U.S. team finishes strong, wins back Walker Cup

The local guy stepped up, even though he didn’t know it right away.

When Stewart Hagestad of Newport Beach defeated previously unbeaten Jack Singh Brar 2 and 1 at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course on Sunday afternoon, he assured that the United States would win back the Walker Cup from Britain.

Hagestad’s win gave the U.S. 13 points, but because 18-year-old Norman Xiong, the youngest player in the field, was far enough ahead in his match to guarantee at least half a point once it finished, the U.S. effectively had the 13 1/2 points it needed win back the most prestigious trophy in amateur team golf.

Eight of the 10 singles matches were still on the course when Hagestad — a career amateur, LACC member and at 26 the oldest player in the competition — won his only point of the weekend. He wasn’t aware of the significance.

“I just got chills,” Hagestad said when learned from a TV reporter that his win made the difference, and he sped off to celebrate and follow his teammates.

Team captain Spider Miller, also coach of the losing 2015 team, said, “We had a choice. We could be the 2017 Walker Cup team or the winning 2017 Walker Cup team. These guys chose to be the winning team. They came ready to play ….

“I love these guys.”

After winning three of four alternate-ball matches in the morning session, U.S. players needed to win only 2 1/2 of the 10 available points in afternoon singles to win for the fourth consecutive time on home soil and improve their all-time record in the biennial matches to 36-9-1.

Once Braden Thornberry, the free-swinging NCAA Division I champion from Mississippi, gave the U.S. its first afternoon point after winning the first four holes against Paul McBride and coasting to a 6-5 victory, the U.S. continued to roll. Americans went 7-1-2 in singles and won the competition 19-7, tying the 1993 U.S. team for highest point total in Cup history.

Four players powered the U.S. machine. Xiong was 3-0-1, and three players won all four of their matches: Cal junior Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge; Texas senior and U.S. Amateur runner-up Doug Ghim; and Maverick McNealy, the No. 2 ranked amateur in the world until he turns professional in the near future. It was the first time in Walker Cup history that three players from one side have gone 4-0.

“I remember watching the Walker Cup when I was in middle school … and thinking maybe one day I might get there, but that would be crazy,” Ghim said. “And then to think that I’m standing here and won all four matches, it’s just a dream come true.”

Morikawa and Xiong were Miller’s go-to pairing in alternate-shot play, starting the foursomes each morning. Ghim and McNealy, who ended his amateur career in style, were in the same stratosphere, cruising to two dominant wins in the cleanup spot. They also won as a team at the Arnold Palmer Cup, a similar competition between U.S. and European collegiate players.

While watching Morikawa and Xiong in their their morning match, Miller said, “I think they are going to be two big stars on the pro tour. “Norman’s only 18. He’ll pick up another 20 or 30 yards and be among the longest players out there.”

Miller made that assessment shortly after Xiong, who was in fifth grade when it was announced the Walker Cup would be played at LACC, had hit a 220-yard six iron over the towering pines along the left side of the fifth fairway and on to the green to help his team go 1 up.

The North Course, which will be the site of the 2023 U.S. Open, was also a runaway winner this weekend. Players universally praised the layout, designed by George Thomas and restored to its 1928 character by architect Gil Hanse in 2010. The greens are firm and well protected. Optional tee boxes on several holes change them dramatically. The par-three15th hole played at an unheard-of yet diabolical 78 yards Saturday afternoon. For Sunday’s singles matches, the first tee box was actually on the practice putting green, barely more than a spilled martini away from the jam-packed, members-only clubhouse patio, playing as a 569-yard par five.

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