Is The Walker Cup a ticket to the pro golf tours?
10 May 2021
by Pete Wlodkowski of AmateurGolf.com

see also: The Walker Cup, Cypress Point Club

Collin Morikawa, Doug Ghim, and Maverick McNealy <br>after winning the 2017 Walker Cup at Los Angeles CC
Collin Morikawa, Doug Ghim, and Maverick McNealy
after winning the 2017 Walker Cup at Los Angeles CC

"You're on a thirty or forty year trek. It's an arduous journey. Put one foot in front of the other. And stick to beer and wine - no mixed drinks."

- USA Walker Cup Captain Nathaniel Crosby, advising his Walker Cup team on their impending professional careers after their 2021 victory at Seminole.

It's no secret that I love The Walker Cup. Since attending my first one in 2005 at Chicago Golf Club -- and witnessing a dramatic final hole victory and celebration by Team USA -- I have attended as many as I can. To me it's the best contest in all of golf, not just the amateur game.

The Walker Cup provides players the chance to play for (and fans to root for) their countries, it's played at legendary venues that, especially on the USA side, have allowed fans their only chance to walk their hallowed grounds.

Los Angeles Country Club (2017), Seminole (2021), and Cypress Point (2025). How's that for a trio? And the best part is that if you're lucky enough to get a ticket, you can actually walk along with the future stars of the game.

This year at Seminole, I got out of the media center, and off the course, and sat down in the "Trophy Club" for a cocktail with fans. With Covid restrictions limiting ticket sales, most of them were connected in one way or another with a member of the host club. Not exactly the lunch pail crowd. But golf fans, every one of them. (OK, maybe not the woman who wore high heels to the opening ceremonies, but you get the idea.)

Wearing my Amateur Golf "uniform" I sometimes get asked about the site, and even got told this year by my new best friend that it was his favorite website. He especially loved our Majors of Amateur Golf calendar which we work so hard on.

Another gentleman asked me the question that got me thinking about this story.

"How many of these guys are going to be pros?" he wondered.

I told him that all of them will try, but not all of them will make it. But you can look at their play, the way they respond to the pressure of "the big stage" and of course their world rankings and get an idea of which ones are "most likely to succeed".

I like to pick players that are fun, interact with fans well, and have fiery match-play attitudes to "adopt" and follow as they pursue their professional dreams.

In 2017 at Los Angeles Country Club that was Ole Miss star Braden Thornberry. I liked him before I met him, witnessing his success and his slightly more "old school" style of play from inside of 100 yards. I loved watching video of Braden hitting knock-down shots into the small targets at Sunnehanna Country Club when he won the Sunnehanna Amateur. We even set a highlight reel of his shots to Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream." (Check it out below.)

We recently caught up with Thornberry and did a feature story as he toils on the Korn Ferry Tour, trying to earn his PGA Tour card. Success hasn't come as fast for him as his peers Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa, or Matthew Wolff.

Hovland, of Norway, wasn't eligible to play on a Walker Cup Team. But 2020 PGA champion Morikawa played in 2017 at Los Angeles Country Club, on a team that included fellow PGA Tour stars Cameron Champ, Maverick McNealy, and Scottie Scheffler. More recently, we've seen Will Zalatoris become a household name among golf fans from almost out of nowhere (unless you follow our website that is). The former Wake Forest star who finished runner-up to Hideki Matsuyama at The Masters was also a member of the 2017 team, it just took him a little longer to break through.

Wolff, a sure-fire selection for the 2019 Walker Cup team, turned pro in June of that year, forgoing the chance to represent USA as an amateur. It can be a big ask for a player to wait 3 months with endorsement contracts, and all that prize money, staring them right in the face.

Not so for Rory McIlroy, who once told me "I wouldn't consider my playing career complete if I hadn't competed in the Walker Cup."

And Rory knew that over the long haul, his golf career would be just fine. But the thing about pro golf is that you can't predict every star player. But there are clues.

When Bryson DeChambeau stayed at my house during Junior World at Torrey Pines, I knew he was talented. But he didn't win the event either of the two times he stayed with me, and even after he started winning collegiate and amateur events his path wasn't a lock.

But winning both the U.S. Amateur and NCAA individual title in the same year? There are some clues (and historical evidence) that can't be ignored. And my house just went from hosting a PGA Tour winner (Matt Bettencourt) to hosting a U.S. Open champion. I shouldn't have sold it!

So who are my players to watch from the 2021 Walker Cup team?

I have a high degree of confidence that we are going to see John Pak and Ricky Castillo for years to come, maybe hosting PGA trophies one day. And Cole Hammer has already overcome a mini amateur slump -- that's a sure-fire sign that his game (especially the mental side) is built for the long run. He's a perfect gentleman, and one that the professional game would benefit from having out there with his Texas peers like Jordan Spieth. Pierceson Coody certainly looked strong in winning both times in his single matches against GB&I's top player, Alex Fitzpatrick.

And then there is McClure Meissner, who was the first alternate on the 2021 USA team. The likable young SMU star got "called up" when a virus hit his team hard. He responded to the foursomes pressure extremely well, resulting in a win with his partner Castillo. "Mac" is going to take a lot of confidence from that experience. And we'll be watching him.

Related: McClure Meissner wins the 2021 Byron Nelson Award


Like amateur golf itself, the Walker Cup was once dominated by career amateurs, players like Charlie Coe, Harvie Ward, and William C. Campbell on the U.S. side and Joe Carr and Michael Bonallack on the GB&I side.

But over time, future PGA Tour stars began to pop up on Walker Cup rosters, most notably beginning with Jack Nicklaus in 1959 and 1961.

More recently, Walker Cup teams have become filled with future professional stars, and watching the matches this weekend one can imagine many of the players on both sides going on to success in professional golf.

Here's a look at some of the most stacked Walker Cup teams in recent years:

The 2017 U.S. Team:
Seven members of the team that won 19-7 at Los Angeles Country Club (the third-largest margin ever) have already made it to the PGA Tour, with six PGA Tour wins so far and one major win by Collin Morikawa at the 2020 PGA Championship. Other team members were Cameron Champ, Will Zalatoris, Scottie Scheffler, Maverick McNealy, Doc Redman, Doug Ghim, Stewart Hagestad, Norman Xiong, and Braden Thornberry.

This team was so good that recent PGA Tour winner Sam Burns didn't make the team. Look for Thornberry to become the 8th member of the squad to make the PGA Tour.

Related: Before they turned pro: Sam Burns
Related: Alumni Report: Braden Thornberry knows his time is coming

The 2011 U.S. Team:
Eight members of this team, which remarkably were beaten by GB&I at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland, have gone on to make the PGA Tour. Four became Tour winners, including Patrick Cantlay, Russell Henley, Harris English and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth.

The 2007 Walker Cup Matches:
The 2007 Walker Cup was the most stacked Match in the modern era, with the two sides comprised of players who would go on to win 20 PGA Tour titles and 20 European Tour titles as of the date of this article. Four players have accounted for eight major titles: Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson on the U.S. team and Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett on the GB&I team. Six other U.S. team members made the PGA Tour: Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk, Kyle Stanley, Colt Knost and Jamie Lovemark.

This was also one of the most exciting finishes in Walker Cup history. With the matches tied and the final match tied on the 18th hole at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, Jonathan Moore hit a 4-iron from 252 yards to 4 feet for an eagle that gave the U.S. the win 12½-11½. It was the first victory abroad for the U.S. in 16 years.

The 2005 U.S. Team:
All ten members of the 2005 U.S. Walker Cup team went on to earn PGA Tour cards. And yet, the escaped with a narrow 12½-11½ win over GB&I at Chicago Golf Club. Team members included: Brian Harman, J.B. Holmes, Matt Every, Michael Putnam, Jeff Overton, Billy Hurley III, Kyle Reifers, Nicholas Thompson, and Lee Williams.

Honorable mention:

The 1995 Walker Cup matches featured a future major champion on each side, with Padraig Harrington's GB&I squad defeating Tiger Woods' U.S. team 14-10 at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.

The 1991 Walker Cup matches saw three future major champions competing at Portmarnock Golf Club in Ireland. This time Harrington's GB&I team came up short against the Americans led by Phil Mickelson and David Duval, 14-10.

The 1975 U.S. Team had three future major champions among its ten players, in Curtis Strange, Jerry Pate and Craig Stadler. Played at the Old Course at St. Andrews, the United States won 15½ to 8½.

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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