2019 – USA Team

June 2019

The USGA’s 10 person International Team Selection (ITS) Committee selects the U.S.A. team.

Martha Lang has been Chairman of the ITS Committee since February 2018. The former Curtis Cup player (1992) and captain (1996) from Alabama is the first women to Chair the ITS Committee but is one of a number to have previously sat on it.

Surprisingly the U.S. Captain does not sit on the Committee and whilst he obviously advises and recommends players that is said to be the extent of his input into the team selection process.

On 5th July 2018 the USGA announced changes to its team selection process.

The selection of the 10-man 2019 USA Walker Cup team will now take place in two parts in August: –

1. a) The top 3 ranked U.S.A. players in the WAGR (as of early August and before the U.S. Amateur)*.

2. a) The 2019 U.S. Amateur champion*;

2. b) The 2019 Mark H. McCormack Medal winner (Men’s WAGRTM No. 1 / announced immediately after the U.S. Amateur Championship)*; and

2. c) The remaining selections, which will include at least one mid-amateur (25 years and older) player, will be decided by the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee (ITSC).

*subject to the respective players being U.S. citizens and / or remaining amateur these individuals will now be automatically selected.

Selection is primarily driven by playing ability, with particular emphasis on USGA Championships, and world rankings. The USGA maintains an unpublished points system to assist the ITSC with these selections.  The Committee are always keen to point out that integrity, team skills and good sportsmanship are important factors too.

John Bodenhamer, USGA senior managing director of Championships & Governance, said on the July 2018 changes: “Adding these elements of transparency to our selections helps players understand the process and aspire to earn coveted spots on these top teams.”

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Here’s the 2019 USA selection story so far.

The USGA announced an initial Walker Cup squad on 18th November 2018.

At this time leading U.S. amateurs Braden THORNBERRY, Collin MORIKAWA and Justin SUH all made it clear that they would be turning Pro in the coming months and as such would not be available for selection.

16 players attended a practice session at Seminole G.C. in South Florida on December 14th – 18th:-

John AUGENSTEIN – Owensboro, Kentucky
Akshay BHATIA – Wake Forest, North Carolina
Will GORDON – Davidson, North Carolina
Stewart HAGESTAD – Newport Beach, California
Cole HAMMER – Houston, Texas
Brandon MANCHENO – Jacksonville, Florida
Bryson NIMMER – Bluffton, South Carolina
Kevin O’CONNELL – Cary, North Carolina
Matt PARZIALE – Brockton, Massachusetts
Chandler PHILLIPS – Huntsville, Texas
Trent PHILLIPS – Inman, South Carolina *
Isaiah SALINDA – South San Francisco, California
Alex SMALLEY – Wake Forest, North Carolina
Tyler STRAFACI – Davie, Florida
Matthew WOLFF – Agoura Hills, California
Brandon WU – Scarsdale, New York

* Davis RILEY – Hattiesburg, Mississippi – withdrew from the practice session on 25th November following his decision to turn professional. He was replaced by Trent PHILLIPS.

Stewart HAGESTAD was the only returning member of the 2017 USA Team who attended.

The USGA tweeted a gallery of photos from the session on 18th December: –

Selection for the training squad was of course no guarantee for any of these players that they would make the final U.S. line up although their chances were improved. Looking back at the 2017 USA Walker Cup squad six of the 16 players named made the final 10-man USA Team whilst nine of the 16 did so in both 2013 and 2015.

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June 2019 saw three U.S. Walker Cup squad members turn pro. These were Will GORDON, Bryson NIMMER and Matthew WOLFF. Wolff had just won the  NCAA Division I Championship Individual title and was therefore a particular blow. Gordon and Nimmer both have 2019 Mackenzie Tour membership via Q-School and were unwilling to let these playing opportunities pass by.

Zach BAUCHOU, Sebastian CRAMPTON, Stephen FRANKEN, Philip KNOWLES, Patrick MARTIN and Tyler MCDANIEL are other highly rated U.S. amateurs to have turned Pro in 2019.

The timing of the match is increasingly becoming problematic for many of the U.S.A.’s leading amateur players. With the NCAA Championships played in May many would prefer to be taking up lucrative endorsement deals and sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour in the remaining months of the season. By the time the Walker Cup is played the PGA Tour season is now largely over and such opportunities have gone.

With the depth of players to choose from virtually no one can be guaranteed selection on the U.S. team and as such many have been left regretting their decision to hang on until September in recent years. In 2017 Rico HOEY, a squad player, jumped ship before the Walker Cup whilst Sam BURNS, U.S. College Player of the Year, hung on only to surprisingly miss out.

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If one had to pick a U.S. team now the following players would most likely be in the mix: –

The 3 leading players in the WAGR as at Week 23 (June 12th) have to lead the way. These are Cole HAMMER, Akshay BHATIA and Chandler PHILLIPS, all of whom were selected for the November training Squad.

Other existing Squad members who have performed well in 2019 include: –

Brandon WU who finished T35 at the U.S. Open and has enjoyed a solid season for Stanford, winning the Goodwin event and going 3/0/0 in match play at the NCAA Division I Finals.

Another Stanford man Isaiah SALINDA won the Western Intercollegiate and NCAA California Regional and also went 3/0/0 in match play at the NCAA Division I Finals.

Alex SMALLEY retained his Sunnehanna Amateur title in June having enjoyed a solid final season for Duke.

Without perhaps reaching the heights of the players above Vanderbilt’s John AUGENSTEIN has delivered a consistent set of results.

With one Mid-Amateur place it remains all to play for between Kevin O’CONNELL and Stewart HAGESTAD for me albeit most people in the U.S. seem to think Hagestad will get the nod. For more information on the mid-amateur position please see the final section below.

The final two would currently come from outside the Squad for me with Quade CUMMINS, Chandler EATONAustin ECKROAT, Steven FISK, John PAK and Cameron YOUNG all having made persuasive cases to date.

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There area number of notable events remaining on the U.S. amateur calendar the results of which will inevitably affect the final team selection: –

Northeast Amateur, June 19-22
North and South Amateur, June 24-29
Sahalee Players, July 1-3
Trans-Miss Amateur, July 9-12
Players Amateur, July 11-14
Southern Amateur, July 17-20
Pac Coast Amateur, July 23-26
Palmetto Amateur, July 24-27
Porter Cup, July 24-27
Western Amateur, July 30-Aug. 3
U.S. Amateur, Aug. 12-18

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The USGA continues to work through concerns about the role Mid-Amateurs (over 25’s) should play in the Walker Cup.

In 2013 the USGA formally committed to including two mid-amateurs in all of their future Walker Cup teams. However, after disappointing mid-amateur results in the 2013 and 2015 matches and some senior executive changes the USGA let it be known in April 2017 that they planned to soften this selection policy. The commitment was reduced to one and it was made clear that mid-amateur picks would need to have proven themselves in elite amateur competition during the year of the match. The July 2018 tweak outlined above reaffirmed the single Mid-Amateur player commitment.

On 27th September 2018 Kevin O’CONNELL won the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship therefore putting himself in the box seat for the 2019 U.S.A. Walker Cup team. I say this because the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur will of course take place after the next Walker Cup match.

Kevin O’Connell with the Robert T. Jones Jr Memorial Trophy (© USGA / Chris Keane)

It is interesting to note that three mid-amateurs were included in the November 2018 squad announcement, O’Connell being joined by Stewart HAGESTAD and Matt PARZIALE.

At the U.S. Open all three of the above missed the cut and as such a good opportunity to move ahead in the mid-amateur selection race. All three, Hagestad (+7), O’Connell (+8) and Parziale (+9) were all within a few shots of each other.

ME.

Copyright © 2015-2019, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

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