(LOS ANGELES, Calif.) - Two years ago John “Spider” Miller and Maverick McNealy left Royal Lytham & St. Annes on the wrong end of a seven-point defeat, one of the largest for a USA Team in the Walker Cup.
Miller watched his talented USA side, led by world No. 2 McNealy, produce a 19-7 victory over Great Britain and Ireland at The Los Angeles Country Club. McNealy, a 2017 Stanford University graduate who plans to turn professional on Monday, was one of three Americans to go 4-0, a feat that had never before been achieved in a single Match.
In three Walker Cups, the USA had two players post 4-0 records – 1977 (John Fought and Lindy Miller), 1997 (John Harris and Brad Elder) and 2009 (Peter Uihlein and Rickie Fowler) – and GB&I achieved it once in 1999 (Luke Donald and Paul Casey). McNealy was joined by local product Collin Morikawa from nearby La Cañada Flintridge, Calif., and 2017 U.S. Amateur runner-up Doug Ghim, of Arlington Heights, Ill., with perfect marks.
“I think it starts with the U.S. team getting that big trophy and that was our goal at the beginning of the week and I'm so excited to be part of the 2017 winning Walker Cup team,” said McNealy. “That's what's most important to me. I’m so glad we could win this for our team, win this for Captain Miller, and win this for the country.
“It’s been unbelievable. I’ll never forget this week. It’s the end of my amateur career, but it means so much more than that to me, it’s been incredible.”
The Americans came into Sunday’s double session of four foursomes (alternate shot) and 10 singles matches with an 8-4 advantage, and instead of faltering to allow GB&I to narrow the lead, they built on it. The USA went 3-1 in foursomes and 7-1-2 in singles to tie for the Match’s second-largest margin of victory. Only the 19-5 victory in 1993 at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., was greater, though the format and schedule were not the same. That year, 20 singles matches were contested due to weather postponing Saturday’s morning foursomes session. The USA also won the 1997 Match at Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, N.Y., 18-6.
The Walker Cup format was tweaked in 2009 to add two more Sunday singles matches and 26 total points.
“I’m so proud of all the players,” said the 67-year-old Miller, a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion from Bloomington, Ind., who called the 2017 Walker Cup would be his swan song in amateur golf. “They have conducted themselves great this week, they have done everything I've asked, and I'm very proud of them all.”
Starting the day, GB&I held high hopes it could dent the USA’s four-point margin in foursomes, but only the English duo of Jack Singh Brar and Scott Gregory could forge a 2-up victory. With the USA needing just 2½ points going into the 10 afternoon singles matches to reclaim the Cup, the biggest drama surrounded who would get the clinching point.
A dominating 6-and-5 victory by reigning NCAA champion Braden Thornberry, of Olive Branch, Miss., over Paul McBride, of the Republic of Ireland, produced the first point. Reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad, of Newport Beach, Calif., a Los Angeles Country Club junior member who had a large throng of supporters all weekend, avenged his Saturday defeat to Singh Brar, 2 and 1. The match ended in unusual fashion with Singh Brar, who was bidding to be GB&I’s only 4-0 player, striking the sand in the bunker on No. 17 after his third shot failed to get out of the hazard. It resulted in a loss-of-hole penalty under Rule 13-4 (touching sand in a bunker).
“It's really unfortunate the way it ended,” said Hagestad. “From a competitor one to another that's never the way that you want it to go. My heart goes out to him and I knew that he was going to make that putt and it's weird, I almost wanted to put the pressure on myself to try to make that 3, 4-footer.
“To have the [13th point] on my home course, in front of all my friends and family, is pretty special. I think I'm going to have to take some time and sleep on this and let it marinate. But to do it in a team setting, to do it representing the United States … it's just so gratifying. And I can't wait to celebrate with the guys tonight.”
The clinching half-point came from 18-year-old Norman Xiong, of Canyon Lake, Calif., the youngest player on the USA side, who halved his match against Gregory, the 2016 British Amateur champion, to finish with a 3-0-1 mark. Gregory, in fact, rallied from 2 down with two to play to earn that halve, converting a 30-foot par putt on No. 17 and making an 8-footer for par on 18.
Despite ending up on the losing end of the scoreboard, Gregory was proud of his fight in what was his final match as an amateur.
“I’m so competitive that I … would still want to try and do my best,” said Gregory, who posted a 2-1-1 mark in the Match. “Obviously the goal at the start of the week was to win the Walker Cup and unfortunately we [did not] do that. But I think on a personal note I played really well, played well against Maverick [on Saturday], and the same again today. Both guys are such nice people.”
Even with the Match’s outcome decided, seven other matches were still on the course, with players looking for some history. That included Morikawa and Ghim, who defeated reigning British Amateur champion Harry Ellis (2 and 1) and Matthew Jordan (3 and 1) – both of England – to complete their perfect weekend.
“It's a dream come true,” said Morikawa, a junior at the University of California. “I’ve never really gone undefeated in one of these team events.
“To wear the red, white and blue all week since [Aug. 31] when we got here, it couldn't be a bigger honor than to come out and compete against a GB&I team that two years ago kind of beat us down, it’s good to get a little fun back and win.”
Two past U.S. Junior Amateur champions also finished with singles victories. Texan Scottie Scheffler, the 2013 champion, notched his first victory of the weekend with a 1-up victory over 2017 U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist Connor Syme, of Scotland. Zalatoris, the 2014 champion, beat Jack Davidson, of Wales, 3 and 2.
GB&I’s lone singles victory came from 2016 Stanford graduate David Boote, of Wales, who defeated reigning U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redman, of Raleigh, N.C. It prevented GB&I from failing to garner at least one Sunday singles victory since the 1989 Walker Cup at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, which ironically was the first GB&I victory on American soil. Robert MacIntyre, of Scotland, the 2016 British Amateur runner-up, halved his match with Cameron Champ, of Sacramento, Calif. Neither player won a hole after the left-handed MacIntyre birdied the 10th to square the match.
“The Americans are amazing, what a team,” said GB&I captain Andy Ingram. “Got to take my hat off to them, they have been superb all week.
“This is such a wonderful place. I love the climate, I love the people, I love the golf course. We have had some great fun.”
The 47th Walker Cup Match will take place Sept. 7-8, 2019, at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake), in Liverpool, England, where the USA will look to win for the first time on UK soil since 2007. Until then, they will celebrate a hard-earned victory over an equally admirable GB&I team.