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JUNO BEACH – The U.S. team got the victory everyone predicted Sunday.
U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby received the proper curtain call.
And Seminole Golf Club dazzled like everyone expected.
That’s how the 48th Walker Cup Match will be remembered: For the golf, the drama and the incredible beauty that is Seminole.
Florida sophomore Ricky Castillo went 4-0 for the U.S. and Cole Hammer scored the deciding point as the heavily-favored Americans held off a valiant effort by Great Britain-Ireland for a 14-12 victory. It was the fifth consecutive victory for the U.S. team on home soil and improved its series lead to 38-9-1.
“It means the world to me,” said Hammer, who went 3-0-1. “I had no idea I was the clinching putt. Living up to expectations are hard. We looked great on paper, but winning is still a difficult deal.”
Castillo defeated Joe Murphy, 2 and 1, and Hammer easily beat Ben Schmidt, 4 and 3. Castillo and Hammer were a combined 7-0-1.
“It’s a pretty cool experience for my first Walker Cup,” Castillo said. “This is the pinnacle of amateur golf.”
Stewart Hagestad, at 30 the oldest player on the U.S. team, struggled while losing his first two matches and lost his first two holes to Ben Jones. But Hagestad won five consecutive holes, starting at No. 9, to coast to a 4-and-2 win and give the U.S. its 14th point.
“I feel very lucky to be a part of it,” Hagestad said. “These guys are so talented and they are going to go on and have great careers.”
Paced by Austin Eckroat’s 7-and-6 trouncing of previously undefeated Mark Power and Pierceson Coody’s 3-and-1 victory over Andrew Fitzpatrick, the Americans got an early boost to gain the 4 ½ points they needed in singles.
“I had the momentum the whole round,” Eckroat said. “It was one of those days where I made all the putts and he missed them all.”
GB&I had closed the U.S.’s advantage to 8 ½-7 ½ after Sunday’s foursomes, but never could gain the lead.
“There’s been a lot of chatter about us hanging in there,” said GB&I captain Stuart Wilson said. “But we let the Americans away with too much.”
GB&I’s Joe Long, who was playing for the first time after being sidelined by the stomach virus, took advantage of John Pak’s shot into the penalty area and a chunked trip on the 18th hole to keep the visitors alive with a 2-up victory.
GB&I got more late heroics from Matty Lamb, who won the 17th hole to beat Davis Thompson, 2 up, but the U.S.’s Quade Cummins won the 18th to get a halve over Barclay Brown.
Reigning U.S. Amateur Tyler Strafaci finally got a chance to play in the Walker Cup after also being sidelined by stomach issues and taken to the hospital for fluids on Saturday. He lost both matches Sunday, however.
Seminole certainly didn’t disappoint
With dignitaries such as the 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush – his great-grandfather George Herbert Walker donated the Walker Cup – and legend Jack Nicklaus on hand, the Donald Ross gem amazed and confounded some of the world’s best amateurs with its ridiculously quick greens.
It’s the first time Seminole has hosted a Walker Cup, which was probably overdue considering the membership includes nine former players and 11 former captains. Seminole president Jimmy Dunne decided it was better late than never.
Tyler Strafaci of Team USA plays his shot from the bunker on the 18th hole during Sunday singles matches on Day Two of The Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club on May 09, 2021 in Juno Beach, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
“Seminole is a really special place,” Dunne said as the final pairings teed off Sunday. “It was always our dream to open it to the amateur world.”
Crosby, a longtime Seminole member who first visited the club with his father Bing in the mid-1970s, is glad he decided to serve another captaincy after leading the team to a victory in 2019 at Royal Portrush. He originally hesitated after the thrill of two years ago.
“This is full circle for me,” Crosby said. “It was a miracle beyond miracles we had the event when everyone started getting sick. The Walker Cup is a spectacle. To win at Seminole is a dream for me.”
Crosby pointed out the Walker Cup, without spectator ropes, provides a rare chance for golf fans to walk among some of the game’s top players before they become famous. It’s not like that in other sports.
“Fifty percent of these guys will go on to become Tour stars,” he said. “People understand college basketball, but I think they really miss seeing these guys before they become marquee.”
The Walker Cup is so special that Bob Ford, Seminole’s head professional since 2000, waited until the event was held before he retired after a brilliant career that included 37 years as head pro at Oakmont Country Club. It proved to be a fitting curtain call.
“It exceeded my expectations,” Ford said. “The members are so proud. I don’t think anything could have gone better.”
Golf fans were treated to a more competitive Walker Cup than most imagined. The U.S. never trailed the last two days and finally found a way to win the Cup.
Sure, there was a pesky stomach virus that altered pairings, made life miserable for the players and complicated for the captains. But in the end, it was all about the golf.
As it should be.