This past week, two more players were added to the American Walker Cup team that will compete against Great Britain and Ireland less than four weeks from now at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Both of the additions were 19-year-old sensations who soon will be sophomores for their respective Southeastern Conference schools. Nick Dunlap of the Alabama Crimson Tide has enjoyed a phenomenal summer with victories in the Northeast Amateur and North & South Amateur. Caleb Surratt of the Tennessee Volunteers won twice in his freshman campaign before finishing runner-up to Dunlap in the Northeast and registering a T35 finish at a Korn Ferry Tour event two weeks ago.
“Nick and Caleb are excellent additions to further solidify this year’s team,” said Mike McCoy, captain of the U.S. side. “These two players have worked tirelessly to put themselves in a position to be selected to this team, and I’m thrilled to see their hard work be rewarded. I look forward to having them on our side at the Old Course.”
We discussed the possibility of a historically young Walker Cup squad earlier this year – Dunlap and Surratt certainly add to that dynamic. The two teenagers will join Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent (20), North Carolina’s David Ford (20) and Stanford’s Michael Thorbjornsen (21), all selected in June based on their standing as the top three Americans in the World Amateur Golf Ranking at the time. Sargent and Ford recently finished their sophomore seasons in college. Thorbjornsen is the current elder statesman as a soon-to-be senior.
That means five of the 10 players already have been chosen to represent the red, white and blue in Scotland. And as my colleague Jim Nugent writes in this week’s edition of Global Golf Post, longtime mid-amateur stalwart Stewart Hagestad is all but assured of earning his Walker Cup swan song before turning his attention to other endeavors.
That would leave four selections remaining. It’s worth noting that the final picks by the USGA’s International Team Selection working group will be made following the U.S. Amateur, which takes place at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver, Colorado, on Aug. 14-20. If the winner is American, he would receive an automatic berth to be a part of the team.
You could argue there are a dozen or more contenders with legitimate hopes of making the team. Twelve of the top 13 players in the WAGR are American, so there are no guarantees at this juncture.
What remains is a large pool of talented players – but precious few of them are in particularly good form at the moment. You could argue there are a dozen or more contenders with legitimate hopes of making the team. Twelve of the top 13 players in the WAGR are American, so there are no guarantees at this juncture.
UNC’s Dylan Menante, the fourth-best American in the WAGR, probably has the best odds of getting selected. He was a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Am and has been consistent in 2023, registering five straight top-10 finishes, from the ACC Championship through a runner-up in the Southern Am. He has extensive team golf/match play experience and is headed into his fifth year of school, potentially adding needed veteran leadership.
Virginia’s Ben James won the Phil Mickelson Award for freshman of the year and had three college victories this past semester, including at the NCAA Las Vegas Regional. He seemed to be a near-lock to make the team when the college season concluded, but James has had an indifferent summer to this point, including an abysmal showing at last week’s Western Amateur (77-75). He’s still the No. 6 amateur in the world and could make his selection a lot easier with better play in Colorado.
One player who could point to his match-play reputation to earn a spot is North Florida’s Nick Gabrelcik, a highly decorated collegian who won the Phil Mickelson Award in 2021. The now-rising senior recently captured the Southern Am against a stacked field and is coming off yet another stellar showing at the Palmer Cup, winning all of his matches, and is 8-2-2 in the event during the past three years. He also reached the semifinals of the 2021 U.S. Am at Oakmont. He clearly enjoys head-to-head competition.
We’re curious about Austin Greaser, the No. 7 amateur in the world who is returning to school for an extra year at North Carolina after undergoing surgery on his left hand following the NCAA Championship. He came back to amateur competition at the Western last week but missed the 36-hole cut by one stroke. By pure talent and ability, he should be on the team, but it seems fair that he at least has to prove he’s healthy to be in line for a pick. His runner-up in the 2021 U.S. Am will be helpful. So is a victory in last year’s Western Am and a made cut in the 2022 U.S. Open at Brookline.
Florida State’s Luke Clanton – No. 12 in the WAGR and the first Seminole freshman to win an NCAA regional – has made a convincing argument he should be at the Old Course this September. Clanton won the South Beach International at the end of 2022, had a nice college semester (including the aforementioned victory in the NCAA Morgan Hill Regional) and has added top-five results in the Sunnehanna and Northeast Amateurs. He struggled at the Southern and Western Amateurs, however, so his inclusion isn’t certain.
By WAGR, three other top-tier nominees are Wake Forest’s Michael Brennan (No. 11), Vanderbilt’s Cole Sherwood (No. 13) and Arizona State’s Preston Summerhays (No. 16). Brennan was excellent in the spring, winning the ACC Championship and the Southwestern Invitational, but he has done little of note this summer. Sherwood has been respectable but not spectacular during the past few months, although he did have a strong showing at the Western, where he made the final 16 for match play. Summerhays had five top-five finishes in the spring but struggled to generate positive momentum in the summer until he also played well in Illinois last week, making it to match play in the Western. Brennan and Summerhays qualified for the U.S. Open (both missed the cut), which is a noteworthy accomplishment. Summerhays is also a past USGA champion, having won the 2019 U.S. Junior Am.
There are more contenders with realistic shots of making the team. Ohio State’s Maxwell Moldovan had seven top-10 finishes in the spring and made the cut in the U.S. Open. The USGA will look favorably upon that performance at Los Angeles Country Club. Vanderbilt’s Jackson Van Paris, a bench player for the Commodores, suddenly caught fire this summer by winning Sunnehanna, reaching the semifinals of the North & South and finishing top 10 at the Northeast. His teammate William Moll is also having a great year, with a run of four top-six finishes in the college season and three top-10 results in Elite Amateur Golf Series tournaments this summer.
There could be a few others who would garner consideration if they were to make a deep run at Cherry Hills. The Western Am did little to clear up a somewhat murky Walker Cup picture, but all of this could change over the next two weeks, depending on play in the U.S. Am.
It’s only one tournament – and we’ve seen some out-of-left-field winners before – but a positive final impression could be extra important this time around.
Top: Nick Dunlap pads his résumé this summer with wins at the Northeast and the North & South events.
Chris Keane, USGA