Walker Cup needs new selection process

By Ryan LavnerAugust 21, 2017, 11:29 pm

LOS ANGELES – About the same time Doc Redman shocked the crowd at Riviera with his eagle-birdie-birdie finish at the U.S. Amateur, the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee was orchestrating how it would handle its own stunner.

Set to unveil the 10-man U.S. Walker Cup roster in a press release at noon Monday, the USGA instead moved up the announcement a day earlier, so it could appear at the end of the Fox telecast. Good thing, because a larger audience witnessed how broken the system really is.

The selection process for any team competition, at any level, always generates controversy, but rarely is the oversight this egregious.

Snubbed for one of the coveted 10 spots was Sam Burns. Like several players who were under consideration, the 21-year-old received a brief phone call Sunday night from USGA president Diana Murphy during which he was informed that he did not make the squad. That was the extent of the conversation. No explanation was given for the decision, nor did the USGA wish to elaborate Monday, saying that they were “private conversations.”

But even U.S. captain Spider Miller, who does not have a vote in how the final roster is constructed, seemed caught off guard. Standing on the 10th green at Riviera, after Redman won the U.S. Am and earned a spot on the team, Miller said Team USA wasn’t finalized until “just recently – probably hours ago.”

“There were literally 16 or 17 players you could have thrown a dart at,” Miller said. “I’m sad that there were several players who played well enough but they were only able to pick 10. It’s very unfortunate. It’s sad.”

And it also confounds.

Though it operates with the secrecy of a special-ops unit, the committee does not make these decisions lightly. But Burns’ situation was a reminder of the ramifications, both financial and professional, and why it’s imperative that the USGA makes a few necessary changes.


Photos: History of the Walker Cup


By almost any metric, Burns should have been a lock for the U.S. team. Three months ago, the LSU sophomore earned the Nicklaus Award, given to the top college player. Drawing significant interest from sponsors and tournament directors, he could have turned pro in June but opted instead to wait until after the Walker Cup in September. It should not have been a risk, but that decision proved costly: Last month he played the Barbasol Championship, an opposite-field event on the PGA Tour, and tied for sixth. Because he was an amateur, however, he forfeited a $113,000 payday and sacrificed other playing opportunities.

Burns was the Division I player of the year. He remained amateur through the summer. He starred in a Tour event. It’s unclear what else he could have done to show the committee how much making the team meant to him, save for getting an American flag tattoo.

In previous Walker Cup years, the committee has named a handful of players before the Western Amateur, then filled out the rest of the squad after the U.S. Amateur. Burns surely would have been a strong candidate for one of the first few spots, but Miller lobbied to announce the team all at one time, not only to avoid the perception of two tiers but to keep players motivated heading into the two biggest amateur events on the schedule.

Burns was eliminated in the Round of 64 at the U.S. Am – two rounds earlier than newly named Walker Cuppers Will Zalatoris (Round of 16), the same round as Maverick McNealy and one round late than Scottie Scheffler, who missed the 36-hole qualifying cut and doesn’t have a top-20 since earning low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open.

Conduct a blind-résumé test among those four players, and it’s hard to fathom how Burns was the one left off.

Asked for clarification, John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s managing director of rules and governance, said in an email Monday that it would be a “disservice to our process and to all our players to discuss specific deliberations.”

“The USGA and our ITS Committee understands that there are differing opinions on who should be selected for the Walker Cup team,” Bodenhamer said. “This is not unlike the other selection processes in golf and in other sports. Making these selections is never an easy task, as there are also so many fine players and outstanding young men to consider. That was certainly the case this time.”

Though “shocked” by the committee’s decision, Burns struck the proper tone afterward. He thanked the USGA for its consideration – he will serve as the first alternate at Los Angeles Country Club – but also added: “Never been more motivated.”

Burns’ situation immediately recalled fellow LSU Tiger John Peterson’s snub six years ago. Peterson had won the Jones Cup and NCAA Championship and was ranked No. 6 in the world in the summer of 2011, but he was passed over in favor of Blayne Barber. The USGA never explained that decision, either, but there apparently were some questions about whether Peterson’s brash personality would jell with the rest of the team. (Never mind that these players have competed against each other for years and, as grown men, should be able to get along during a two-day competition.)

Not surprisingly, Peterson weighed in Sunday, tweeting: “Unbelievable @USGA. You leave a kid that has a top 6 in a pga tour event off the walker cup. Not to mention he’s the best player in college.”

Even more salient was this: “How r u going 2 keep the next generation of great college players from turning pro if u constantly prove it’s 100% politics @WalkerCup #2011.”

Also left off this year’s team were mid-amateur Scott Harvey, Dawson Armstrong, Sean Crocker and Dylan Meyer, who has struggled to find his form this summer but, at No. 4 in the world, was the highest-ranked player passed over.

A member of the losing 2015 Walker Cup team, Harvey said the USGA has “let down an entire demographic” by selecting only one mid-am to the team. Four years ago, in another shortsighted decision, the USGA decided that two of the 10 team members must be 25 years or older. It was billed as a grow-the-game initiative and a way to promote the spirit of the friendly competition with Great Britain and Ireland – except Team GB&I didn’t follow suit, and the Americans essentially sabotaged their own roster by failing to pick the 10 best players, regardless of age. The U.S. split the past two Walker Cups, but the mid-ams went 3-8 over those two events and the Americans were routed by a record margin two years ago at Royal Lytham.

The USGA wisely backtracked on the two mid-am rule – albeit 19 months into a 24-month process – and selected only one deserving candidate this year: Stewart Hagestad, the 26-year-old financial analyst who won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and made the cut at this year’s Masters. The race for the 10 spots was too tight for another automatic handout, but Harvey still expressed his disappointment in being passed over (“The message @USGA has sent to Mid Ams this year isn’t very positive”) in a series of ill-advised tweets, since at age 39, he’ll be under consideration for the next several cup teams.

No tweaks to the Walker Cup selection process will eliminate all of the handwringing and complaining, of course, but the solution to the USGA’s transparency problem is not complicated.

When making roster decisions, Bodenhamer said that the committee prefers a “holistic approach” that takes into account performance (including in USGA events), world ranking, character, sportsmanship, team chemistry, and how a player will represent his country and the USGA in competition.

Bodenhamer said that the committee does not operate from an points list – but perhaps it should, since the current model is too subjective.

Create an algorithm that spits out point values for finishes in amateur and PGA Tour events, with heavier weighting in Walker Cup years.

Make that points list public, so players know where they stand and fans can follow along, thus creating interest all year.

Put the top 7 points-earners on the team.

Leave three picks to the committee – a committee that must now include the sitting captain, since for the past two cups, Miller has attended 15 events a year, and talked with the players and their parents, but does not have a deciding vote.

And then, once the team is finalized, stand up and be accountable.

Answer questions.

Explain why Player A was picked over Player B.

Because with so much at stake, they deserve more than a 30-second phone call.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."