Tenacity wins the day – and for Americans, the 49th Walker Cup

Tenacity wins the day – and for Americans, the 49th Walker Cup
Please Share

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The scene around the Old Course’s 18th green was buzzing. Thousands of mostly pro-Great Britain and Ireland fans were showering their beloved Walker Cuppers with praise, toasting them, snapping photos, even draping flags around a couple of their necks. It was very much the type of victory celebration that the hosts envisioned when the 49th Walker Cup was first announced as headed to the Home of Golf.

There was just one problem: It was Saturday, and this Walker Cup was far from over.

And almost exactly 24 hours later, most of the previous day’s celebrators were likely already ordering another pint at the nearby Dunvegan, drinking away their sorrows after the Americans flipped the script and earned themselves a fourth straight Walker Cup victory by the score of 14.5-11.5.

“Your tenacity won the day,” U.S. captain Mike McCoy said to his team during the trophy ceremony as the large, silver trophy reflecting each of the 10 players’ smiles.

What a difference a day makes.

A couple hundred yards from those Saturday-evening festivities, McCoy and two players, Gordon Sargent and Stewart Hagestad, sat inside the press tent, fielding a few questions but desperately looking for an escape. The massive favorites – 8.2 in average world ranking to 88.6 – trailed by three points with 14 of the 26 points still left to be decided.

All was not lost, but in the moment, any observer could’ve felt like it, especially after McCoy said, “I’m not totally dejected.”

“It was so soon after, it was so quick,” Hagestad said, explaining the perceived dispiritedness. “When you go in and do media, it’s tough because you’re de-compressing, and I think it takes a little time to get there. I can see visually why people would think that, but that’s the natural progression. … You almost need an hour or two.”

Hagestad unpacks ‘team effort’ in Walker Cup win

Walker Cup veteran Stewart Hagestad reflects on what went right in the United States’ Sunday performance, what it means to play at St. Andrews and the importance of playing as a team.

By the time the American trio rejoined their compatriots back at the Old Course Hotel, they were all still quiet and stone-faced, but they also had refocused. Gathering around a table, McCoy went around the horn to gauge where each of his players was at before solidifying his four Sunday morning foursomes pairings.

Hagestad, who four years ago at Royal Liverpool had delivered an impassioned speech with the U.S. down two points, was more reserved this time. But what he did say was just as impactful; he graciously volunteered, despite having just won his singles match convincingly, to be one of two players who would sit. North Carolina junior David Ford, who was under the weather most of the week, would be the other.

McCoy and team manager, Robbie Zalzneck, stepped out of the room to deliberate, and when they returned, they had a revamped, bold strategy:

Their young guns, Tennessee sophomore Caleb Surratt and Virginia sophomore Ben James would lead things off.

North Carolina teammates Austin Greaser and Dylan Menante would anchor the session, just ahead of Arizona State junior Preston Summerhays and North Florida junior Nick Gabrelcik, who sat out Saturday’s foursomes.

And the headliner: Vanderbilt junior and world No. 1 Gordon Sargent, 2-0 on Day 1, and Nick Dunlap, the U.S. Amateur champ from Alabama who had dropped both of his Saturday matches. The two superstars had lobbied hard to play together, with Sargent later revealing, “Our mindset was if we’re paired together, we’re not losing.”

“We took a chance,” McCoy said. “We knew we needed a good morning to get back in the match. It was really just pretty straightforward. The guys really demanded it, frankly. They didn’t want people out there playing just to get their turn. They wanted the best teams on the golf course.”

To top it all off, McCoy then took out his phone, opened a text message and started reading. All week the U.S. team had received encouraging messages from past Walker Cup captains and players.

But this one hit a little different; it was from Tiger Woods, a 15-time major champion and 1995 Walker Cupper.

While Woods’ exact message was kept within the team, but the gist was this: Go make some great memories.

The last time an American squad had trailed by three or more points after the first day and still won the Walker Cup was all the way back in 1963 at Turnberry. Not that these U.S. players cared about the history books. They knew they’d have little trouble, if they played to their capabilities, of rewriting them.

“No one needed as reminder how good they were,” Hagestad said. “We knew that if we could just scare them, win the morning, and get some good momentum going, then we would be there.”

Surratt isn’t exactly the quickest player, but this week in St. Andrews, he sure was the loudest. Infectiously energetic and positive, Surratt grabbed the usually reserved James after the sixth hole Sunday morning and gave him a pep talk.

(It was tough to blame James, though, as two nights earlier he had lost to Surratt in ping-pong, solidifying himself as the team’s worst on the table and earning himself a few bites of his first salad ever. “It was like spider webs were in my mouth,” James described.)

“It was just kind of the fact that we’re not going to let them think they have us beat at all,” Surratt said. “Even if they do beat us in the end, we’re not going to let them think they have us beat. So, no matter if was down or didn’t have the tee box or whatever, I wanted to be acting and playing and swinging like I, at all times, had the lead.”

Surratt and James set the tone with a 2-and-1 victory over GB&I elderstatesmen John Gough, 24, and Matt McClean, 30, and the Americans closed the gap to a point with a 3-1 win in the second foursomes session. Surratt then jumped on Scotsman Calum Scott early and put the first Sunday singles point on the board with a 3-and-2 triumph.

Surratt soon joined a small American contingent that had flown in from Decatur, Illinois, to cheer on Dunlap in the match behind him. The 16-man group, rowdy from five rounds of links golf the past few days and at least a couple pints each, all wore matching red, satin jackets straight out of the 1970s. Their leader was Jeff Sloan, who had attended the last overseas Walker Cup at Hoylake.

“We were loud and proud that week,” Sloan said of 2019, “but we didn’t have enough volume.”

That wasn’t a problem on Sunday.

They cheered as Dunlap fought back for a hard-earned halve against England’s Barclay Brown, who coincidentally plays at Stanford, whose head coach, Conrad Ray, actually had a brother-in-law among the red-jacket brigade.

They screamed when Sargent capped a 4-0 week by beating Gough on the 18th green, 1 up, and as Hagestad, Summerhays and Greaser all secured points of their own without needing to go past the Old Course’s famed Road Hole, the par-4 17th.

And they roared as Ford posted the winning point by rolling in 15-footer for birdie at the par-4 16th hole. “I was praying the whole time,” said Ford, who spiked a fever Sunday morning, birdied five of his final six holes in the anchor match opposite Ireland’s Alex Maguire, who multiple times this week had wound up his fists to ignite the GB&I faithful.

That crowd was eventually silenced.

“It was kind of cool to see the number of people out there, and 90% of them weren’t rooting for the U.S.A., and they were cheering pretty loudly when the GB&I did something good, so you could kind of tell what happened in the match in front of you or behind you,” Sargent said. “I think for me especially, it gave me motivation. One thing was we enjoyed the silence out there because that means that GB&I wasn’t winning holes.”

With the GB&I side still licking its wounds after losing at their own game in 35 mph gusts – “They’ll be the ones that will feel it and hurt tomorrow,” GB&I captain Stuart Wilson said – the U.S. players huddled together for a quick moment before the ceremony.

“You guys are so impressive,” Hagestad told his countrymen, who had just marked the seventh U.S. Walker Cup win in nine occasions on the Old Course. “You’re going to remember this for the rest of your lives.”

The 10 U.S. players then sprinted toward the red jackets, who ramped the raucousness up a notch by moshing their American heroes, so loud that those drinking at the Dunvegan’s bar could probably hear them.

The winning side then retreated to the nearby Old Pavilion, slipped on their green jackets and soon after were lifting their coveted cup into the air while the setting sun illuminated the R&A’s iconic clubhouse behind them.

It was the type of celebration the GB&I envisioned, but after a confident comeback, it was the Americans basking in Walker Cup glory.

Source link