PHILADELPHIA – Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones left their mark at Merion Golf Club’s East Course. Now, a member of the venerable club will try to add to its legacy.
George “Buddy” Marucci Jr. will lead the two-time defending champion U.S. team against Great Britain and Ireland in the 42nd Walker Cup this weekend in suburban Philadelphia.
Marucci also was in charge of the U.S. team in 2007, when the Americans pulled off a dramatic 12 1/2 -11 1/2 victory at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland in the amateur equivalent of the Ryder Cup. The U.S. team ended a streak of three consecutive losses in 2005.
The weekend competition consists of four alternate-shot and eight singles matches on Saturday, followed by four alternate-shot and 10 singles matches Sunday.
The U.S. team should benefit from their captain’s intimate knowledge of the slick greens and rolling fairways of the storied layout, which is hosting its 18th USGA event.
Marucci grew up in a house just off the eighth green of Merion East, where Jones completed the Grand Slam in 1930, and Hogan claimed the U.S. Open in 1950, one year after surviving a horrible car crash.
“Merion is very important to me,” Marucci said. “Certainly winning at Merion would be very, very special.”
Marucci said he is more excited than nervous to have the event at his home club.
And, there’s an excitement in the air at Merion, as the event is considered a trial run for when the club hosts the U.S. Open in 2013.
Jack Whitaker, a Philadelphia native and Merion member who was part of three Walker Cup TV broadcasts, expects the competition to be every bit as good as that of the Ryder Cup, without the raucous gallery.
“It’s a real privilege to have the Walker Cup at Merion and to have a Merion member as the defending captain,” Whitaker said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. “Though not as popular as the Ryder Cup, the Walker Cup is one of the last important amateur events left on the sports calendar. … It once again defines the word amateur as being one who does it for the love of the game, not one who does something poorly.”
While speaking of all amateurs, Whitaker’s comment best describes Marucci.
Once best known as the 43-year-old opponent who lost to Tiger Woods on the last hole of the 36-hole final of the 1995 U.S. Amateur, Marucci, a lifelong amateur, has found success late in his golf career.
A participant in more than 50 USGA events, including 18 U.S. Amateurs, Marucci broke through for his only national championship in 2008 at the Senior Amateur Championship.
He played for the U.S. Walker Cup team in 1995 and ’97, and compiled a 3-0 record in alternate-shot matches and a 1-1-1 singles mark.
Marucci’s interest in competitive golf began innocently enough. The 8-year-old sneaked onto the East Course in 1960 and watched Jack Nicklaus and a team of Americans win the Eisenhower Cup in the World Amateur Team Championship.
“I think that is the first time I realized that something like that existed,” Marucci said. “I can’t tell you that I understood what was going on, but I kind of liked it.”
Marucci got serious about golf in high school and had a solid college career at Maryland.
He chose the business world over the nomadic life of a pro golfer, a decision that was made easier when he considered the talent of his peers.
“My era was (Ben) Crenshaw, (Tom) Kite and Lanny Wadkins,” Marucci said. “I was smart enough to know those guys were a lot better than I was. … It was more of a lifestyle issue than anything else. I just don’t think I would have enjoyed it.”
Marucci went to work for his father’s CPA firm out of college, and then worked for a few years on Wall Street. He returned to the Philadelphia area to get involved in commercial real estate development, a move that allowed him time to get back into golf.
He enjoyed plenty of success locally, winning the Pennsylvania Amateur four times and the Philadelphia Amateur twice.
Unable to defend his Senior Am title this year because of his obligations as coach of the Walker Cup team, Marucci said he wouldn’t trade playing for coaching.
“Being captain of the team is the nicest thing I’ve ever done,” Marucci said. “I’d trade a lot of the things I’ve done for this opportunity.”