This is the 14th in a series of 18 stories looking back at every USGA championship and international team competition held at Merion Golf Club, site of the 2013 U.S. Open, which until 1942 was known as Merion Cricket Club.
When the 2009 Walker Cup Match at Merion Golf Club was completed, USA Captain George “Buddy” Marucci placed the performance of one of his star players into historical perspective. And why not? Marucci had a wealth of Walker Cup experience, having played on two USA sides and having captained the team for the second consecutive Match – on his home course, no less.
“I don’t know if anybody has played for the U.S. the way Rickie [Fowler] has played in the last two Walker Cups,” said Marucci, the 2008 USGA Senior Amateur champion.
Fowler’s 4-0 record helped lead the USA to a 16½-9½victory over Great Britain and Ireland on Merion’s East Course. Two years earlier, Fowler had gone 3-1 to help the USA edge the GB&I side, 12½-11½, at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.
Fowler turned professional immediately following the 2009 Match, and he has earned one PGA Tour victory (2012 Wells Fargo Championship), 21 top-10 finishes and nearly $10 million. Fowler still counts playing in the Walker Cup as his biggest thrill in golf, and his success at Merion was an ideal cap to his amateur career.
No doubt, Fowler will have a positive mindset when he returns to Merion for the 2013 U.S. Open as a fully exempt player.
“The whole reason I waited around [to turn pro] was for this weekend,” said Fowler after he had defeated Matt Haines, 2 and 1, in his final singles match. “The days leading up to it and the practice we had was just an awesome experience, and to go 4-0 and get the Cup back, it can’t get any better. It’s going to be tough to top this weekend.”
Peter Uihlein, one of the final players named to the team, also went 4-0. Furthermore, his singles win over Stiggy Hodgson was the clinching point for the USA team. Cameron Tringale’s 8-and-6 victory over Luke Goddard had given the USA its 13th point, assuring that the Americans would retain the Cup.
“There's obviously 20, 25 guys who had great chances of making it,” said Uihlein afterward. “I just tried to appreciate having Captain Marucci have a lot of trust in me to go out and perform. I just tried to do the best I could and try and win some points for the team and it just so happened I won all four. It was a pretty special week.”
As recent team competitions such as the 2012 Ryder Cup have shown, sometimes one or two matches serve to swing the momentum of the competition. In 2009, Marucci noted the importance of an early point that Uihlein helped to secure in the foursomes, or alternate-shot, session.
“I just think that those eight [foursomes] points, even though there are not as many points as singles, the emotion of those early‑morning matches and getting ahead is really significant,” Marucci said. “And we were fortunate the first day, Petey makes that putt on the last hole when it looks like it could go either way. We go from 2‑2 or maybe 2½ and we are up 3‑1.”
Uihlein and Nathan Smith had been 1 down to Haines and Gavin Dear through 16 holes on the first morning of the Match, but won the 17th hole with a conceded par. Uihlein then converted an 18-foot par putt on the 18th green while Haines missed a 6-footer, giving the USA the early two-point advantage. The USA then went 5-3 n the Saturday afternoon singles to secure an 8-4 advantage through Day 1.
"We just wanted to start our team out with a little boost of confidence,” said Fowler, who was a junior at Oklahoma State University at the time. He teamed with Bud Cauley for a 6-and-5 victory over Luke Goddard and Dale Whitnell on the opening morning, then defeated Sam Hutsby, 7 and 6, in the afternoon. Cauley (3-0-1) and Morgan Hoffmann (2-0-1) also went unbeaten for the USA.
The 2009 Match was the first year that all 10 members of each team played in singles on Sunday, meaning that a total of 26 points was at stake. Previously, only eight golfers played in the singles matches each day, for a total of 24 points. That format had been in place since 1971, a span of 19 matches.
In the three most recent Matches before 2009, the outcome had been an identical 12½-11½, with the USA winning in 2005 and 2007. At Merion, for the first time in several years, the winning side posted a convincing victory. Despite holding an 11-5 lead entering the final afternoon, the USA’s victory was not easy.
The players and Captain Marucci were trying to avoid a repeat of the 2007 Match, when the USA led, 10-6, entering the afternoon singles, only to win just 2½ of eight points. The outcome was in doubt until a memorable eagle on the 18th hole from Jonathan Moore sealed that victory.
“The memories of County Down were not that far away,” said Marucci. “I talked with some players at lunch, and Rickie did as well, to try to win every point… But you know, the board started to change in the middle of the day and you really wondered, goodness, are we going to end up going down to the last hole.”
Uihlein assured it wouldn’t, even though GB&I captain Colin Dalgleish saw a brief glimmer of hope for his side.
“Everything just kind of seemed to run against us from the start of the Match, and we were all sort of battling uphill from there,” said Dalgleish. “Albeit at one stage this afternoon, the board was looking very good for us, and it would have been just possible to maybe take eight points out of the afternoon and even to tie the Walker Cup, but then it kind of ran away from us again.
“But it seemed that there was some great golf played by the United States. The United States really were, from what I saw, extraordinary in some of the stuff that they did.”
Fowler and Marucci were the only holdovers from the 2007 Team, which had been the first USA side to win on British soil since 1991.
“Over there, we had not won in a while, so that was a pretty big thing for us to go out and get the Cup there,” Fowler said. “And then here, it was – this is the whole reason I stayed amateur was to come back and play another, and to play it on our home court, you might say, and have our own fans here.
“From the experiences that I had in 2007 with those guys on the team, I knew there was a very good chance that I was going to be a leader, and that we would have a bit of a younger team. … So like I said, there was no question that I was going to wait around.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.