumb on the 15th hole.
“It really doesn't matter who clinches it,” said Augenstein, runner-up last month at the U.S. Amateur. “The fact is that we're a team and we won the Walker Cup for each other and for the United States and whoever else that we're representing. It was really cool, and it was a special moment, but I did not know exactly that I had clinched it.”
Before this weekend, an American team hadn't won a Walker Cup on the road since 2007. The final score in Hoylake was 15 ½ to 10 ½.
“I honestly thought that these guys would let their talent come to the surface,” said U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby, who took a hands-off approach to guiding the country’s best amateurs. “I liked the idea that the wind was laying down a little bit this afternoon, but these guys have been over here for seven or eight days. The singles were amazing. The guys played great.
“These guys are inseparable and they've got a great memory now. This Walker Cup experience is going to be a memory, and a winning memory at that.”
Crosby announced early that he would not sit any of his 10 players more than once over the course of the two-day, four-session matches. Part of that, perhaps, came from the sting of being sat twice by his own captain, Jay Sigel, when Crosby played on the U.S. Walker Cup team that won at Royal Liverpool in 1983.
That meant that even though John Pak went undefeated on Saturday and picked up a crucial late-afternoon singles point to send the Americans into Sunday trailing only 7-5 (instead of 8-4), Pak didn’t get to start in Sunday morning’s foursomes.
The U.S. came out no worse for the decision, and Pak went out fresh on Sunday afternoon to score a third point for the Americans. He was the only player in the matches to go undefeated.
The U.S squad put special attention on foursomes in the little time they had to prepare as a team over the past few weeks. At the suggestion of longtime Walker Cup team manager Robbie Zalzneck, the Americans focused almost single-mindedly on pairings and strategy in that format (which is, essentially, alternate shot). Being an unfamiliar format in the U.S., it’s traditionally been an area in which the Americans struggle at the Walker Cup.
“Robbie Zalzneck, this is his ninth time as the team manager for the Walker Cup, and he's got this thing down to a science,” Crosby said. “…At any rate, I think that his telling me and advising me on the focus of the alternate shots, otherwise you get three or four points -- you lose three or four points down in alternate-shot matches and you're playing catch-up in the singles. And I think that's what's happened to us in the past over here.”
Once Crosby landed on strong partnerships for foursomes, he didn’t separate them.
As for the GB&I team, a failure to capitalize during Saturday’s eight singles matches is what initially opened the door to a U.S. comeback. It seemed as if the Americans got increasingly stronger throughout the weekend.
“Obviously the boys are disappointed. It didn't go quite to plan but they can be proud of their achievements to get in the team first of all and of their performance this weekend,” GB&I captain Craig Watson said. “I'm proud of all of them.”
The highlight reel was decidedly red, white and blue on Sunday, starting with Americans Isaiah Salinda and Pak winning the first two singles points of the day against two of GB&I’s toughest players: Alex Fitzpatrick, who will return for his sophomore season at Wake Forest, and Scotland’s Euan Walker.
In the fifth match, Stewart Hagestad won by a decisive 5-and-3 margin, and in the next-to-last match, Cole Hammer took a whopping 6-and-5 victory over Conor Purcell.
Scotland’s Sandy Scott, who plays for Texas Tech, defeated Brandon Wu, 4 and 3, and in the final match, Tom Sloman defeated Steven Fisk, 2 up, to put the only GB&I points on the board in the afternoon.
Akshay Bhatia, one of two 17-year-olds in the matches and the only teenager on the American team, won two points in his three starts throughout the weekend. Bhatia, along with four other teammates (Wu, Salinda, Smalley and Fisk) is set to turn professional now that the matches are over.
For perspective, Bhatia was five years old in 2007, the last time an American team won on foreign soil. Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson were among the men on that squad.
“It's definitely something we all dreamed about, and it was just the expectation level of winning here is big for us. I mean, I can't put into words what this means to us and our team and the United States of America because you've got to wear these pants and win,” Bhatia said, referencing the blue camouflage Ralph Lauren pants that made up the bottom half of the Americans’ Sunday uniform.
Truly, if there’s one thing the U.S. team showed on Sunday, it’s that they can wear the pants.
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ABOUT THE The Walker Cup
The Walker Cup Match is a biennial 10-man
team competition between the USA and a team
composed of players from Great Britain and
and selected by The R&A. It is played over two
with 18 singles matches and eight foursomes
The first United States Walker Cup Team, which
1922 defeated the GB&I side, 8-4, at the
Links of America, is considered among the best
ever and included Francis Ouimet, Bob Jones,
“Chick” Evans and Jess Sweetser. Many of the
greatest players have taken part in Walker Cup
competition, including U.S. Open champions
Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth for
and Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Justin
for Great Britain and Ireland.
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