U.S. Walker Cup team visits Arnie, plans NYC stops

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Spider Miller (Photo credit: USGA)

Spider Miller is taking a more inclusive approach to his U.S. Walker Cup captaincy.

He won’t determine his team’s pairings for next week’s biennial matches. His players will. 

Miller said on a conference call Wednesday that he will ask all 10 of his players to write down, 1-5, with whom they’d prefer to be paired. 

“What I’m not going to do is sit down and try to analyze each person’s game,” he said. “You’d drive yourself crazy.” 

Indeed, Hal Sutton, he is not. 

Miller recently had an hour-long conversation with Dave Stockton, who emphasized the importance of getting each player involved in the process and matching up by personality. 

“I’m a big believer in that,” Miller said.

The Sept. 12-13 matches at Royal Lytham and St. Annes are the culmination of a two-year journey for Miller, who has attended 13 college and amateur events this year to get to know some of his potential selections.

The team was finalized following the Aug. 23 championship match at the U.S. Amateur, which was won in a rout by NCAA champion and Walker Cupper Bryson DeChambeau.

It’s been a whirlwind ever since.  

Last Thursday, the group met for the first time as a team in Pittsburgh and stayed at Latrobe Country Club, where they received their apparel and went over a few other housekeeping items.  

The next morning, the team toured Arnold Palmer’s office and shed, and then met with the 85-year-old for more than an hour, listening to stories about Palmer’s time on Tour and what allowed him to remain relevant even well after his playing days were over. 

After a round at Laurel Valley, they ate dinner with Palmer and his wife, Kit, and had a team-building exercise in which each member was assigned a nickname by Palmer. “I expect one or two to stick,” Miller said with a laugh. They played Latrobe the following morning, under Palmer’s watchful eye, and then headed home after lunch.

The team will reconvene Thursday in New York City, and over the next two days they are expected to visit the September 11 Memorial & Museum and ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

Upon arriving in England, the team will play Hillside (which hosted an Open qualifier this year) and Royal Liverpool (which staged the 2014 Open) before heading to Royal Lytham for a full week of preparation at the host site. 

“The challenge for me is to provide a framework and schedule that allows players to be their best on Saturday,” Miller said. “It’s not going to be military golf. I want each of them invested in the process.” 

Though likely a heavy favorite on paper – especially with the absence of Team GB&I’s third-highest ranked player, Sam Horsfield, who withdrew because of personal reasons – it’s worth noting that status didn’t help the Americans in 2011 at Royal Aberdeen. Despite a group that boasted Jordan Spieth, Harris English, Russell Henley, Peter Uihlein and Patrick Rodgers, among others, the U.S. earned only one-and-a-half of the possible eight points in foursomes and lost, 14-12.

The Americans redeemed that shocking loss with a 17-9 victory in 2013 at National Golf Links of America. They lead the overall series, 35-8-1.