By Gavin Menu
Jim Holtgrieve has seen plenty of pre-tournament press conferences during his career, especially as a three-time player and two-time captain of the United States Walker Cup team, which will square off against Great Britain and Ireland at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton on September 7 and 8.
But even with all that history, and as Holtgrieve was busy preparing at National this week, he could not help but admit during a press conference organized by the United States Golf Association last Thursday that this particular Walker Cup match, which was first contested at National back in 1922, will be extra special.
“I keep using the word historic, but that’s what it is,” Holtgrieve said, speaking to reporters on August 22 while the 10 amateur and mid-amateur players who make up his team were playing the course for the first time as a group. “This golf course is so historic and such a great place.”
The Walker Cup, an amateur team contest conducted every two years, was born in the years following World War I when George Herbert Walker, the grandfather of former President George H.W. Bush and the president of the United States Golf Association at the time, introduced a tournament to help bring the two continents back together after the war.
There was an unofficial event in 1921 at The Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England where the Americans defeated the British on their home soil. The following year, Great Britain sent a team of amateurs to compete at Walker’s home course in America, which happened to be National in Southampton, where the American team prevailed, 8-4. And with that, a great tradition was born, one that led to the professional Ryder Cup, a tournament that follows essentially the same format.
“The Walker Cup is not a stepping stone to the professional ranks,” Holtgrieve explained on Thursday, saying that the players who make up the team will be “Walker Cuppers” for the rest of their lives.
“There’s no greater honor in sport that to play for your country,” he added.
The American team this year is led by Max Homa, a 22 year-old first-team All-American from the University of California at Berkeley, and Patrick Rogers, a returning member of the Walker Cup team and another first-team All-American from Stanford University.
Michael Kim, 20, a teammate of Homa’s at Cal-Berkeley, won the Jack Nicklaus Award last year as the NCAA Division I player of the year and in June finished as the low amateur by five strokes at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
Michael Weaver, 22, is the third member of the team from Berkeley and another first-team All-American who was the runner-up in the 2012 U.S. Amateur, which earned him exemptions into this year’s Masters and U.S. Open, where he finished 64th.
Three first-team all Americans from the University of Alabama, Justin Thomas, 20, Cory Whitsett, 21, and Bobby Wyatt, 21, are now teammates for the Walker Cup after having led the Crimson Tide to the NCAA Division I National Championship last spring.
Jordan Niebrugge, 20, a sophomore at Oklahoma State University, was the last player to be named to the team after surging to win the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship and Western Amateur earlier this year.
Rounding out the team are two mid-amateurs, or amateur golfers who are no longer in college. Nathan Smith, 35, is a four-time Mid-Amateur champion, having won the tournament in 2010 at The Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton. Todd White, 45, is a history teacher who Holtgrieve said “brings quiet to the team,” as its elder statesman but who is also a solid player who can be relied on to win points.
“These are the most mature young men I’ve ever met,” Holtgrieve said. “They’re very mature for their age, and I think that’s what golf does for people.”
For more information on the Walker Cup visit www.walkercup.org. For tickets go to www.2013walkercup.com/tickets.php.