Four players have secured spots to compete in the Walker Cup match for the United States.
Tyler Strafaci earned an automatic berth by winning last year’s U.S. Amateur. Now he is joined by the three highest-ranked Americans in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, all of whom receive exemptions, as of this past week: No. 2 Davis Thompson, No. 4 Ricky Castillo and No. 7 John Pak.
Thompson, of the University of Georgia, almost repeated as the Jones Cup champion but made bogeys on two of his last three holes to lose the tournament by one stroke to Ludvig Åberg of Sweden. Castillo, from the University of Florida, and Pak, from Florida State University, played in last September’s U.S. Open and have been dominant in college competitions.
A fifth spot almost certainly will go to Stewart Hagestad, the No. 11 amateur in the world who represents the best of mid-amateur golf by a wide margin based on world-ranking points. The USGA selects at least one mid-amateur player to compete on each Walker Cup squad. Hagestad played in the past two Walker Cups and was the low amateur at the 2017 Masters.
It’s also a virtual certainty that Pierceson Coody of the University of Texas will be included on the American side. The grandson of Masters champion Charles Coody is the No. 8 amateur in the world and won the prestigious Western Amateur last summer. He also has won the Trans-Miss Amateur and South Beach International Amateur in recent years.
The remaining four spots for U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby’s side are less certain.
Cole Hammer, Coody’s teammate at Texas, finished T2 at the Jones Cup a few weeks after winning the South Beach International Amateur. His experience at the 2019 Walker Cup makes him a top candidate.
If Hagestad and Hammer make the team alongside Pak, it will be the first time since 2001 that the U.S. side has three or more returners from the previous Walker Cup to make the team.
Austin Eckroat, the No. 13 player in the world, also will be difficult to keep off the squad. He recently had a top-15 finish in the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic and was a runner-up at the Maridoe Invitational, which had one of the best amateur fields of 2020.
Quade Cummins of the University of Oklahoma is coming off of a sensational year where he registered eight top-10s, several in the most prestigious amateur events on the calendar. He’s 24 years old and would bring experience to the team. Garrett Reband, a teammate of Cummins at Oklahoma, is the No. 14 amateur in the world but played sparingly last year. His rounds of 74-83-76 at the Jones Cup left him in a tie for 65th and didn’t inspire confidence.
Other options include William Mouw and McClure Meissner. Mouw reached the round of 16 at last year’s U.S. Amateur and had top-10s at the Sunnehanna and Southern Amateurs. Meissner won the Southern Amateur and was in the round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur. They have nearly identical point totals in the WAGR.
Michael Thorbjornsen, 19, is a former U.S. Junior Amateur winner and made the cut in the 2019 U.S. Open, which makes him attractive to the USGA selection committee. He also made it to the quarterfinals in last year’s U.S. Amateur. He has branched out of junior golf only recently and does not have a substantial track record in the amateur ranks.
U.S. captain Nathaniel Crosby’s team could be finalized as early as the end of February.
On the Great Britain & Ireland side, Joe Long of England has guaranteed himself a spot by virtue of his 2020 Amateur Championship victory at Royal Birkdale.
World No. 6 Sandy Scott from Scotland had chosen to turn pro but the COVID-19 pandemic reversed his plans, and he now figures to be a part of the GB&I squad. The Texas Tech senior played admirably in the 2019 Walker Cup and has added major championship experience at the 2020 U.S. Open.
England’s Alex Fitzpatrick has helped himself tremendously in the past few months, rising to a career-best No. 26 in the WAGR. He finished tied for second at the Jones Cup, had a top-5 at the Arizona Intercollegiate and won the Golf Club of Georgia Amateur Championship.
Fitzpatrick’s teammate at Wake Forest University, Irishman Mark Power, also has been impressive. His decision to travel back across the Atlantic Ocean for last year’s amateur majors resulted in top-5s at the Amateur, the Mullingar Scratch Trophy, the English Men’s Open Amateur Stroke Play and the Connacht Stroke Play. He also recently registered a top-5 at the Camp Creek Seminole Invite, a top college event.
Matty Lamb of England, coming off of victories in the Tillman Trophy and the North of England Open Amateur Championship – two events with stronger fields than normal – has bolstered his case. Countryman Angus Flanagan went 2-1 in the Palmer Cup and has excelled during a schedule of only stateside events. He advanced to match play at both the U.S. Amateur and Western Amateur.
England’s Jake Bolton has seemingly been in contention wherever he has played since winning the Scottish Open Amateur in 2019. His recent top-10s at the Amateur Championship, the English Men’s Amateur and the South African Amateur are among some of his best results.
Barclay Brown is only No. 126 in the WAGR but the Englishman has done plenty to bolster his chances for a spot. His top-5s at the Amateur, the English Men’s Open Stroke Play and the English Men’s Amateur went along with a couple of near victories during his freshman year at Stanford University.
England’s Haider Hussain had among the strongest 2020 campaigns of any GB&I player, with seven top-10 finishes in nine events, including a third-place result in the European Amateur.
There are plenty of others in contention. Two Bens from England – Schmidt and Jones – come highly ranked. Ben Schmidt recently finished tied for 11th in the Jones Cup and was a runner-up at the Tillman Trophy. He has reached as high as No. 6 in the world but is now back down to No. 34. Ben Jones easily could have made the 2019 Walker Cup team and came close to winning the Australian Men’s Amateur at the start of last year.
Ireland mid-amateur Caolan Rafferty tore a thumb tendon last year and missed most of the major events as he recuperated. He played on the GB&I side in 2019 and is the No. 22 player in the world, but his inclusion this year will depend on his health. The 28-year-old is also considering pro golf but likely will wait until the Walker Cup announcement.