By Brian Keogh
Caolan Rafferty, Photo by Golffile
The R&A is confident it can overcome the problems produced by the COVID-19 pandemic and select a competitive Great Britain and Ireland side to take on the United States in the Walker Cup at Seminole from May 8-9.
The United States today named a typically strong side for its defence of the trophy with all ten players — and the two alternates — ranked inside the world's top 23.
Nathanial Crosby's side features three of the team that beat Great Britain and Ireland 15½-10½ at Hoylake in 2019 — Stewart Hagestad, Cole Hammer and John Pak — and boasts an average world ranking of 12.
Due to a host of Covid-19 restrictions limiting play in Europe, Stuart Wilson's GB&I side will now be picked during the week beginning March 29 and named in early April.
But while the visitors will be at a distinct disadvantage with several European based players getting little action during the pandemic, Chairman of Selectors, Elm Park's Pádraig Hogan, believes they can be competitive in Florida in nine weeks despite having lost the last three away matches by an average margin of nine points.
"Quite a few of our players are playing their golf in America, so the captain is very positive," said Hogan said. "We want to get the matches played, but we also want to have a team that will be ready to compete, and we are confident we will be."
While there has been talk of postponing the matches, it was deemed preferable to play in May as many of the leading players on both sides of the pond will be keen to move into the professional ranks later in the year.
The top two players in the world amateur rankings at the end of this month — the spots are currently held by Scotland's Sandy Scott (No 8) and Dundalk's Caolan Rafferty 21st— will be automatic choices for GB&I alongside Amateur champion Joseph Long.
Caolan Rafferty. Photo by Golffile
Rafferty could still be overtaken between now and the end of this month by the likes of 25th ranked Wake Forest star Alex Fitzpatrick.
But having played in 2019, he looks likely to make a side that will be picked from a 15-strong squad that also features Kilkenny's Wake Forest star Mark Power, Kinsale's University of Louisville stalwart John Murphy and Holywood's Tom McKibbin, who has also been based in the US for much of this year.
Several other members of the GB&I squad have been playing in the US, and with travel restrictions meaning the best players are unlikely to play in the major international events in Spain and Portugal in March and April, it was decided to pick the team at the end of this month.
Given the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, two travelling reserves will likely be named so they will be inside the team bubble.
The 10-player US team, which will be captained by Nathaniel Crosby, includes world number one Davis Thompson, world No 13 Tyler Strafaci (22) and world No 6 Ricky Castillo (20), who earned their places as the top three Americans in the World Amateur Golf Ranking on February 10.
The remaining players chosen by the working group are current world No 9 Pierceson Coody (21), N0 18 Quade Cummins (24), No 15 Austin Eckroat (22), No 11 Stewart Hagestad (29), No 19 Cole Hammer (21) and No 23 William Mouw (20).
Hagestad, Hammer and Pak are returning players from the 2019 USA Team, which defeated GB&I, 15½-10½, at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, in Hoylake, England.
"This United States Team is a talented group of players who will work together, under Nathaniel Crosby's leadership, to be competitive against Great Britain and Ireland in this friendly match among some of the world's leading amateur golfers," said John Bodenhamer, USGA senior managing director, Championships.
"The USA Team shares George Herbert Walker's vision for an international event that embodies the spirit of camaraderie and promotes interest in the game."
Cole Hammer. Photo by Golffile
The Walker Cup Match is a biennial amateur team competition between the USA and a team composed of players from Great Britain and Ireland, selected by The R&A.
The Match is played over two days with 18 singles matches and eight foursomes (alternate-shot) matches. The USA leads the overall series that began in 1922, 37-9-1, but it has been extremely competitive over the last three decades, with the USA holding just a 9-7 advantage in the Match since 1989.
"It is once again a great privilege to serve as the USA captain and to work with a group who represent the best of amateur golf," said Crosby, who in addition to guiding the 2019 victory also played on the winning USA Team in the 1983 Match.
"The 10 team members have a notable list of accomplishments on the collegiate, national and international levels. They will represent the United States in the spirit and tradition of the Walker Cup Match."
The first USA Walker Cup Team posted an 8-4 victory in 1922 at the National Golf Links of America, in Southampton, N.Y., and is considered among the best teams ever assembled, with Francis Ouimet, Bob Jones, Charles "Chick" Evans and Jess Sweetser.
Many of the game's greatest players have competed in the Walker Cup, including U.S. Open champions Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau for the USA and Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose for Great Britain and Ireland.
"The selection of the USA Walker Cup Team is a diligent process that highlights the USGA's role and mission in amateur golf," said Martha Lang, chairperson, International Team Selection working group and a past Curtis Cup Match competitor and captain. "In a similar way, Seminole Golf Club, Donald Ross' architectural masterpiece, has been a longstanding friend to amateur golf and will be an impressive venue for this international competition."
World No 22 McClure Meissner (22) from Texas and No 16 Garett Reband (21) from South Carolina are the first and second alternatives, respectively.
Due to health and safety guidelines, attendance at the Match will be limited. Information on the availability of public tickets will be posted in the spring on walkercup.org.
Ricky Castillo, 20, of Yorba Linda, Calif. (born 2-19-01)
In 2020, Castillo earned an exemption into the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, advanced to the semifinals of the Western Amateur and was a member of the USA Arnold Palmer Cup Team. Castillo received the NCAA Division I Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman Award and was a first-team All-American at the University of Florida in 2019-20. Additionally, he won two individual tournament titles and was chosen first-team All-Southeastern Conference. Castillo has played in three U.S. Amateurs and reached the Round of 16 in 2019 at Pinehurst No. 2. He has also competed in three U.S. Junior Amateurs, advancing to the Round of 16 twice and sharing medalist honours in 2019 with William Moll and 2021 Walker Cup teammate William Mouw.
Pierceson Coody, 21, of Plano, Texas (born 1-7-00)
Coody won the 118th Western Amateur last August, defeating Rasmus Neergaard-Petersen, 2 and 1, in the final. Coody and his twin brother, Parker, are juniors on the University of Texas team and are the grandsons of 1971 Masters champion Charles Coody. Pierceson earned All-Central Region recognition as a sophomore. In 2019, Pierceson advanced to the Round of 16 in the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2. He also posted a two-stroke victory in the 116th Trans-Mississippi Amateur at Maridoe Golf Club in his home state, joining a list of champions that includes Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw and Bryson DeChambeau. He was a member of the 2020 USA Arnold Palmer Cup Team.
Quade Cummins, 24, of Weatherford, Okla. (born 3-6-96)
Cummins has competed in three consecutive U.S. Amateurs (2018-20). As a fifth-year senior at the University of Oklahoma, he posted three top-10 finishes, including two runner-up efforts, in the fall of 2020. He was chosen first-team All-American in a COVID-shortened 2019-20 season. Last summer, Cummins finished third in the Southern Amateur with a 72-hole score of 283 (5 under) and tied for fourth in the Sunnehanna Amateur the following week. In December, he made the 36-hole cut in the PGA Tour's Mayakoba Golf Classic. Cummins won the 2019 Pacific Coast Amateur by four strokes with a four-day total of 264 (20 under) and was a member of two USA Arnold Palmer Cup Teams (2019, 2020).
Austin Eckroat, 22, of Edmond, Okla. (born 1-12-99)
Eckroat, who played in the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, earned second-team All-America recognition as a junior at Oklahoma State University in 2019-20. A three-time All-Central Region and All-Big 12 Conference selection, he finished second in the Maridoe Collegiate Invitational in the fall of 2020. He has played in four U.S. Amateurs and advanced to match play in 2019 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. Eckroat tied for sixth in last year's Southern Amateur. He reached the quarterfinals of the 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur, losing to fellow OSU player and 2020 U.S. Open runner-up Matthew Wolff. Last December, he tied for 12th in the PGA Tour's Mayakoba Golf Classic with a 72-hole score of 270 (14 under).
Stewart Hagestad, 29, of Newport Beach, Calif. (born 4-10-91)
Hagestad was a member of the winning 2017 and 2019 USA Walker Cup Teams and has a combined 3-2 record in the two competitions. Hagestad, who has competed in three U.S. Opens, reached the quarterfinals of the 2020 U.S. Amateur. He has played in 21 USGA championships, including 11 U.S. Amateurs. He rallied to defeat Scott Harvey in 37 holes in the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, producing the largest comeback victory since a 36-hole final was introduced in 2001. Hagestad also won a gold medal in the mixed-team competition of the 2019 Pan American Games, in Lima, Peru, and was the low amateur in the 2017 Masters Tournament, becoming the first invited Mid-Amateur champion to make the 36-hole cut.
Cole Hammer, 21, of Houston, Texas (born 8-28-99)
Hammer helped the USA to victory in the 2019 Walker Cup at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. He has competed in 12 USGA championships, including two U.S. Opens, and advanced to the semifinals in both the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior Amateur in 2018. Hammer also won the 2018 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball with partner Garrett Barber and was the third-youngest player to compete in a U.S. Open when he played at Chambers Bay at age 15 in 2015. Hammer, a junior at the University of Texas, was a key figure in the Longhorns' runner-up finish in the 2019 NCAA Championship. In 2018, Hammer won the Western Amateur and helped the USA to a second-place finish in the World Amateur Team Championship. He won the South Beach International Amateur last December and tied for second in the Jones Cup Invitational in February.
William Mouw, 20, of Chino, Calif. (born 9-5-00)
Mouw has played in three U.S. Amateurs and twice advanced to the Round of 16, in 2018 at Pebble Beach and 2020 at Bandon Dunes. He also reached the Round of 32 in two consecutive U.S. Junior Amateurs (2018, 2019) and shared medalist honours in 2019 with William Moll and 2021 Walker Cup teammate Ricky Castillo. Mouw, the son of a chicken egg farmer, was chosen first-team All-American and All-West Region as a freshman at Pepperdine University in 2019-20. He set the program's freshman record with five top-10 finishes. Mouw also recorded a pair of top 10s in the fall of 2020 as a sophomore. Mouw won the 2019 California State Amateur and was a member of the basketball and golf teams at Ontario Christian High School. He was a member of the 2020 USA Arnold Palmer Cup Team.
John Pak, 22, of Scotch Plains, N.J. (born 12-18-98)
Pak won all three of his matches as a member of the victorious 2019 USA Walker Cup Team. He tied for 51st and was low amateur in the U.S. Open last September at Winged Foot Golf Club. A senior on the Florida State University team, Pak earned All-America and All-South Region recognition for the third consecutive year in 2019-20. He is second on the school's all-time list with seven tournament victories, including the 2019 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. He has competed in four U.S. Amateurs, reaching the Round of 16 in 2019 at Pinehurst No. 2. Pak, who has played in nine USGA championships, advanced to match play in all four U.S. Junior Amateurs in which he competed, reaching the quarterfinals in 2015 and semifinals in 2016.
Tyler Strafaci, 22, of Davie, Fla. (born 7-23-98)
Strafaci won the 2020 U.S. Amateur, edging Charles Osborne, 1 up, in the final at Bandon Dunes, and claimed the North & South Amateur, defeating William Holcomb V, 3 and 1. Strafaci, who rallied from an early 5-down deficit in the U.S. Amateur final, is the fourth player to win both championships in the same year, joining Jack Nicklaus, Hal Sutton and George Dunlap. His grandfather, Frank, won two North & South Amateurs (1938, 1939) and the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links. Tyler, who competed in the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, has played in seven USGA championships, including four U.S. Amateurs. As a member of the Georgia Tech program through December 2020, Strafaci earned honourable mention All-American and was a three-time All-East Region and two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) performer.
Davis Thompson, 21, of St. Simons Island, Ga. (born 6-5-99)
Thompson nearly made the 36-hole cut in the 2020 U.S. Open after carding a first-round 69 at Winged Foot Golf Club. In 2020, he was a quarterfinalist in the Western Amateur and advanced to match play in the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes. Thompson, a senior at the University of Georgia, earned first-team All-America and first-team All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) honours in 2019-20. Thompson was selected to the 2020 USA Arnold Palmer Cup Team along with several USA Walker Cup teammates. He competed in two PGA Tour events last year and tied for 23rd in the RSM Classic (10-under 272). Thompson tied for second in the Jones Cup Invitational on Feb. 7 at Ocean Forest Golf Club, site of the 2001 Walker Cup Match.