The first wave of U.S. Walker Cup selections will be announced by the USGA on July 24, GolfChannel.com has learned.
The selections are expected to include the top three Americans in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, which currently are No. 1 Cole Hammer, No. 4 Akshay Bhatia and No. 5 Brandon Wu.
The USGA announced last summer that it was tweaking its selection process by picking the 10-man team in two waves and giving automatic exemptions to the top three U.S. players in the WAGR and, if American, the McCormack Medal winner and U.S. Amateur champion. The McCormack medalist is announced each year after the U.S. Amateur.
Hammer was a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur, which followed his victory at the 2018 Western Amateur. He also won the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s top freshman last season while helping Texas to the NCAA final. Bhatia won the Jones Cup in February, following a year in which he won several high-level junior tournaments, and at age 17 would be the youngest U.S. player to ever play in a Walker Cup. Wu, a Stanford grad, went 3-0 in NCAA match play for the national-champion Cardinal before qualifying for both summer Opens. He is the first player since Joe Carr in 1967 to accomplish the latter feat.
There is a chance that one other player could be included in the first wave. Mid-amateur Stewart Hagestad is ranked eighth in the WAGR and competed on the 2017 U.S. Walker Cup squad. Maverick McNealy proved two years ago that experience goes a long way, and Hagestad is in good form. He recently qualified for a third straight U.S. Open and opened this week’s Players Amateur in 61 before ultimately tying for second Sunday at Berkeley Hall.
Hagestad’s Players Am runner-up, which was capped by a disappointing closing bogey and final-round 75, likely won’t be enough to bump him past Wu, who will play in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic and the Pan-Am Games before catching a red-eye from Peru to Pinehurst for the U.S. Amateur, in the WAGR before the July 24 announcement. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if the USGA also gave Hagestad an early nod as he is clearly the country’s best mid-amateur.
More Walker Cup movers and shakers
Last year at the Trans-Miss Amateur, Pierceson Coody finished a shot behind winner Hayden Springer at Brookside Golf and Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. This time around, though, the Texas sophomore got the job done – and put himself on the Walker Cup radar in the process.
It wasn’t the prettiest of wins. Coody opened in 66 at Maridoe Golf Club in Carrollton, Texas, but shot 2-over 74 in Friday’s fourth and final round. He bogeyed four of his first six holes on the final nine, seeing his six-shot lead shrink to two, yet he managed to still win by two shots over Texas-Arlington’s Paul Gonzalez, who was second at 2 under.
“You just have to relax and be patient,” Coody said. “The worst thing in the world you can do when the lead shrinks is just to force it and make a birdie and you make another bogey. This is such a redemption after finishing second last year and such a thrill. They are so many great golfers who have won this who have gone on to do great things in golf, and I want to do the same.
“… This is another step in the process and getting to the where I want to be as the No. 1 amateur in the world and achieving other things.”
Coody, whose twin brother, Parker, tied for 10th, entered the Trans-Miss ranked No. 62 in the WAGR, the 22nd-highest American. He made match play at the North and South Amateur before losing in the first round and previously tied for 16th at the Northeast Amateur.
This victory definitely inserts Coody into the Walker Cup conversation. He is on the outside looking in at the moment, though many players ahead of him have struggled in recent months.
Texas A&M grad Chandler Phillips is ranked a spot ahead of Hagestad in the WAGR, but Phillips hasn’t helped his case this summer. He played in the Arnold Palmer Cup but skipped several amateur tournaments, including the Northeast and Sunnehanna. He played the Trans-Miss Amateur but opened in 82 before withdrawing.
Two more players among the top-12-ranked Americans, Stanford grad Isaiah Salinda and Vanderbilt’s John Augenstein, have also failed to stand out. Salinda, who will defend his Pac Coast Amateur later this month, has played just once this summer, missing the cut at the North and South Amateur. Augenstein was T-34 at the Northeast and struggled in his title defense at the Players Am.
Instead, it was Georgia’s Spencer Ralston, No. 62 in the WAGR winning at Berkeley Hall at 19 under and suddenly kickstarting a late Walker Cup push.
Despite winning the Northeast, Baylor’s Garrett May likely ended his slim chances by missing the Trans-Miss cut. But May’s teammate, Cooper Dossey, continues to add to his resume, following his North and South Amateur win with at T-13 finish at the Trans-Miss.
Oklahoma State’s Austin Eckroat and Wake Forest’s Cameron Young, who each qualified for the U.S. Open and are top-30 players in the WAGR, notched top-10s at the Trans-Miss.
At the Players Am, George Southern grad Steven Fisk improved his already strong resume with a T-8 showing. Fisk is ninth the world and the reigning NCAA runner-up. Another T-8 finisher at the Players was Sunnehanna champ Alex Smalley. The Duke grad is 13th in the WAGR.
And don’t forget about Florida State’s John Pak, who tied for sixth at the Players, his third finish of T-13 or better this summer, and is ranked 19th in the world.
Zambri among early U.S. Amateur qualifiers
Players around the country are punching their tickets to Pinehurst via U.S. Amateur qualifying, which runs July 1-24.
That includes Joseph Zambri, who co-medaled at the Tarzana, Calif., qualifier last Monday.
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Zambri is the 17-year-old son of USC head coach Chris Zambri. With his dad on his bag, Joseph shot 71-68 to grab one of three U.S. Amateur spots along with co-medalist Lincoln Melcher and third-place Nick Geyer.
The Aug. 12-18 championship at Pinehurst will be the young Zambri’s first USGA championship. Chris is planning to caddie again for his son.
Other notable qualifiers so far include Arizona State’s Mason Anderson and Blake Wagoner, BYU’s Peter Kuest, Alabama’s Wilson Furr, Clemson’s Jacob Bridgeman, Auburn’s Brandon Mancheno, Florida’s Eugene Hong and Texas’ Will Thomson.
Rematch on tap at U.S. Junior?
The U.S. Junior Amateur begins Monday at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, and two of junior golf’s top players are hoping for a championship rematch.
Last year at Baltusrol, Michael Thorbjornsen defeated Akshay Bhatia, 1 up, in the 36-hole final. Both players went on to make match play at the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach and now they are back to play in what will be their last U.S. Junior together.
Bhatia, the fourth-ranked amateur in the world, plans to turn pro after the Walker Cup this summer. Thorbjornsen, at No. 52 in the WAGR, has an outside shot at making the U.S. Walker Cup team. He made the cut at the U.S. Open last month.
Bhatia and Thorbjornsen are joined in this year’s field by several other notables, including four players ranked inside the WAGR top 50: Ricky Castillo (22), William Mouw (26), Joe Pagdin (45) and Karl Vilips (47).
Alexis Valenzuela, the 17-year-old brother of Stanford’s Albane Valenzuela, is also in the field, as is Northern Ireland’s Tom McKibbin, the 16-year-old who won this year at Sage Valley; Maxwell Moldovan, runner-up at Sage Valley and winner of the Polo Golf Junior Classic last month; and Preston Summerhays, son of instructor Boyd Summerhays and nephew of pro Daniel Summerhays.