2009 Walker Cup Sides Taking Shape

The historic Merion Golf Club will host the best amateur golfers from the United States and Great Britain and Ireland when the 41st staging of the Walker Cup kicks off from September 12-13.

This past Sunday the United States Golf Association selected eight of their ten players to compete against Great Britain and Ireland in the bi-annual event, and despite several of the countries’ top amateurs leaving early for the pro ranks, Captain Buddy Marucci’s squad is starting to take shape.

Leading the side will be the only two players to have played in a previous Walker Cup, Rickie Fowler of Murietta, Calif. and Brian Harman from Savannah, Ga. Both Fowler and Harmon had performed impressively in the past 12 months and both we favourites to be picked in the side. Fowler is coming off a playoff loss a couple of weeks back at the Nationwide Tour’s Children’s Hospital Invitational and is one of the hottest amateurs in the world. In addition, he was a first-team All-American in 2009, finishing third in the NCAA Championship and the Sunnehanna Amateur where he was a two-time defending champion. He had a 3-1 record in the 2007 Walker Cup matches in Ireland, helping the U.S secure it’s first win away from home since 1995. Harmon, a former U.S junior champ, played in the Cup matches as a 17 year old in 2005, and despite a couple of years where he struggled to maintain that high level of play he established as a junior, he is well and truly back in the upper echelons of the amateur game. He was a 2009 second-team All American winning the Dogwood Amateur and finishing runner-up at the Sunnehanna.

2009 Porter Cup champion Brendan Gielow from Muskegon, Mich. also has had a strong summer in ’09 earning his way onto Marucci’s side. Along with winning in the Porter Cup, he had top 10 finishes at the Sunnehanna, Northeast Am and Southern Am, showing he is a player for all course conditions. Gielow was the 2008 Northeast Am champ and was also an All-American selection while competing for Wake Forrest.

One player who will be expecting to see some familiar faces as competitors is 2007 British Amateur Champion Drew Weaver from High Point, N.C. Weaver came from relative obscurity to win that event, but has parlayed that success into an impressive amateur resume playing in several professional majors so far. He made the cut and finished in a tie for 40th at the 2009 U.S Open and he has extensive experience in match-play, making the knockout section of the U.S Amateur twice. He was a third-team All-American and All-Conference at Virginia Tech this past season and has just graduated.

One player who hasn’t had to worry about university tests in a long time is mid-amateur Nathan Smith from Pittsburgh, Pa. The 30-year old Smithis a career amateur and a past winner of the U.S Mid-Amateur Championship and has put up an outstanding 2009 season. He won both the Western Pennsylvania Am and the Pennsylvania match-Play Championship and has finished prominently in no less than three of the countries top amateur events this summer. He adds much needed experience to a squad that is loaded with youthful talent and enthusiasm. It will be his first Walker Cup.

Fowler and Harmon are going to see a couple of very familiar faces at Merion, as they both have a teammate that has been selected in the first eight players. Morgan Hoffmann, Saddle Brook, N.J, is a freshman at Oklahoma State University alongside Fowler, and he had a very impressive first campaign as a collegiate. He was the Phil Mickelson Award winner as the nation’s top freshman and also won the very competitive Big 12 Conference championship and was also named Big 12 Player of the Year. He won three collegiate events in 2009 and was named to the first-team All-American squad. While Hoffman put up his best performances in college events, Chattanooga’s Adam Mitchell, a teammate of Harmon’s at the University of Georgia, did most of his in the summer amateur events. He won the prestigious Porter Cup in 2008, and finished third at both the Players and the Dogwood Amateurs. An all-conference selection in 2008 and second-team All-American in 2009, Mitchell is looking to close out his amateur career with a bang.

The University of Alabama’s Bud Cauley from Jacksonville, Fla. capped a strong summer of amateur golf with his selection in the side. He recently won the Players Amateur against a very strong field, and was medallist at the 2009 United States Collegiate Championship. In 2008 he won the Terra Cotta Invitational and was co-medalist at the World Junior Championship in Japan.

Two further players will be added to the roster following the U.S Amateur to complete the ten-man side.

On the other side of the pond, Captain Colin Dalgleish has put together an even less experienced side than his counterpart, with every player on his side making their Walker Cup debuts. But what the GB & I side lacks in experience, they more than make up for withtheir form. Like the U.S, the GB and I side is youthful and loaded with talent, the majority of which has come from the English Golf Union’s national squad. Of the ten players selected, seven are from England, with two Scots and an Irishman filling out the line-up.

The two oldest players on the squad also happen to be the two Scottish selections, Wallace Booth, 24 and Gavin Dear, 25. Booth is a product of the Augusta State golf program and has been applying his game in his homeland the past few seasons. He was in the Scottish side that won the World Amateur Team Championship in 2008 where he finished 4th as an individual. He was also the 2008 Scottish Amateur Champion. Dear was a teammate of Booth’s at the World Amateur Championship, helping his country to take the title for the first time in the tournament’s history. He was also the leading point-getter at the Home International matches which will provide some invaluable match-play experience. He was the 2009 Irish and Dixie Amateur Champion.

As noted, there will be a strong English contingent at Merion in 2009. Two 18 year olds have made Dalgleish’s side,  Tommy Fleetwood and Stiggy Hodgson. Fleetwood won the Scottish Amateur in 2009, was runner-up at the 2008 British Amateur and made the quarter finals this year. He also finished in the top ten at two of the highest profile amateur events in Britain, the St. Andrews Links Trophy and the Brabazon trophy. Hodgson came on strong in the summer of 2009, finishing second at the South of England Amateur and 4th at the Brabazon, 7th at the Lytham Trophy and 3rd at the Tillman Trophy. He also went within a match of making the final of the British Amateur.

Like Hodgson, 20 year old Luke Goddard has also rattled off a string of high finishes in major Amateur events this season and is considered one of the hottest players in country. The English national team member won his home Amateur Championship and added top 5’s in the Links Trophy, the South of England, Irish, Scottish and Welsh Amateur Championships. He also won the Argentine Amateur in 2008.

Sam Hutsby won the European Nations Cup in 2009 to earn his spot on the side, and added runner-up finishes at the Spanish and British Amateur Championships. Dale Whitnell has made the Tillman Trophy his own the past two seasons and thus has earned his spot on the Cup team. He was the 2009 Portuguese Amateur and was a semi-finalist at the English Amateur among many other strong accomplishments.

19-year old Matt Haines put his name in front of the selectors with an impressive win at the 2008 Lytham Trophy and has added the Duncan Putters title in 2009. He also had runner-up finishes in the Welsh Open Amateur and the St. Andrews Links.

The only English player with ties to the United States is University of Tennessee standout Chris Paisley. The runner-up at the 2008 Tillman, English Amateur and South of England, Paisley has carried his Vols to the upper echelons of NCAA competition the past few seasons and has played on the English national team the past few seasons. At 23, he will be one of the elder statesmen on the GB & I side.

While Irish golf is experiencing a golden age being led by Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy, only one player, Niall Kearney, has made the 2009 Walker Cup side. Kearney won the prestigious Brabazon Trophy and was also the South of Ireland champion in 2008. He has put up several top tens in 2009 while playing on the Irish national side.

Although the United States leads the bi-annual matches 33-7 all-time, since 1989 the matches are 5-5. In 2007 the United States’ Jonathan Moore hit a 252 yard 4-iron to three feet on his final hole to make eagle, defeating Nigel Edwards and retaining the cup for the U.S. 2009 is shaping up to be just as exciting.

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