The USGA announced an initial Walker Cup squad on 18th November 2018.
The following 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: –
— USGA (@USGA) December 18, 2018
There is of course no guarantee at this stage that any of the above players will make the final U.S. line up although their chances have improved. Looking back at recent Walker Cup practice sessions six of the 16 players named in 2017 made the final 10-man USA Team whilst nine of the 16 did so in both 2013 and 2015.
USA Walker Cup Team Selection Process
The USGA’s 10 person International Team Selection (ITS) Committee selects the U.S.A. team.
Martha Lang became Chairman of the ITS Committee in February 2018 for an initial 1 year term. This will almost certainly be extended to two and therefore take in the 2019 Walker Cup match. 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 segments in the preceding 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.”
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 late May many would prefer to be taking up sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour, which are limited and hard fought for, in the remaining months of the season. By the time the Walker Cup is played the PGA Tour has moved into the FedEx Cup play-offs and such opportunities have gone.
With the depth of players to choose from no one can be guaranteed selection 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 miss out.
Kevin O’Connell with the Robert T. Jones Jr Memorial Trophy (© USGA / Chris Keane)
Another challenge the USGA is trying to work through concerns Mid-Amateurs (over 25’s).
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 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.
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.
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