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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Selecting the Walker Cup Team

Jim Holtgrieve, photo courtesy of the USGA
Jim Holtgrieve, Captain of the 2013 US Walker Cup team, is intensely optimistic about the team's chances this year at the biennial matches to be held at The National Golf Links in Southampton September 7-8. As I interviewed him during yesterday's MGA Media Day, it was fascinating to watch Walker Cup hopeful Mike Miller as he listened to Holtgrieve's answers.

When I asked Holtgrieve about the caliber of the prospective team members, he replied, "These young men are so good, I couldn't make this team." That's saying something, since Holtgrieve's stellar amateur career includes a winning record as a member of three US Walker Cup teams, captaincy of the US team at the 2011 match, and an individual triumph at the inaugural US Mid-Amateur Championship in 1981. He also represented the US on two victorious World Amateur Team Championship squads, was a semifinalist at the 1980 U.S. Amateur, and runner-up at the 1983 British Amateur, and played in five Masters Tournaments as an amateur – making the cut three times.

"As I watched them play over the last four years, I realized they are simply not afraid," he said. "I know there are nerves, but you don't see it. All you see is the raw talent."

Mike Miller
Mike Miller
Miller, a 21-year-old standout from Knollwood CC (and son of head pro Bob Miller), has shown his nerves of steel while competing around the world. He was named MGA Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and is currently 32nd in the World Amateur rankings.  In remarks he made before Holtgrieve spoke, he made no bones about his desire to make the ten-man team.

"I hope to have a good season this year, but my ultimate goal is to make the Walker Cup team," Miller said. "It's my dream to wear the red, white, and blue, and represent my country."  Miller was one of 16 players invited to an informal Walker Cup practice session at Calusa Pines Golf Club in Naples, FL, in December, where Holtgrieve got a chance to see not only how they played the game but how they interacted with each other on and off the golf course.

"They have to have not just talent," Holtgrieve said, "but respect and honor as well. They are representing their country, so their comportment on and off the course is something that really matters."

Holtgrieve doesn't choose the team, although his opinion will certainly carry great weight with the USGA International Team Selection Committee. There are some forty players under consideration for the ten slots at the moment. The USGA announced earlier this year that at least two of those will go to mid-amateur players (aged 25 and above) and the final two won't be chosen until after the US Amateur Championship to be held at The Country Club of Brookline August 12-18.

"We hope to name much of the team right after the Western Amateur," Holtgrieve said. "One mistake we made in 2011 was not allowing enough time for the team to rest between the end of the selection process and the beginning of the match. They work so hard to make the team that they need time to recuperate before they compete." The US team suffered a narrow loss (14.0 vs. 12.0) at Royal Aberdeen GC in Scotland. This year, the Western Amateur is scheduled to end August 4.

One way Miller hopes to stay centered on the selection committee's radar screen is by a strong performance in the Carey Cup, the biennial match between teams from the MGA and the Golfing Union of Ireland. This year, the MGA will vie for their second consecutive Carey Cup, the last coming in a 7.5 - 4.5 victory at Bethpage Black in 2011, when then-19-year-old Miller was a member of the squad.  The Carey Cup will be contested April 27-29 at the European Club in Wicklow, Ireland.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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