LOS ANGELES – So, here’s the question on everyone’s mind here at the U.S. Amateur: Who will represent the United States at the upcoming Walker Cup?
The 10-man team is expected to be unveiled Sunday night, and there are even more questions than usual about how the USGA International Team Selection Committee will arrive at its decision.
Earlier this year, the USGA announced that it was breaking from tradition and releasing the names of all 10 Walker Cup members at the same time, following the conclusion of the Amateur.
For at least the past decade, the USGA has named part of the team well ahead of the biennial matches. The rationale was that the blue blazers wanted to assure the team’s stars that they had a spot on the team, lest they were enticed by parents or agents to turn pro early. But in some cases, there were unintended consequences: With the pressure off, a few players scaled back their summer schedules and came to the matches out of form.
The USGA said the decision to make one formal announcement was for team unity, to “avoid the perception of a Tier 1 and Tier 2 group.” That sounds swell in a press release, but this decision created an unsettling scenario for the best young Americans, who were forced to decide whether to test the pro ranks or travel all over the country (on their parents’ dimes) in an attempt to impress a committee it has never met.
And it’s not just the bubble boys who have no clue where they stand.
The stars are out of the loop, too.
“I don’t have any idea,” Maverick McNealy said. “I’m just going to wait with my phone on loud Sunday night.”
There is no public Walker Cup points list, no objectivity to the super-secret selection process. It’s a stark contrast to the increasingly popular Palmer Cup, a match-play event between top U.S. and European college players, in which the standings are released several times before the roster is finalized.
Even U.S. captain Spider Miller, who is not involved in the final roster decision, said Wednesday at Riviera: “If there were a points system for the Walker Cup, then I think that would make sense. But that’s not my decision to make.”
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If there’s one thing this amateur season has proved, however, it’s that the allure of the Walker Cup remains strong. There was some apprehension that recent changes to Web.com Tour Q-School would tempt more players to turn pro after the NCAAs in June – even in Walker Cup years – to chase the seven sponsor exemptions allowed for PGA Tour non-members. But that hasn’t panned out, at least not this year.
Ultimately, only one player (USC’s Rico Hoey) who attended the 16-man practice session last winter opted to turn pro early, while a few contenders such as Sam Burns (LSU) and Sean Crocker (USC) postponed their pro debuts for a chance to wear the Team USA uniform.
The only problem? Now they aren’t sure if they’ll make the squad.
Burns won the Nicklaus Award as the top college player last season and tied for sixth at the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship (his 18-under total was the best by an amateur in Tour history). Crocker, meanwhile, played four events overseas this summer and missed the 36-hole cut at the Am.
“I don’t really know, to be honest with you,” Burns said. “Hopefully I’ve put together a strong enough résumé to make the team. But we’ll see.”
Despite the USGA reducing the mid-amateur requirement from two players to one, Miller has suggested that he expects two over-25 players to be on the team. One of those spots will go to Stewart Hagestad, the reigning Mid-Am winner who made the cut at the Masters. The other pick, if the committee indeed green-lights two mid-ams, is likely Scott Harvey, who was part of the losing U.S. team in 2015.
As for the other eight players?
The safe bets are NCAA champion Braden Thornberry and Hogan Award winner Maverick McNealy. Also in strong shape (one would assume) are Norman Xiong, the NCAA Freshman of the Year and recent Western Amateur winner; Cal star Collin Morikawa, who captured the Northeast Amateur; and Pacific Coast winner Doug Ghim, ranked seventh in the world.
The rest of the roster is anyone’s guess.
Burns should receive plenty of consideration. So should big-hitting Cameron Champ, who starred at the U.S. Open and followed it up with a victory at the Trans-Miss.
A few months ago, Illinois senior Dylan Meyer would have been a lock, but the fourth-ranked amateur in the world has struggled this summer. Former USGA champions Will Zalatoris, Scottie Scheffler and Brad Dalke are ALL on the USGA’s radar, too, along with Nick Hardy and a half-dozen other players. Oh, and one spot is reserved in case there’s an American U.S. Amateur winner.
All would make fine selections, of course.
But the how and why matters.
How will the selection committee arrive at that 10-man roster Sunday night?
Why was Player A valued differently over Player B?
“The committee is going to have some difficult choices to make,” Miller said.
And frustratingly, it’ll do so behind closed doors.