American golfers have always considered singles play their strong suit in team events. Saturday in the first day of competition in the Walker Cup at Los Angeles Country Club, they showed why.
The U.S. team won six of eight afternoon singles matches and stormed away with an 8-4 lead over the Britain team heading into Sunday’s final matches in the 46th edition of this biennial event.
At one point during those singles matches, it appeared the U.S. team might lose five of them. But a dominating showing in the final nine holes brought to life the swarms of spectators who followed each battle, which took place on the slick greens and challenging pin placements of the George Thomas-designed North Course. Four U.S. players overcame deficits to win; the Americans won 26 holes on the back nine to only 10 for their opponents.
“I saw guys that reached down and pulled something out and they flipped their matches,” captain Spider Miller said. “I’m so proud of them. They came ready to play.”
The teams each won two matches in the morning alternate-shot format, notably one-sided victories by Collin Morikawa and Norman Xiong and by Maverick McNealy and Doug Ghim.
Morikawa and Xiong, the leadoff pairing, opened with four straight birdies, won the first five holes and beat Harry Ellis and Alfie Plant, 9 and 7, the largest winning margin in an 18-hole foursomes match in Walker Cup history.
Miller makes the rounds to all the matches during the competition, and noticed on his phone the early success of his first group. “I’m watching and the thing is just going ching, ching, ching, and I thought, well, I’m not going out there and mess that up. Those boys are doing fine without me.”
Ghim and McNealy ousted David Boote and Jack Davidson 5-4.
All four of those U.S. players won their afternoon singles matches, but it wasn’t until Braden Thornberry, two down to Ellis after 13 holes, came back to win his match 2 up that the U.S. team got it’s first singles point and set the tone for other comeback wins.
Miller said he caught up with Thornberry when he was 2 down. “He has a gentle nature,” Miller said. “But he’s a competitor and he told me, ‘I’m going to win.’”
In rapid-fire fashion after that, the U.S. had added two more points. Xiong, the Western Amateur champion and at 18 the youngest player in the field, was 3 down after five holes against Connor Syme, and won, 2 and 1. And Morikawa led early and ousted Paul McBride 3 and 2.
The Britain squad earned only two points in the afternoon. Jack Singh Brar beat LA Country Club member Stewart Hagestad, 3 and 2. Hagestad was 6 down after 10 holes before winning four in a row to extend the match. Left-handed Robert MacIntyre beat American Cameron Champ 6 and 4.
The greens were rolled between the morning and afternoon session and were even firmer and faster than they had been in the morning. The ground crew hadn’t replaced the bentgrass with Teflon; it only seemed that way.
“We knew it would get firmer,” Ghim said, like just by being in the sun, but with the roll, I mean it was like concrete….
“But I’m a fan of firm, fast greens. It took a couple holes to get used to, but I thought it played great.”
Will Zalatoris gave the U.S. another point, beating Matthew Jordan 2 up after going 1 down after 12; Ghim won the first three holes against David Boote and won, 2 and 1, and McNealy came from 2 down after 11 to beat 2016 British Amateur champion Scott Gregory, 3 and 1.
The U.S. team needs to win 5 1/2 of the 14 available points today to win the Cup back from Britain, which will retain the Cup if the teams tie 13-13 by virtue of its win in 2015. Still, the last time a team came back to win after trailing the first day was 2003.
“We can still win,” Andrew Ingram, coach of Britain, said. “We need 13 points and we’ve got four. So we need only nine, and there’s plenty of points available tomorrow.”
7:15 a.m. — Connor Syme and Paul McBride, GB&I vs. Norman Xiong and Collin Morikawa, U.S.
7:30 a.m. — Jack Singh Brar and Scott Gregory, GB&I vs. Braden Thornberry and Doc Redman, U.S.
7:45 a.m. — David Boote and Jack Davidson, GB&I vs. Will Zalatoris and Cameron Champ, U.S.
8 a.m. — Matthew Jordan and Robert MacIntyre, GB&I vs. Doug Ghim and Maverick McNealy, U.S.
12:30 p.m. — Jack Singh Brar, GB&I vs. Stewart Hagestad, U.S.
12:40 p.m. — Scott Gregory, GB&I vs. Norman Xiong, U.S.
12:50 p.m. — Connor Syme, GB&I vs. Scottie Scheffler, U.S.
1 p.m. — Harry Ellis, GB&I vs. Collin Morikawa, U.S.
1:10 p.m. — Paul McBride, GB&I vs. Braden Thornberry, U.S.
1:20 p.m. — Matthew Jordan, GB&I vs. Doug Ghim, U.S.
1:30 p.m. — Robert MacIntyre, GB&I vs. Cameron Champ, U.S.
1:40 p.m. — Jack Davidson, GB&I vs. Will Zalatoris, U.S.
1:50 p.m. — David Boote, GB&I vs. Doc Redman, U.S.
2 p.m. — Alfie Plant, GB&I vs. Maverick McNealy, U.S.