Slaughter at Seminole?
Should we prepare for “Slaughter at Seminole” headlines from the 48th Walker Cup after the announcement of the United States team, and no postponement of this year’s match?
It sure looks that way.
Great Britain & Ireland face a huge challenge to try to win the cup for the first time since 2015, arguably the toughest challenge since the matches became competitive in the mid 1990s. For a start, the U.S. team will have more competitive golf under their belts than many of the GB&I team because Covid-19 hasn't impacted the American amateur schedule to the same extent it has GB&I players' schedules. The exception is those college based players such as Scotland’s Sandy Scott and Alex Fitzpatrick of England, both of whom played in the 2019 match at Royal Liverpool. It's why I argued recently for the match to be postponed to give GB& I more of a fighting chance. Sadly, that has not happened, and that could be to the match's detriment.
The U.S. team will also enjoy home course advantage on a tricky course like Seminole Golf Club in Florida, where Ben Hogan used to practice for the Masters. Then there’s the 10-man side the USGA has selected to try to make it three straight victories.
There have been some tremendous American teams over the years. It’ll be interesting to see how this one stacks up in the history books. Stewart Hagestad, making his third appearance in the biennial match, leads a U.S. team that includes the current world number one in Davis Thompson, and two others – Ricky Castillo and Cole Hammer – who have held the number one position. Hammer was a member of victorious 2019 U.S. team at Royal Liverpool. He, John Pak and Hagestad, who also helped the USA win the 2017 match at uber-snooty Los Angeles Country Club, are the returnees from that winning team.
The worst ranked U.S. player is 23rd on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. The average ranking is 12. Take an average of the best ranking each player has achieved, and it’s a frightening 6.5. Here is this year’s U.S. team by current world ranking. Each player’s best world ranking is in brackets. An asterisk means the current ranking is that player’s best WAGR status:
1 Davis Thompson
5 John Pak (4)
6 Ricky Castillo (1)
9 Pierceson Coody (6)
11 Stewart Hagestad (4)
13 Ty Strafaci (*)
15 Austin Eckroat (11)
18 Quade Cummins (12)
19 Cole Hammer (1)
23 William Mouw (12)
The potential GB&I team when it's selected at the end of this month is not exactly weak. Average position for the best 10 players from the WAGR table is 36.3. Tally up their best WAGR rankings and it comes in at 22.9. Here are the current top 10 GB&I players on the world ranking, with country and best ranking in brackets:
8 Sandy Scott (Scotland, 4)
21 Caolan Rafferty (Ireland, 14)
25 Alex Fitzpatrick (England, *)
27 Mark Power (Ireland, 25)
34 Benjamin Schmidt (England, 6)
35 Angus Flanagan (England, *)
39 Ben Jones (England, 22)
51 Joe Long (England, 35)
54 Jake Bolton (England, 51)
69 Joe Pagdin (England, 12)
The match looks like a foregone conclusion on paper. The same was said in 2011, however, when the U.S. team that travelled to Royal Aberdeen featured the world’s top four ranked amateurs in Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth (pictured), Patrick Rodgers, and Peter Uihlein. World number six Harris English made it five of the top six, while Chris Williams at world number ten made it six of the top 10. Andy Sullivan and Tom Lewis, world number five and seven respectively, were the only two world top 10 players in the GB&I team. Yet the home team won 14-12.
Not only was GB&I playing on home soil 10 years ago, but the weather was typically British; the heavy rain and strong winds that swept Royal Aberdeen's glorious links played right into GB&I hands. Nor did the home side have to worry about a lack of competitive golf.
Winning for the first time since 2015 is a big ask for those GB&I players who compete at Seminole 8–9 May. Just as well Walker Cups are not played on paper because, in plain black and white, it certainly looks like Slaughter at Seminole.
#JustSaying: “Did I expect to be sat here winning? Absolutely. I had had a quiet look at the things people had said and written, but I told the boys from the outset that they did not need worry about anyone else. All they needed to do was focus on themselves. They are very special and they proved that this week.” 2011 GB&I Walker Cup captain Nigel Edwards