ROLAND, Ark. — Sitting in a golf cart to the right of the seventh fairway, Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve was scouting talent to complete the team that will compete against Great Britain and Ireland in early September.
Less than a month ago, the U.S. Golf Association announced five of the 10 amateurs who will represent the U.S. in Southampton, N.Y. The group includes Max Homa, Michael Kim, Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers, and Cory Whitsett. Rodgers was the medalist in the Western Amateur after 72 holes at the Alotian Club while Whitsett lost a five-way playoff for a spot in the 16-man match play field. The other three have outstanding resumes, but did not play well enough at the Western.
While Holtgrieve watched, Sean Dale zipped back a 54-degree wedge back 30 feet to within inches of the hole for a birdie.
There are, Holtgrieve said, "some guys on the radar screen because of this week."
It is likely that Western finalists Dale and Jordan Niebrugge were already under consideration. Holtgrieve will wait until after the U.S. Amateur next week to complete his team. The 2011 Walker Cup team included Russell Henley and Jordan Spieth, both winners this year on the PGA Tour, and Rodgers.
Coincidentally, the Walker Cup is an event that Warren Stephens might be interested in bringing to his Alotian Club. The two-day competition includes four two-man team matches each morning and a total of 18 singles matches.
Stephens, who built The Alotian for the membership to play golf, is not interested in hosting a regular event of any sort and the Walker Cup sites are booked until 2021.
Knowing that their first time to see The Alotian Club was likely their only time, patrons and volunteers gobbled up souvenirs from the merchandise tent near the clubhouse.
Reportedly, the shirts and hats, etc., with the the words Western Amateur and the distinctive Alotian logo were gone before the weekend. Stephens responded by approving the sale of Alotian-only merchandise from the pro shop. He did so to make certain that souveånir seekers had an opportunity to purchase such.
Nick Saban isn’t the only coach at Alabama stockpiling talent.
Alabama won its first NCAA golf championship this year with underclassmen Cory Whitsett, Justin Thomas, and Bobby Wyatt leading the way. Considered the best junior player in the U.S., Robby Shelton IV is headed for Tuscaloosa.
Think running backs Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Yeldon.
Shelton made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the Western Amateur before losing to Arkansas senior Sebastian Cappelen.
To add spice to the FedEx Cup, the PGA Tour would do well to incorporate some match play. The hole by hole, one-on-one competition at the Western Amateur was good theater.
When Tiger Woods won in 2007 and 2009, there was a cumulative format that made it possible for a player to wrap up the $10 million bonus prior to the Tour Championship. Now, the points are reset heading into the Tour Championship so that any player in the top five who wins that tournament will also claim the FedEx Cup.
If five players can win, why not eight? Starting on a Wednesday, all 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship could play 54 holes with the top eight advancing to match play. Four matches on Saturday would provide TV with sufficient action and the four winners would be paired together for 18 holes of stroke play on Sunday.
Don’t tell me 90 holes is too much to ask; the Western Amateur finalists played eight rounds.
There is an argument that the player who was the season-long best might not win, but the New York Giants, 9-7 during the 2011 regular season, won the Super Bowl and wild-card teams have won the World Series four times since 2002.
Going against college football on Saturday and the NFL on Sunday, the FedEx is fighting a losing battle anyway.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.